Metallica - Metallica (The Black Album)
It created an earthquake in the music world...
It created a rift "in its fan base"...
It spread like a ruthless tsunami...
It is heavier than any chemical element found in nature...
It is celebrating its birthday today and it is Metallica's "Black album" !!!
And this time we will start with a special personal story...
Although today there is a full consensus between the two sides of "Face/Off" about this album, this has not always been the case.
On July 25th we reviewed "Metallica's" debut album - "Kill 'Em All".
The review tells a personal story of one of the writers below, about how he discovered "Metallica" and the genre of thrash metal, somewhere in the 1980s.
Well, that boy from the story about "Kill 'Em All" grew up with the band, evolved with it, and experienced the loss of its immortal bassist Cliff Burton, which he read about in a Teletext message, (Teletext do you get it??) and breathed a sigh of relief when the turntable needle touched the first note, in the first vinyl out of two, of the album "And Justice For All..."
And then while that boy was in the safest place about the future of this band, precisely when he was in the midst of the madness following the band's mini-comeback with Jason Newsted, it was then that it made him cross the thin line between love and hate.
The black album was released in August 1991 and the same boy who in the meantime was in the middle of military service felt a complete shock !! The band that was all connected to it, betrayed him and most of its devout fans, it "sold its soul", commercialized, and abandoned this mighty genre that was among its founders. By the way, he was not the only one who felt this way and the band's veteran fans who grew up with it will testify to that. This sense of betrayal has permeated even the industry. Ask the members of the band Pantera that in "Vulgar Display of Power" intended to make their heaviest and most aggressive album, in part in response to the sense of abandonment they experienced from Metallica's Black album.
But then came the turning point !!
In 1993, about a month after the show of Guns N 'Roses in Israel (May 22, 1993), "Metallica" arrives to Israel. The show takes place on the day of that adolescent boy's birthday (a cosmic coincidence) and he receives the greatest gift he could dream of. He gets the band he grew up with back. It is not clear what caused that adolescent boy to change his feelings, emotions, and attitude. Maybe it's the age and adulthood that a young teenager can not accept, maybe it's the fact that a month earlier he experienced total disappointment with Guns' performance, and maybe it's because "Metallica" looked on stage just the same as he remembered them when he first listened to them 10 years earlier. Powerful, frenetic, aggressive, and kicking ass. That night "Metallica" gave the best show he has ever seen and those tens of thousands who were there will probably testify that this is the best show they have seen in Israel (perhaps until Guns' returned in 2017). Since then the boy has fallen in love again and totally devoted himself to the band and the "Black album".
The story of the other side of "Face/Off" also speaks of a reversal, but here it is a matter of "conversion", of a change from end to end. This side was coated in cotton candy and a variety of sticky "poppy" gelies.
He grew up on bands that we will not mention their names here due to the privacy of the individual (or damage to the reputation of the show), but let's say that the posters that covered the walls of his room were very colorful (the color black was not seen in them at all).
In the past, we shared the turning point of the same boy who is characterized by "late blooming", with the first single of Hayehudim band that took place somewhere in 1994. So here too there was a late bloom and when everyone was already deep in the grunge he suddenly discovered "Guns N 'Roses" which of course was easier to digest for that little religious converter whose ears are used to the sounds of the processed synthesizer and dancing voices.
But then a miraculous thing happened, quite by chance, with one of his friends he heard the song "Sad But True". That second... that moment... where the sound of that exploding snare, as if the Hulk himself was hitting out of a huge crater on the same drum wrapped in white skin, dismantled the boy's soul.
The makeover completes its shape !!
From that moment on he did not calm down, he ran to purchase the Black album, clicking the play, and he quenched his thirst to the sounds of that phenomenal snare. This album was an integral part of the boy's formation and his desire to be a drummer. All day long he listen to the sound of the drums, studying every beat of Lars Ulrich and imitating them on the old-fashioned drum set he bought for a few hundred shekels. Trying to figure out how the snare explodes like that, how a high-hat has a sound of drift as if it consists of the friction of hundreds of nonsense cymbals on top of each other, and how the hell the cymbals are just so shaky that the ear drum itself is addicted to their sounds. And that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship!
If we move on to talk a bit about the album then we will first start with the most interesting and intriguing question, Why?
Why? after four crazy thrash metal albums built on fast tempo, long and dynamic songs, intricate solos, crazy drumming, and deep lyrics comes such a "simple" album? After all, this was actually the claim of the band members, this is the reason for their musical change, they wanted to do something simpler !!
There are many hypotheses, facts, and stories about the... Why?
The band members wanted to create something simpler because they were tired of long songs. They have proven that they are capable of holding long and complex songs and now they want to express the message in two or three riffs with short, melodic songs and end of story.
They claimed that they felt that in the previous albums they had gone too far and that something had been missed for them musically as if there was some field they wanted to reach, to fulfill but lacked.
