Metallica’s self-titled album (AKA the “Black” album) is a piece of history, not just to Metallica, or even to rock and metal, but the music world as a whole. This is the best-selling metal record of all time, and one of the top 30 selling records of all time at 21.2 million copies sold (5.8 of which were on cassette). This is the album that brought metal to the mainstream music industry, and made Metallica world-wide superstars. Normally when an artist is featured on mainstream radio, it typically means they decided to step away from creativity and do what everyone else is doing to gain popularity. May still say they did as signified by cutting their hair, but I disagree. I think the black album is the exception to that rule, as it flawlessly blends thrash metal with arena-rock anthems, all while showing Metallica musically growing as artists. The blend of thrash & heavy metal with arena-rock makes it a good album to introduce non-metal listeners to the genre.
When I first listened to this album in my junior year of high school, I had no idea what metal was. After I listened to it, I said to myself “Huh that was pretty good. I’m definitely going to listen to that again.” Listening to the Black Album sparked what is easily my biggest life obsession: listening to rock and metal, live or otherwise. While this is my second-favorite Metallica record (Ride the Lighting is #1), no other album in the world even comes close to having the same amount of influence to me that this one does. This album is responsible for introducing me to my favorite passion, my favorite band, and one of the greatest communities in the world: the metal community. It is because this album means so much to me that I wanted to write a review of it for Los Harrow’s three-year anniversary.
Track 1: Enter Sandman.
This is the song that was the game changer. It’sthe absolute perfect blend between thrash metal and arena rock. There have been countless imitators, none have bettered it. Heavy, fun, iconic, catchy, anthemic, an unforgettable guitar riff James Hetfield yelling “YEAH!,” and a timeless Kirk Hammett solo, this song is 100% pure Metallica. The only reason this song is not Metallica’s magnum opus is because Master of Puppets is the masterpiece it is. This is the song that got me into Metallica, and this is the song responsible for my biggest life’s obsession. 10/10
Track 2: Sad But True.
Without question, this is the heaviest track on this record. But the fact that the song is so catchy without compromising on heaviness is a wonder to behold. The brutal honesty in this song is the other reason why I love it so much, as it goes into great detail about the band’s drug addictions. In addition to everything else I have mentioned, this song never ceased to make me headbang and sing along to the lyrics. 10/10.
Track 3: Holier Than Thou.
Again, being mutually heavy and catchy Metallica has hit another home run. I am a huge fan of the message of this song, as Metallica clearly takes shit from nobody, and I resound with that. If I see someone full of shit, I will call them out on it. I am of the opinion that bassist’s do not get enough recognition in songs, so to hear Jason Newstead’s bassline at 3:10 is excellent, so that he can have his own moment on the album, especially considering he got shafted on “…And Justice for All,” with Lars telling the producer to make the bass quieter on the album mix. Also, since this song was not a single, it is not as recognized, so it is a hidden gem of sorts. 10/10
Track 4: The Unforgiven
This song is my least favorite track on the album for no other reason than I simply just happen to enjoy the rest of the songs more. This is not a bad song, I do not dislike it, but I never find myself listening to out unless I decided to listen the album as a whole. However, this song shows exactly how Metallica has grown as musical artists, as it is the first ballad ever put on one of their albums. Their first album was called “the fastest show on earth” by some so to put a slower song on the album is almost unheard of. While this is an excellent song, I prefer the other, upcoming ballad on the album. 8/10
Track 5: Wherever I May Roam
I like this song because it gives Metallica’s audience a glimpse into their life on the road. The guitar work on this song is excellent as the riff is absolutely infectious refusing the get out of your head after you listen to it. Wherever I may roam also features one of Kirk Hammett’s longest guitar solos, which also happens to be one of my favorites of his. 10/10
Track 6: Don’t Tread on Me
In many ways, this song is “Sad But True” lite. It has a similar guitar riff, pacing, vocal delivery, and song structure to “Sad But True.” I do like the “don’t mess with us” theme of the song, but I don’t particularly care for the musical execution of it. This song is important to the album’s cover however, as the rattlesnake on the album was borrowed from the Gadsden Flag. However it should be noted that Metallica used this imagery before the Tea Party used it as their symbol, and Metallica was trying to be the least political possible when writing this song. I understand the desire to replicate a masterpiece, but in my opinion it doesn’t quite succeed. 8/10
Track 7: Through the Never
Thematically, this song is new territory for Metallica, as until this point that had not written a song about searching for truth against all odds. The guitar riff is not quite the behemoth as others mentioned on this album, but it is still excellent. The chorus is also very easy to sing along to, making this song a road trip staple. 9/10.
Track 8: Nothing Else Matters
This is the other ballad on the Black album and, in my opinion the greatest ballad ever written. This ballad is also topically different from “The Unforgiven,” as this is a love song. One of the toughest metal bands of all time putting a love song on a metal record? This was indeed new ground for Metallica. Also, this song is one of the rare instances in which James Hetfield plays the song’s guitar solo. This song is one of the few that causes me to tear up a little every time I hear it, and I absolutely love it. 10/10
Track 9: Of Wolf and Man
Yet another catchy song that doesn’t compromise on heaviness, Metallica has hit another home run. Musically this song, is probably the most straightforward and in-your-face song on the album, but it fits with the lyrics of the song, as the song is about letting out and acting upon one’s more basic, carnal instincts. Kirk’s guitar solo in this song is one of the better one’s of his career, and I always air guitar along with it. 10/10.
Track 10: The God that Failed
While songs about one’s existence are not new territory for Metallica, this particular aspect of it is what makes this song stand out. With all the drugs, the fame, and other things in their life that come with being rockstars, Metallica has had many things in their life that just have not ended up being permanently satisfying. This song is about all of those things and how they just leave one empty. I take this as a precautionary tale to make sure to not let meaningless things take over my life. The guitar riff is nothing special, but it serves the song well and Kirk has another standout guitar solo here. 9/10.
Track 11: My Friend of Misery
This is another song that is just as brutally honest as ‘Sad But True’, although this one is not about being addicted to drugs. Again, I use it as a precautionary tale trying not to do too much and become in the state of mind that the person in the song is in. instrumentally there is nothing special with the riff, but Kirk has another absolutely incredible, and very extended guitar solo in this song. 9/10.
Track 12: The Struggle Within
Being the final track on the album Metallica does not disappoint and goes out with a band. Finding yet another catchy and heavy guitar riff, it is almost inhumane how Metallica has managed to create so many of this nature. Most bands are lucky to come up with one, whereas Metallica has written six on the same album. That being said, everyone has struggles of their own sorts, so Metallica writing a song that can relate to anyone is a very smart move. Once again, Kirk shows he is an absolute machine at writing guitar solos as another excellent solo is on display here. 10/10.
While the Black album is not perfect, it is still one of the most important albums in the history of heavy metal and one of the most important albums in my life. When somebody asks me, “Tim, if I were to start listening to metal, where should I start?” this is the album I give them. I will always love this album and will listen to it proudly for as long as I live.