As we celebrate Metallica's 30th Anniversary, it's time to reexamine a popular mindset among critics and fans of the most enduringly popular band in metal history: Many believe that all four of Metallica's 1980s albums were unimpeachable classics, and that after that, the band members cut their hair, hired a pricey behavioral therapist, sued their fans over Napster, and were never worthwhile again. You're not going to get any argument from us on the first part -- Metallica's first four records are mostly excellent. But to completely write off the second act of the band's career is a sad oversimplification. Sure, the Napster thing wasn't a good look for a band that built its fanbase in the early '80s on the circulation of bootleg tapes. And granted, Metallica did make two of the worst albums by a major act in recent memory, 2003's St. Anger and last month's collaboration with Lou Reed, Lulu.
But we'd argue that the band's two post-Black Album records, 1996's Load and 1997's Reload, are somewhat underrated. Recorded during many of the same sessions and released a year apart while Metallica were on tour, Load and Reload were warmly received by critics at the time, but they've since taken their place among the most reviled work of Metallica's career. These albums are stripped-down and streamlined, without most of the extended solos and complex song structures that defined the group's earlier work. They're both plenty self-indulgent regardless, totaling nearly three hours in length (and a good part of that run time is filler). But between the two, there are some gems that make them worthwhile. Yes, really. Check out these 10 songs.
1. "Ain't My Bitch"
Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield open the album with a dual-guitar attack -- textbook Metallica, right? Actually, this is closer to the riff duels Slash and Izzy Stradlin engaged in with Guns N' Roses than it is to the labyrinthine solos of the Metallica of old.
2. "Until It Sleeps"
Here, the band tries its hand at the quiet-loud-quiet formula more commonly associated with grunge. The hallmark of Load is its heavy '70s arena-rock influence, but on "Until It Sleeps," Metallica prove capable of staying current(-ish) on rock trends.
3. "Hero of the Day"
This mid-tempo rocker could have been an Aerosmith song, and we mean that as a compliment.
A lot of Load's '70s-inspired riffing translates to sludge, but this is one of the more inspired guitar figures on the album.
Straight-up Southern-rock boogie, reminiscent of ZZ Top's "Waiting for the Bus."
Next up, the sequel -- Reload: