Something Old, Something New Album Review
Steve

Steve

Music Columnist

Something Old, Something New Album Review – Episode 9

After a little bit of a break, I’m back with a new edition of Something Old, Something New Album Review. I had an idea for Episode 9, but it kinda coincided with a special album release, so I had to wait a bit. In this edition I’m doing something different. This review is gonna be Something Old AND Something New, but the same album. This year marks 30 years since the release of one of the most important, popular, and best albums of all time. A bit of a controversial pick for some, but a landmark album none the less, Metallica’s “Metallica”, more commonly known as The Black Album.

Something Old/Something New
 
Metallica – Metallica
Originally Released: 1991 Elektra Records
Deluxe Reissue: 2021 Blackened Recordings
Rating 5/5
 
Marking 30 years since the release of the landmark Black album, Metallica continues doing what they’ve done for the previous 4 records before this one, releasing Remastered Deluxe Boxed sets. Before dissecting the contents of the box, lets talk about the record.
In 1989/90, Metallica was at a crossroads. They were 4 full length albums deep into their career. They basically invented American Thrash Metal with their debut, 1983’s “Kill ‘Em All”, and with each successive album, got bigger and bigger. 1984’s “Ride The Lightning” showed much more of a step up in song writing than anyone thought possible in a year, and earned them a major label contract on Elektra Records. Their next record, 1986’s “Master Of Puppets”, was even more ambitious, and proved to be their commercial breakthrough. With an opening slot on Ozzy Osbourne’s Ultimate Sin Tour providing much needed eyeballs, the band poked their head out of the underground and the album went Gold in the United States shortly after release. Then tragedy struck. while on tour in Europe in late 1986, Metallica had a bus accident and bassist Cliff Burton was tragically killed. After virtually no time to grieve, the band soldiered on, recruiting Flotsam and Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted as their new bass player, and released the Garage Days EP to introduce him to the world. Their next album catapulted the band further into the spotlight. In 1988 the band released the epic “…And Justice For All”. The album contained 9 songs, four of which clocked in at over 7 minutes with 2 nearly reaching 10, and not a single track under 5 minutes. The album was basically self produced, and with Cliff gone, who was internally the strongest personality in the band, drummer Lars Ulrich and singer/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield molded the album to their vision. Along with the long songs, the songs were the most difficult and had the most complicated arrangements of their career. Not just that, but the album was notoriously terribly produced.
When Jason Newsted heard the final mix/master of the album, he reportedly stormed out in disgust, as his bass guitar tracks are so low in the mix they are basically inaudible. The album completely lacked dynamics. Despite that, it not only became an influential album for drum and guitar tones, but it was a smash hit, quickly going Double Platinum in the US, and to date has sold 8 million copies in the US alone. The band was a bona fide arena headliner, and at this point, one of the most successful heavy metal bands of all time. But there was a problem, with the increasing complexity of their albums, they painted themselves into a corner. To get MORE complex, you’d have to push the songs into 10 minute plus territory, and the band already admitted to some fans being bored at shows during the longer tracks in the set. The band felt they had done all they could do with the direction they were on, and decided to make a change. Here’s where it gets complicated for some fans. The band decided to write shorter songs, with bigger hooks. They wanted to challenge themselves. A lot of fans call this “selling out”. But in my opinion, what they did was not selling out, it was damned gutsy. They could have released “…And Justice For All” part 2, had another successful record and been fine. They went out of their comfort zone. 
 

At this point, while it was very hard for them to admit, they realized they needed help. Flemming Rassmussen, the producer on their previous albums was really nothing more than an engineer. He had no say in tones, song writing, nothing. The band knew they needed an actual Producer. Enter Bob Rock. The sonics he was able to achieve on Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” and The Cults “Sonic Temple” were what they were after. Big guitars, huge drums, bottom end. Bob Rock was also a musician, so he could weigh-in on their songs. Bob Rock went and saw the band live, and thought that what they sounded like live had never been caught on record, and he thought he could do it. There is a video that documents their time together in the studio recording the album called “A Year And A Half In The Life Of Metallica” and it is very clear, very quickly, that the band had an extremely hard time giving up control. So much so, that by the time the album was mixed and mastered, the band and Bob Rock hated each other. Once both parties realized what they had achieved, they got over it and became collaborators for the next decade plus and friends to this day.

