Twenty years ago, Metallica's self-titled album entered the No. 1 slot on the Billboard 200, where it would stay for four weeks. The band's most successful album, it has sold 22 million copies worldwide to date, and kicked in the door for heavy metal into the mainstream, sans glitter and teased hair.
As the follow-up to 1988's ...And Justice For All, the "Black Album" would need to out-rock, out-perform, and outdo everything that came before. This was the point in Metallica's career where they would either stay a beloved metal band, or take the next rung on the ladder as the world's most beloved metal band. We're still talking about it now, so the band and producer Bob Rock must have done something right.
At 12 tracks, the album was the band's longest studio album. Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets were eight cuts long, Justice was nine, and Kill 'Em All was a bloody and gruesome ten. But what set aside this album was the concise and methodical nature of it. It was scarily efficient, catchy and accessible, without being namby-pamby or soft. Unless you hold "Nothing Else Matters" against them, and stalwart metalheads very well may.
Even still, as fun and gnarly as it was, many old-school thrash fans got off the bus at this point, never to return. But we know some of you still jam it alone. And yeah, we cringe at the thought of a teenybopper in 1991 buying the new Paula Abdul and the Black Album on the same record store visit, but a good percentage of those kids probably turned to the great and grand dark side soon after because of it.
This fall the band releases Lulu, the first fruits of their project with Lou Reed. Loutallica promises to be weird and wild, though we wish the band would come out with a proper follow-up to 2008's Death Magnetic already.
Rocks Off's first exposure to "The Black Album" was the "Enter Sandman" video on MTV one afternoon during the summer before third grade. At the age when we had just left the world of nightmares and boogiemen, it was enticing and scary. That fall, Metallica and Nirvana were all the 'bangers at C.J. Harris Elementary cared about.
Lately the album has been on our gym iPod setlist, and if you see a guy on one of the cardio stations pumping his legs in time to "Sad But True" and playing air drums, come say hello. Don't mind the sweat.
We did some digging on our own and asked a few friends on Twitter and Facebook for some facts about "The Black Album," on this 20th anniversary of the metal going above ground.
The band fought violently on what the first single should have been. James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, and Jason Newsted wanted "Sad But True," but Lars Ulrich stood firm with "Enter Sandman."
The original riff from Hammett, influenced by Soundgarden at the time, was way slower and more bluesy. Ulrich in fact is the one that edited the meter and repetition of the riff to fit his beats, or really to up the hook factor.
Also, many agree that the band started playing to Ulrich on this album, instead of the drumming following everyone else. But then again, this could be due to Lars being Lars.
"Sandman" was the first song written for the album, back in June 1990, and it has been played at nearly every show since. Oddly enough, it was the last song to receive lyrics.
The band hit Houston three times on their seemingly endless tour behind the Black Album, hitting town first on January 17, 1992 at The Summit. They returned later that year on September 4 with Guns 'N Roses at the Astrodome.
Two years later, on August 7, 1994 the band limped into Baytown's Houston Raceway Park for a final Houston gig before taking time off, cutting their hair, and working on 1996's further fan-dividing Load.
The album cost $1 million dollars and was reportedly remixed three times to get the sound right. AC/DC's Back In Black was the sweet spot that the band was working towards.
It's also been said that the band picked Bob Rock as producer after his work on Motley Crue's sober-recorded Dr. Feelgood, and wanted to try to attain that arena sound on the Black Album that did so well for the Crue. It was the Crue's best-selling album.
Rock is also the fall guy for "changing" the Metallica everyone knew and banged their heads to up until 1991, but he says by the time he showed up the band was already evolving on their own. Rock taught Metallica about the drop-D tuning during this time as well, which added to the beefy, radio-ready sound.
"Wherever I May Roam"
Kirk Hammett is playing an electric sitar during the introduction. Sadly, he did not play the sitar on tour.
Live Shit: Binge & Purge
In the midst of touring, the band released Live Shit: Binge & Purge, a live box set on November 23, 1993. Our best friend Randy had this in fifth grade and we used to just stare at it all day long. It contained three CDs or cassette tapes if you were poor, with songs from concerts in Mexico City, as well three VHS tapes of live shit, as it were. Also, chicks who own this are generally amazing people.
James Hetfield's singing on this track was inspired by Chris Isaak's recent song "Wicked Game," in that James wanted to actually sing. What came out was actually a warm vocal that hadn't been heard from the metal screamer in the band's history.
"Of Wolf & Man"
That's then-bassist Jason Newsted howling like a wolf in the background, at about the 3:05 mark.
Sad, But Really True
The recording of this album led to divorces within the band. Ulrich separated from his wife Debbie Jones in 1990 in the midst of tracking, and Hammett divorced his wife Rebecca during the same period. Judy Newsted shoved off as well. Hetfield and alcohol stayed happily betrothed through and through.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Here is the set list for Metallica's show, 20 years ago tonight, in Hannover, Germany. Nice set.
Enter Sandman Creeping Death Harvester Of Sorrow Fade To Black Sad But True Master Of Puppets Seek & Destroy For Whom The Bell Tolls One Whiplash Last Caress Am I Evil? Battery