I really considered opening this week with a different album and kind of easing into it, but I decided “nah, open with a bang.” So here it is, the quintessential gateway metal album from the quintessential gateway metal group. I had a lot of difficulties deciding what albums to include this week, but this was the one to beat for metal from the jump. After my studies and preparation for this month’s MTP Metallica’s 1991 self titled and/or title-less (still not clear on that) album which fans have dubbed “The Black Album” took the cake. Let’s talk about what makes The Black Album such a good entry point for the genre of Metal.
Metal is one of those genres that can be tough to get into. A lot of people who like Metal really love it, but the often grating and intense vocals, aggressive and heavy guitars and instrumentals, loud and jarring percussion parts, and dark often violent subject matter makes it hard for anybody to just pick it up and listen to it. Metallica’s Black Album is more metal than it is classic rock, but serves as an excellent bridge between Metal and more accessible musical stylings because of the metal aspects that it tones down. The Black Album is kind of like the portion of your high school’s swimming pool in-between the shallow end and the deep end. It isn’t Fleetwood Mac, it isn’t Megadeath, it’s kind of a transition between the two.
The Black Album starts with what is, for all intents and purposes, the perfect opening track for this kind of record. One of the few Metal songs that just about everybody knows, “Enter Sandman” pulls you in and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Even the simple lyrics “Exit light, enter night” act as instruction to the listener as they make the descent into this now iconic record. The guitars are heavy, thick, deep, and almost demand that you nod your head along with them. The drums are pounding and drive the song rhythmically, but Lars Ulrich knew when to go loud and when to stay in the background of the composition. The drums don’t make use of the often over-indulgent and noisy triple bass pedal often found in more intense metal songs. The infamous screamo vocal style that often turns people away from metal cannot be found anywhere on this record either, which plays to its strength as a gateway into the genre. Rhythm guitarist, main songwriter, and lead vocalist James Hetfield certainly has some grit and weight to his vocals, though. He certainly isn’t Freddie Mercury or Geddy Lee, but he isn’t screaming either. That perfect amount of bite and intensity which fit so well with the tones, themes, and instrumentals is hugely important in making this record what it is. The vocals are reflective of the deeper strength of this entire album within the Metal genre: The balance. If I had to criticize Metal as a whole, I would say that it is just, frankly too much. The vocals, drums, instrumentals, everything is often over the top, very loud, over-indulgent, and it all just kind of becomes a big emotion driven mess of noise, when done wrong. Metallica doesn’t have this problem. They are loud, they are intense, they are emotional, but it somehow all still feels in good taste. The pieces all work together very well to compliment each other and give a product that is greater than the sum of its parts. Metallica’s Black Album is probably one of the best produced rock records I’ve ever listened to, and I’ve listened to a metric shitload of rock music.
So yeah, Metallica finds a sweet spot between hard rock and death metal on their 1991 classic The Black Album and, while I’m not personally a huge Metal fan, I’ve listened to this album plenty of times and it has helped me appreciate the genre as a whole more than any other piece of music, save maybe the Doom (2016) and Doom Eternal (2019) soundtracks, both of which draw inspiration from great Metal acts like Metallica. If this intense and dark style of rock just isn’t your sound, then that’s fine, but I still feel as though Metallica’s Black Album is a musical experience worth having. Who knows, maybe you’ll love it and end up going down the rabbit hole and becoming a metal head. Or maybe you’re like me, somewhere in-between and just grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate this awesome album.
Benny the Jet, Exiting Sandman and roaming towards the hills and tomorrow’s album.