Metallica released their self-titled album, which is also referred to as The Black Album, on August 13, 1991. Prior to this album, the only music I had ever heard by the band was the song “One,” through seeing the music video in heavy rotation on MTV a couple of years earlier. I have to admit that when “Enter Sandman” was first released as the lead-off single, I thought the song was merely OK; however, I have grown to really like this song over time. However, it was one of the subsequent singles (“The Unforgiven”) that ultimately sold me on this release. I’ve heard a number of long-time Metallica fans claim that the band “sold out” with this album, but for me, this is what I would call a “gateway” album. If I hadn’t heard and liked the music on this album, I probably wouldn’t have gone back to give their older material much of a chance.
The album opens with “Enter Sandman,” and the song peaked at number sixteen on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This is an upbeat, headbanging number that has more a pop sound to it than previous songs by the band. Lyrically, the song deals with the concepts of a child’s nightmares. The next song is “Sad but True,” which was released as the final single from the album; it only managed to peak at number ninety-eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Musically, this song utilizes the “D standard” tuning for the guitar, which gives it a different sound from much of the material that appears on the album.
The next song on the album is “Holier Than Thou,” and it has a sound that’s more reminiscent of Metallica’s earlier material than much of what appears on here. This is followed by “The Unforgiven,” which was released as a single from the album; it peaked at number thirty-five on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s one of the slower songs on the album, but it also has some of the heavier chord progressions when compared to the other songs on this release.
“Wherever I May Roam” is the next song on the album, and it was also released as a single; it peaked at number eighty-two on the Billboard Hot 100. The music in this song is notable for the fact that in the intro, a gong and a sitar are featured, as well as an overdubbed Warwick twelve-string bass. While the rest of the song has standard instrumentation, these elements in the introduction add an interesting layer to the piece, and really make it stand out in a good way. “Don’t Tread on Me” was also released as a single, but it only made it to number twenty-one on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. While this song may not be as pop as some of the material on this album, it also doesn’t sound like a song from one of Metallica’s previous albums, either.
This is followed by “Through the Never,” which is one of the headbanging songs on the album. Personally, I think that if this song had been produced a little differently, it would have sounded like it could have fit on an older Metallica album. The next song on the album is “Nothing Else Matters,” which is the ballad of the album. It was released as a single, and it peaked at number thirty-four on the Billboard Hot 100. James Hetfield wrote the song about his girlfriend at the time he wrote it.
The pace of the album picks back up with “Of Wolf and Man.” While it may have a harder sound than “Nothing Else Matters,” it is produced in such a way that it has the pop sound that “Enter Sandman” has. “The God That Failed” wasn’t released as a single, but it was the first song from the album to be heard by the public. It’s a slower song, but it’s not a ballad; musically, the song is tuned half a step down. If this song was produced a little differently, it would sound like it could fit in on one of Metallica’s older albums. The theme of this song is on faith and humans’ reliance on it.
“My Friend of Misery” is another slower song, but is not a ballad. Again, if the production on this song wasn’t so polished, it would have fit in rather well on some of Metallica’s previous albums. The album closes with “The Struggle Within,” which picks the pace of the album back up. Sonically, it sounds a lot like “Holier Than Thou.”
I have to admit that when I listen to this album, I tend to not listen past track eight (“Nothing Else Matters”). Not that these later tracks are bad, but they just don’t appeal to me as much as the earlier songs on the release. I believe this due to two factors: all of the singles are within those first eight songs, and the sequencing of the album is stronger up to that point.
If you’re trying to get someone who is more into pop music interested in Metallica, I would suggest having them listen to this album first. Of all of the band’s releases, I think this one works the best as a “gateway” album to try and attract new listeners.
I wrote this review after listening to a copy of this CD that I purchased.