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A Plea For Metallica’s Reload

On the 21st anniversary of its release, we make an impassioned plea for one of Metallica’s most reviled albums.

Metallica’s Reload is the first album I ever bought with my own money. I was 12, I’d seen the Memory Remains video, and I’d saved up some allowance. To me, a kid whose previous dalliances into hard rock had been NIN and The Offspring, this album seemed awesome. It was bikerish and butch and a little stupid but in a fun way. I listened to it constantly and memorized all the lyrics.I was excited to get into this thing called ‘metal.’

But upon meeting other, more entrenched metal kids, I quickly learned that I was wrong: Reload, in fact, sucked. It was a black mark on Metallica’s record, or rather part of the black mark that we were all living through at the time. To like that album was the metalhead equivalent of having a soul patch.

In retrospect, I understand where those dudes were coming from (I mean, look at James’ hair in that video). The Load/Reload era is rough times for Metallica fans, and the band didn’t make it any easier for us. To their credit, the ’90s was a weird era for art and fashion, and nowhere is that more garish than on four thrashers suddenly being expected to play rich rock stars. The shades, the beards, the untucked collared shirts, the goth gnomes in the Until It Sleeps video – I get it, okay? Mistakes were made.

But with all that in mind, I stand by Reload. In my opinion, that album is still a treasure trove of under-appreciated gems. And today, on the 21st anniversary of its release, I’m going to offer a plea for Reload. That record deserves better.

First off, interestingly enough, while I love Reload, I’ve never really gotten into its predecessor. Sure, Load has a couple of great tracks on it – King Nothing’s pretty rad, as is 2 X 4. But while both albums are blatant grabs at the kind of catchy biker rock made by Stone Temple Pilots and Alice In Chains at the time, Load sounds more tentative and unsure of itself in the attempt. The songs on Load sound to me like a band that knows it’s trying something different, and wants you to bear with them for a second. The Until It Sleeps video is a good example of that, with its poorly thought-out depiction of Metallica as emperors of some kind of decaying glitter circus.

But Reload goes all in, as though by breaking the seal on the last album, Metallica were now free to write what they really wanted to. It’s a record where every song sounds different, and where each one has a distinct and unusual feeling behind it (except maybe Better Than You). James’ croon is croonier, Kirk’s twang runs rampant. It feels like a ‘Fuck you’ to the backlash of Load, a belly laugh and middle finger in the face of everyone acting all shocked that the band was trying out new stuff. Metallica seem to know that they had to change at some point, and if you’re upset that Unforgiven II isn’t Creeping Death, well, that’s how time works, dude. Sorry, not sorry.

This is evident in the songs, which people would love if they weren’t by the same guys who wrote Whiplash. Fuel is cheesy but also unabashedly awesome, a Motörhead-ish anthem to exhaust and gravel in your face. The Memory Remains is a creepy biker-witch track with the kind of spooky outro goth metal bands dream of, while Devil’s Dance is a ridiculous but fun strip club song. Unforgiven II is a perfect radio hit, both referencing the band’s breakthrough album and upping the heaviness of its namesake track.

It’s the latter half of Reload where shit gets especially weird and cool. Carpe Diem Baby and Where The Wild Things Are are stony, strung-out desert rock songs. Prince Charming is a speedy gem that sounds like a regrettable but badass tattoo, and Low Man’s Lyric is a weird and slightly-psychedelic ballad about being unwanted. The album closes with Fixxxer, a sweaty, trippy voodoo doll metaphor that channels everyone from White Zombie to Trouble to Soundgarden. Better Than You has pretty dumb lyrics, and so does Bad Seed, but their central riffs are fucking doomy as hell. And hey, like any album, there are also tracks I don’t love – Slither and Attitude are fine, but not great. But two out of 13 ain’t bad.

Again, all of these songs would be considered metal milestones if they weren’t by Metallica. If Orange Goblin wrote Fuel, or Fixxxer was on a Crowbar record, people would hail them as classics of our time. Maybe that’s the problem – Reload is by Metallica, extreme metal’s chosen sons. Maybe we need to organize a Reload tribute album, where young bands take on these killer tracks and remind everyone what good songs they were without the loaded connotation of the greatest metal band of all time (if you have an especially cool Reload cover idea, let us know in the Facebook comments).

So in closing, I urge you: today, on the day it becomes old enough to drink, forget about what Metallica means, and give Reload a spin. You might find yourself headbanging along to some of the big, muscular riffs on this record, or noticing weird little moments that you didn’t appreciate in your youth. Who knows, you might discover it’s actually your favorite Metallica album! I mean, probably not – these dudes also wrote Master Of Puppets. But you’ll never know until you give it a chance.

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Words: Chris Krovatin

Posted on November 16th 2018, 5:00pm
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