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Metallica - Load (1996)

After a healthy five year sabbatical, Metallica returned to the studio to record over two and a half hour's worth of new material.

In a situation like that, any sensible band would subject such content to intense scrutiny, ascertaining the quality of each track until they found the ideal set-list for a new album. Metallica however, opted to release every last second of the new material onto CD, a maneuver that transcends the term 'excessive'.

Thus the Load sessions spawned two complete albums, each with a length somewhere in the vicinity of 80 minutes (had the albums been released prior to the advent of compact disc, then the sessions would've bred two full-fledged double albums).

The result is quite predictable ... Load, the first of the two releases (with Reload being released the subsequent year), is inundated with a massive amount of filler, not to mention a runtime that's quite difficult to take in one sitting, forcing the listener to endure a seemingly eternal bombardment of rage-tinged vocals and nonstop heavy riffage.

The band endeavor to compensate for the potential tedium with an unprecedented (for Metallica, at any rate) level of diversity - the album's a hybrid of myriad disparate genres, assimilating countless styles into a melting pot of rock and roll offshoots, from Heavy Metal to Classic Rock to pop/metal to grunge to country to blues to balladry.

Although one might expect that such variety would rectify the previously mentioned problem, such is not the case. Invariably, nearly every track - despite any alternate influences - ends up sounding like typical Metallica Heavy Metal, with the incorporation of new styles being superficial at best as far as their impact on the music is concerned. Although Metallica attempt to explore new musical territory, sadly they're an inherently limited band, lacking the necessary range to pull off such an eclectic enterprise.

Fortunately, while the album is undeniably overlong and bloated, much of the material is still quite strong. Granted, there's an unhealthy preponderance of filler, with candidates for the album's worst track including "The House That Jack Built" with its obnoxious passage where Hetfield attempts to vocally mimic Hammett's guitar work, and some of the simply drab content on the second side.

Nevertheless, there's much to be lauded as well, particularly terrific rockers like "King Nothing" and "Until It Sleeps". As was the case with Load's predecessor, parts of the album barely merit a listen - generic rockers with overly familiar riffs and a modicum of quality hooks. Also like its predecessor however, Load contains myriad strong tracks, and - while somewhat feeble and overestimated - what diversity there is on the album further ameliorates the quality of these songs.

As many have espoused, a single album containing the best material from Load and its sequel Reload would've been a truly great album, no longer made erratic by featuring the entirety of the sessions the songs on each are culled from.

As it stands, Load remains an entertaining (if deeply problematic at times) listen, as the band were still capable of generating top tier Heavy Metal. Most of the filler is inoffensive, and even the weaker tracks still rock enough to head bang to (while lacking any meaningful substance in the riffs, hooks and melodies department).

Many of the songs lack much by way of individual personality, and thus will tend to blend together in one's mental jukebox, due to sporting overly derivative riffs and anaemic hooks, but even so the album is redeemed by its best material - tracks that are catchy and memorable.

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Posted: Saturday 9th Mar 2019 12:06 PM

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album review
Metallica - Reload (1997)

As it's a product of the same sessions that yielded Load, Reload is afflicted with many of the defects that marred its predecessor, sharing not only that's album's erratic character, but also its similarly bloated nature, an album mired in an over-inflated track listing with all too many songs vastly overstaying their welcome.

Like Load, Reload has a runtime exceeding 60 minutes, and once more that proves to be highly deleterious to the overall quality of the album. The result is that the ratio between strong material and filler is far too close for comfort, a problem that could've been easily averted had the band simply released only the best tracks from the Load sessions as opposed to inflicting the full two and a half hours of studio toil on poor unsuspecting listeners.

Fortunately, in addition to containing a comparable amount of strong content as its predecessor, Reload has an asset that the band's previous album lacked - while Load saw a healthy dose of variety, invariably the tracks came off as standard Metallica numbers mildly altered so that they could profess to be something beyond the band's normal scope. That's not the case on Reload, where a large portion of the album sounds like something genuinely different from the band's standard modus operandi.

That becomes increasingly clear as the album progresses, culminating in "Low Man's Lyric", a strangely uplifting ballad employing such diverse instrumentation as the usual electric treatment married to violin passages and a hurdy-gurdy. The song sounds little like a Metallica track, injecting a welcome shot of eclecticism into proceedings.

That isn't to say that all the more unorthodox tracks work - many merit a description of filler as much as any generic / nondescript Heavy Metal number, and ultimately there's little correlation between the band's more adventurous approaches and good music. But that doesn't reduce the impact of the more variegated numbers, as unconventional filler is far more palatable than average filler, making the album - if not better than its predecessor - at least more sonically intriguing.

More interesting filler is hardly the extent of the album's virtues however, as there are indeed a number of very strong tracks. The obvious choice for best song goes to the hit opener "Fuel", a stellar riff rocker with catchy vocal hooks and a tremendous drive. There are plenty more obscure quality tracks as well, such as "Devil's Dance" and "Prince Charming" - they may not rank amongst the band's best work, but they're still eminently enjoyable numbers worthy of the Metallica name.

Predictably enough, there is an abundance of filler. As previously stated, some of that filler is comparatively interesting, but such is not always the case, resulting in numerous instances of typically derivative and bland Heavy Metal, the likes of which dominated Reload's predecessor.

So Reload, like Load, is a flawed but enjoyable product, a mixture of prime Metallica material and the inevitable helping of filler. Although the band's penchant for excess demanded that two separate albums be made, that doesn't completely sabotage the output from the Load sessions. They may not constitute the epic artistic statement that the band were trying for, but they're still a pair of pretty good records, and that's enough to ensure that the band's efforts were not wholly in vain.

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Posted: Monday 18th Mar 2019 12:29 PM

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