Sound — 6
Ah, yes, the infamous "Black Album," heralded by many and often spat upon as well. This is widely considered to be the flash point in Metallica's evolution (or deterioration if you prefer), where they traded in their already comfortable thrash stylings for an even more streamlined hard rock/heavy metal sound. So is this a bad thing or a good thing? Well, let's break this album down, shall we? First up, we have "Enter Sandman". You know this song, it's the one your little brother bops his head to and the kids at the mall swear by and the one that was in your local politician's ad campaign; in other words, it's been played to death... and then some. As sick as I am of hearing it though, it would be unfair to say it completely sucks. Looking at it objectively, one can see just why it was so popular: it's got that basic heavy riff that you can't help but move your head (to some degree) to. Sure it's not great, but it's catchy. "Sad but True" is another generic heavy song, in the vein of "Enter Sandman", only with that start-stop headbanging riff. Problem is, after you've heard it a couple of times, you won't want to do much but maybe bop your head a bit. "Holier than Thou" is just irritating. Groovy, simplistic riff + James Hetfield's grating voice + awful lyrics = skip button. "The Unforgiven" is actually a surprisingly good song. It's got a good little quiet intro, before it picks up. Decent lyrics too (better than some of the half-wit prose on this album). Next up is the obligatory pseudo-Middle Eastern song that every band seems to do at least once in their career (to varying degrees of sucess). "Wherever I May Roam" is actually a decent song at it's core, though. It's enjoyable, even if Hetfield's voice really screws with it in places. And, oh sweet assorted deities, we have the insipid "patriotic" anthem. You know the type, the one that says "I LUV AM3R1CA!!" fifty-thousand different ways overtop an overused, derivative riff. Jesus Christ, where the hell is that skip button?! "Through the Never" sounds like it could almost be a passable thrash song if it ever got it's act together. Really though, it's just boring as hell. And of course, the ballad, which every fanboy of modern-day Metallica will try and pass off as the reason anybody of differing opinion dislikes this album. Let me say first off, that I like ballads. I love songs like "Infinite Dreams", "Waiting for a Savior", "Rust", "Tears of the Dragon", "A Question of Heaven", all of Metallica's previous ballads and a million others. And you know what? I actually do like "Nothing Else Matters". Sure, it's pretty commercial and overdone, but it's got some nice accoustic work, a decent solo and it doesn't try to be generically heavy, like the rest of this album. "Of Wolf and Man" is also pretty good. Again, it's got that same aftertaste of assembly line, mass-produced metal, but you take what you can get on this album. "The God That Failed" is alright. It has that start-stop thing going too, but hey, the chorus is decent and ultimately saves it. And at least the lyrics manage to rhyme without being completely bone-headed. "My Friend of Misery" makes me alternate between cringing at the awkward transitions, and apathy. It's alright, I guess. And finally, "The Struggle Within" finishes this thing off. It starts with some military drumming that leads into, you guessed it, another forgettable riff. Hetfield's excruciating vocals are in full force here too, making me just want to skip this particular ending number.
Lyrics — 5
Lyrically, this album varies from awful to mediocre to unintentional comedic gold. Some songs are passable in their lyrical content, while others are just aggravating (see: Don't Tread on Me). The overall mediocrity of the lyrics does pretty much fit the bland riffs though. Unfortunately, Hetfield's vocals really started to slip here, and we can hear him start to develop that maddening modern rawk twang. Don't come expecting any of those awesome growls a la "Kill 'Em All" kids. But then again, you would never buy this album expecting anything approaching the seminal debut.
Overall Impression — 5
At the end of the day, this is really just a cookie-cutter album. There is no innovation here, there's not even anything truly satifying. This album marked the time when Metallica felt content to fully embrace the attitude of MTV cuddling they had adopted for "Master Of Puppets" and take a big dump on fans of their previous style. There is no substance here, just the same boring, formulaic crap you hear on the radio. Brittney Spears wishes she had this kind of production, but who really cares when there is nothing to listen to? I'll take my fuzzy, garage-recorded copy of Bathory's debut over this any day. Ultimately, this album has but one useful purpose from my perspective. It serves as something of a gateway to draw new fans into metal, much the same way Master of Puppets did. And, like Master of Puppets, most of those kids will pass this album by after they've been listening to metal for more than a year (unless they get caught up in that agonizing phenomenon presented in the mass-media as "nu-metal"). This is literally the first time in over a year that I have listened to this album and this is purely for the sake of review. At the end of the day, there are much better ways to spend your cash. Pick it up from a bargain bin maybe, just so you know how full of crap people are when they put it on a pedestal.