Sounds a bit detached, but James Hetfield even claimed that they felt insecure about their music and lyrics as if they were trying to disguise it with a display of long, complex, and fast songs.
It's no secret that even the most prominent and difficult hypothesis that has been widely circulated by critics, reporters, and even fans is that they wanted to be more commercial. They wanted to reach more people and be more commercially successful so they have changed direction.
Yes... yes... they wanted to make more money !!
In the end, it does not matter which side you feel you are on, the embracing and loving side or the disgusting and hurtful side, or what the real reason for the musical change is. You have to remember that music is a work of art and first and foremost it is human and it is created from the passions and ideas of those people, so you can love it or hate it but this album is a huge musical work, it is huge and it is awesome !! It changed history and significantly influenced the world of rock !!
A lot of exciting things happened on this album...
Let's start with the fact that the role of the producer had a decisive influence on this album !! And this is the first time Metallica has decided to work with a producer. True, the Danish Flemming Rasmussen received credit as a producer on Metallica's previous albums but he did not really set the tone but rather performed a technical role. Here the band decides to recruit Bob Rock mainly because of his work with Mötley Crüe and he does set the tone. In the past, Hetfield and Lars would have composed the songs, composed them, and arranged them mostly on their own when only in the final stage, Kirk Hammet and Jason would join, and apart from them, no one else would have intervened. Imagine what an earthquake Hetfield and Lars experienced when suddenly someone comes and tells them how to do things, how to change the note, and how they will sound "better".
Of course, it did not come easily to them and during the creation of this album, there were a lot of challenges, arguments, and confrontations. Bob worked the band members hard, he pressured Hetfield to improve the lyrics of the songs and bring something more personal and intimate. He also pressured him to create harmony in the recordings of poetry that was not there before. He required the band members to record tracks over and over again until they got to what they wanted. He made them experiment with all kinds of musical instruments and techniques to get them out of their comfort zone and produce different sounds. Unlike previous albums where the writing was done more individually, on this album, Bob forced the band members to play and create together in the studio. Many other things that Bob brought with him contributed significantly to the result. Still, it created a lot of tension and confrontation, so much so that Lars, Kirk, and Jason, all three got divorced during its production and its cost was several times greater than planned. By the way, you can see it all in the documentary "A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica".
This album features much slower and "heavier" songs than Metallica's previous albums. The band members worked hard to create a thicker sound for all the instruments in the band. Especially after the album "And Justice for All..." where they felt that the high notes dominated absolutely and there was a real vacuum in the low notes, like the big story around Jason's bass that is almost imperceptible on that album. Here you can feel the powerful thickness of the distortion that fills the entire membrane of the speaker or the sounds of the drums that as we described just bombard the ears with a phenomenal presence. Lars completely simplified his drumming style, from double bass techniques, percussion rhythms, and blown aisles he switched to a simple and basic rock style. Jason gave a much larger volume to the bass besides the regular accompaniment, his playing style was so strong that they had to put him soaked in the studio because they heard the clicks on the strings during the recording. In addition, various instruments were added that were not common in metal at the time, such as the cello or string orchestra.
The texts that Hetfield wrote have also changed, in light of Bob's pressure to instill confidence in him and made him create more of a personal aspect. The lyrics on this album address Hetfield's personal and intimate themes such as past religious experiences, situations he had as a child, and family events and experiences. In addition, Hetfield also took voice development lessons (due to the loss of voice in one of his cover songs) to express a deeper and thicker voice, with singing techniques that will bring harmony to the lyrics.
The album cover is also different from everything Metallica did until that album. The black background, the caption in a slightly different shade of black, and the symbol of the snake in the shade of gray reflect the change. All the elements in the design of this album come to emphasize the change the band has made and the transition to simplicity. No intricate and cartoonish graphics, no blown-up album name, and almost no visibility of the band name.
We mentioned, huge... huge... album... so let's talk a little bit about commercialism.
This is the band's first album to reach number one on the Billboard charts, where he spent four consecutive weeks eventually spending (for his pleasure it should be noted) 488 consecutive weeks on the charts and becoming only the third album to be the longest time in the charts after Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" and Carole King's "Tapestry". He received a platinum album in just two weeks from its release and never... listen well, never... has sold less than 1,000 copies a week and to this day he has sold more than 35 million copies.
In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the album, Metallica has created a special project called "The Metallica Blacklist" which will be released on September 10, 2021. The project features 51 different and diverse musicians who created new versions of songs from the album, among the musicians can be found: Sawayama, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, St. Vincent, Royal Blood, White Reaper, Corey Taylor, Mexican Institute of Sound, Flatbush Zombies, Miley Cyrus, Elton John, and many others.
Feel free to listen to the special edition that was released for the album on September 10, 2021, an edition that was remastered but received a crazy addition of tracks from live performances, demo recordings, sketches from the studio, and many other rare tracks.
So do yourself a favor and listen for the umpteenth time (or for the first time) to this mighty album
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"Face/Off" - Israel's Rock Blog & Radio show, Sundays at 11:00