The Vinyl Word on... “Metallica” (aka “The Black Album”).
While it’s great that modern musicians are getting to put out their records on vinyl, it’s not really the best format for music that is recorded digitally, as most music nowadays is. This is just my personal opinion, but I find that older music that was recorded using old school reel to reel tape just sounds better on vinyl. That’s where this album comes in.
Metallica had already carved out a big following by the time 1990 rolled around and they were hitting the studio to record this album. This was all in spite their bucking of music industry trends like not releasing music videos (their first video was for the song “One” released in 1989). However the band felt that they had left thrash metal behind and were ready for a new challenge. Having seen their contemporaries like Guns N Roses enjoy huge commercial success, Metallica looked outside the metal spectrum and hired Bob Rock, who had previously worked with Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams, in order to obtain that radio friendly, stadium rock sound.
This sound is wholly evident when “Enter Sandman” starts. It’s quite intro gives way to enormous drums and a thick bass sound which had been completely absent on the band’s previous record “…And Justice For All”. In addition to the cleaner production elements, Metallica streamlined their songwriting process as well. Gone from this album are the nine minute epic instrumentals that peppered their early releases, and in their place are songs that are shorter but no less technically excellent. The riffs on songs like “Holier than Thou” and “Wherever I May Roam” are among the most intricate the band has committed to tape. The maturity in the song writing is more evident on the real epics on the album like “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters”, and this is another aspect where Bob Rock pushed the band out of their comfort zone. Famously, during the recording when the band was unsure about a part on “The Unforgiven” Rock sarcastically teased the band about how “Megadeth and Anthrax are going to make fun of you if it sounds melodic and nice”.
Metallica’s faith in their new direction and producer reaped great rewards for the band upon the album’s release in 1991. It remains their biggest selling record to date, and many of the songs have remained live staples in their set after all these years. I have owned many different versions of this album over the years, but the reissued double vinyl that the band put out on their own label, Blackened Recordings, is the best it’s ever sounded. When you put it on the turntable it explodes from the speakers, every guitar note is crisp and the drums and bass practically shake the ground. Hetfield’s vocals are probably the best he’s ever sounded, and every word he sings is clear as day. Metallica’s best record has never sounded this good.
Theses are the honest and honourable words of our man Kevin Dillon.