This week marks the 25th anniversary of Load. At the time, it was easily Metallica’s most controversial album yet. (St. Anger was seven years away.)
A lot of Load‘s drama wasn’t about music (although that was part of it, too). It was about their visuals. From the moment that James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newstead showed up in the audience for the filming of Alice In Chains’ episode of MTV Unplugged in their short haircuts, the rock press began buzzing. Alice bassist Mike Inez famously wrote “Friends Don’t Let Friends Get ‘Friends’ Haircuts” on his guitar (see it here) before the performance. If that happened today, it would be an instant meme. Back then, only a few hundred people were aware of the band’s new look.
But when the video for “Until It Sleeps” dropped on MTV, fans went ballistic. The video was directed by Samuel Bayer, who filmed iconic videos like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Hole’s “Doll Parts” (as well as Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mama, I’m Coming Home”). The clip saw the guys looking like they were trying to fit into a new scene: Lars had eyeliner on. Kirk had eye shadow!
We already knew they were headlining Lollapalooza — a tour that catered to the alternative rock audience, and that was a scene that tended to look down on metal. Was Load going to see the band desert metal and actually “go alternative?”
A quarter-century on, we know that it was a lot more complicated than that. Of course, the guys were influenced by Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, two “alternative” bands who dominated rock music and pop culture at that moment. By the way, let’s be real: Soundgarden and AIC loved a lot of the same bands that Metallica did, notably Black Sabbath and Motorhead. It wasn’t like James Hetfield was citing the Smiths and New Order as his new favorite bands.
And yes, Hetfield was starting to write more inward-looking lyrics, which seemed in keeping with the times, when Kurt Cobain still loomed large over rock music. But as we learned over the next few years, Hetfield had his own demons: he didn’t need to copy anyone else’s, and his lyrics would get even rawer on St. Anger.
The real problem with Load and Reload is that they were too long; Metallica’s first three albums, which are their undisputed classics, ranged from eight to ten songs. They were recorded during the vinyl/cassette era. In the CD era, albums were longer: Load had 14 songs, and the sequel Reload had 13. So we thought we’d try to boil down both albums into one LP length record, and when we did, it held up to their discography a lot better than the two sprawling albums do separately. And if it isn’t quite as classic as Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets, it at least holds up to “The Black Album.” Here is our Load and Reload: Reloaded! tracklist: