When Metallica decided to change direction slightly in the mid ’90s to reinvent themselves they released Load and Reload, two albums which were supposed to work as the front and back cover of a book dealing with Metallica’s reinvention.
However, things didn’t pan out as James, Kirk, Lars, and Jason had planned and the albums were faced with a lot of mixed reviews. For many fans this change of direction felt like going to an online casino such as Netbet to play a game of roulette, but ending up in the wrong room and having to play poker instead. They just didn’t sign up for that.
The fact that these expectations weren’t met kind of explains why these two albums are now considered as Metallica’s worst, even though, when you look at things from another perspective they are quite good. Just imagine if other bands came out with songs such as Until It Sleeps, The Memory Remains, King Nothing and even Unforgiven II at that same time period. They would immediately be anointed as some sort of metal-rock-blues kings.
Change of Direction
Probably the biggest reason why so many fans didn’t receive Load and Reload very well is the unexpected change of direction the band took. They were expecting yet another fast-paced thrash metal album dealing with hatred towards the government and the establishment and instead they got two blues-rock albums which were turned towards the inside with more introspective lyrics than ever before.
This change of direction wasn’t only visible in the lyrics. The band also underwent a change of fashion and hairstyles, which for many hardcore metal fans was equal to a cardinal sin. Even James Hetfield later declared that he was very much against this decision, but did it out of respect for Kirk and Lars, who were both pushing for the band to reinvent themselves. He felt that if the band was to be successful, compromises such as this one had to be made and as a result felt that they had made the right decision.
Another reason why the band received so much hatred from fans was the perception that they were selling out and going into the mainstream. Their songs suddenly seemed more pop audience friendly, the music videos were more colourful and shinier, and some band members even felt the need to put on some make up. As we said at the beginning, this was not what the hardcore fans signed up for.
However, looking at Metallica’s most popular album, The Black Album, which actually preceded Load and Reload, it’s easy to see that Metallica’s sound changed dramatically then as well. When you compare that album to their previous work, it is only somewhat similar to And Justice For All, and is almost completely different from Ride the Lightning. And in turn And Justice For All is quite different from Kill Em All, for instance.
This means that the thing that bothered hardcore fans the most was actually the fact that the band wasn’t stuck in time. They wanted a band which would ignore things evolving around them and just make 10 Master of Puppets albums. That just wasn’t possible with a band as ambitious as Metallica.