The actual record itself is a sonic masterpiece. Easily the best sounding record of the band and Bob Rocks respective careers. The songs themselves are basically all killer, no filler. Yes, the band slowed down, and shortened the songs, but they are still HEAVY. The album came out when I was 10, and at that age, it was about one of the heaviest things I could imagine. I can understand why long time fans call it their “sell out” record. It is drastically different. But if you were to picture a bunch of record company guys in suits around a table saying “hey guys, you need to lighten up the sound, make a hit single, how about this song, “SAD BUT TRUE”. No, that would not happen. NOBODY could have predicted the level of sucess the band would achieve with this album. When people refer to an album in a bands catalogue where they switched up the sound as “their Black album”, that’s because Metallica really did it first. Nobody before them switched up their sound so drastically, but with integrity and had been as successful. And in all honesty, it isn’t even THAT drastic. Much like most fans, I had a period where I didn’t like the record. Hated it really. Their next album, “Load” completely turned me off from the band and as a weird result made me dislike the Black album too. I didn’t listen to it for 15 years. around 10 years ago I gave it a good listen and was floored by how great it was. Since then I’ve been an active Black album defender.
 

I made a statement earlier that this album is the most popular album of the last 30 years. And statistically, it is. it was released in 1991, which was also the first year the RIAA started using Soundscan to tabulate album sales. They now had the technology so that when you scanned a barcode, they knew, and they could figure out the EXACT number of albums sold. Before that, it was kinda sketchy. Sales numbers came from a combination of stores and distributors giving labels a round about number. Numbers got inflated, there were lies, payola, all of it. The timing of this album is perfect. Metallica’s Black album, a heavy metal record, is the BEST SELLING album since 1991 in the US (where most of the worlds albums are bought) at nearly 17 million copies sold. That’s over a million more than the second place album, Shania Twains “Come On Over”, a million and a half more than Alanis Morrisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” and nearly 4 million more than The Beatles greatest hits record “1”. To me, that’s astonishing. Yes, Metallica’s record is insanely well produced. One of the best of all time. If you listen to it on a good stereo system, the separation and definition of instruments is incredible, but the fact is, it’s still a heavy metal record. Those records it’s ahead of in comparison are much, much, much more commercial sounding. Quite frankly it’s a testament to how brilliant the album is, and if you haven’t listened to it in a while, or ever, check it out with fresh ears.

As far as the Deluxe Box goes, our Something New, this is the fifth box they’ve done, one for each of their first 5 full length records. I own 3 of them and each one is magnificent. They are so well done and so packed with stuff that even if you have the album, if you’re a big fan, they’re worth it to get. The box contains 6 Records (the actual remastered album split into 2 180g vinyl records, A Picture Disc of the Sad But True single, an EP of live material from Wembly Stadium On April 20th, 1992 which was their set at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, and their famous live set from Moscow at Tushino Airfield on September 28th, 1991), 14 CD’s (the actual remastered album on CD as well as demo’s, interviews and a bunch of live material), 6 DVD’s (Studio outtakes, behind the scenes of the Music Video’s, the actual music video’s, and a bunch more live stuff), a beautiful hardcover book, replica backstage laminates, replica’s of James’s handwritten lyrics, a lanyard, and replica prints of Magazine covers they were on, all in a beautiful box. If you’re a casual fan, the new remastered version of the album is also available on LP, CD, Cassette and download on their own. But if you’re a Metallica superfan, the box is a must have, and a fitting tribute to one of the greatest albums of all time.

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