After releasing their first four albums in just five years, Metallica settled into a more casual release schedule. The next two records would be spread out over eight years. The first of those was their monumental, self titled, mainstream breakthrough. Then came the totally underwhelming Load. So the fact that it’s follow up was released just one year later, and named to look like an obvious sequel, I expected the absolute worst from Reload. And at 76 minutes long, that’s a lot of potentially terrible music to have trepidations about.
Fuel is very cookie cutter, by the numbers and a perfect example of this period of Metallica where a lot of the same boxes were being ticked with every song, looking for as many radio hits as possible. Yet, for all that, I can’t help but really like this song. James Hetfield’s vocals seem more engaged and sincere than ever, it’s the perfect showcase of Lars Ulrich’s precise, unrelenting drumming, and the infectious riffage from both Hetfield and Kirk Hammett is just plain cool. I assume Fuel is a perfect summation of what old school ‘Tallica fans hate about the Load and Relaod period, but I just dig it.
While The Memory Remains is all of those things in a way that doesn’t manage to grab me. I think it’s trying to be dark and haunting in its deliberate, sludgy tempo, but it just comes off as plodding and trying. When Jason Newtstead’s thundering bass guitar launches Devil’s Dance, it makes me realise how overshadowed he was during his tenure with the band. Metal bands are always going to be guitar driven, but Newstead really did add something to Metallica that he didn’t get to show off often enough.
When I wrote about The Unforgiven from the self titled Metallica, I said, “The Unforgiven sure does still get played a lot on the radio. And to paraphrase Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.” And you know what, it turns out the sequel to something extremely inessential has even less reason to exist. Of the hundred or so Metallica songs that had been committed to tape before Reload, what made Hetfield think that this was the one that deserved a revisit and further exploration?
But The Unforgiven II has nothing on the three song, almost 12 minute suite of pure filler that is Better Than You, Slither and Carpe Diem Baby. They all sound like they’ve been patched together from riffs not good enough for half assed songs like The Memory Remains.
Look, I’m all for musicians trying to spread their wings and experiment and do their best not to be pigeon holed, but it never really works for Hetfield or Metallica. The weirdly Celtic, faux-sincerity of Low Man’s Lyric just sounds like a band in too deep. At their core, Metallica are four meatheads, making unsubtle, meathead friendly hard rock and metal. When spreading their wings becomes being out of their element, they’ve gone too far. And Low Man’s Lyric goes way too far.
In case I haven’t been clear, I’m not a fan of much of what Reload has to offer. I wasn’t much of a fan of what Load had to offer either. And at two and half hours of music, these two records combined are stretched way beyond their limit. Which is a shame, because between them, you probably have a pretty solid 40 minute record that might be fondly remembered today. Instead, we have two behemoths that are universally seen as Metallica at their absolute worst.