Out There

Lock and...

Elektra Records

On a dreary winter day in 1994, MTV ceased airing Headbanger's Ball, signaling the end of an era of heavy metal dominance. Alternative rock bands flooded the airwaves and left heavy metal fans in something of a lurch.

Metallica weathered that storm of alternative acts without breaking weak or selling out. Its eponymous fifth album--known as the "Black Album"--exploded on the scene in 1991, cementing its supergroup status. Load arrived in '96 and the band--with little change other than shorter haircuts--picked up fans from a new generation of kids. Face it--long hair is simply a hassle, spending hours in the shower, and the drying time is horrendous. Michael Bolton soon followed with his short-haired look, but the similarities end there.

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Reload finds the smoke finally clearing, with Metallica still standing strong and delivering just what it promises: 13 tracks of mean metal. Things fly out of the starting block with a pumping "Fuel," reminding us that this is why someone buys a Metallica album. "Memory Remains" is next. This cut has enjoyed airplay here in Dallas, and its ending has sent rumors flying: Some believe that James Hetfield is on helium at the end of the song because the voice is so squeaky, but it's actually decadent poster-grandma Marianne Faithfull.

"Devil's Due" delivers that crisp, punchy Ulrich bass drum foundation, with lots of distorted and tremolo'd guitar--a whammy bar string-breaker for guitar fans. Things start to thin out, however, on "The Unforgiven II," a version that is somewhat lethargic and lacking in presence and intensity--the first "Unforgiven" was sufficient. "Slither," "Carpe Diem Baby," and "Bad Seed" all are solid, steady rockin' tunes, with "Slither" almost slipping into an Alice in Chains format.

A special treat for fans of the single "Enter Sandman" is "Where the Wild Things Are," a sequel to the band's 1991 tale of childhood fear. A darkened musical replay of the popular children's book first published in the late 1960s, "Wild Things" maintains Metallica's lyrical and musical integrity, asking a sleeping child to wake and save the world--"Where the wild things are/Toy soldiers out to war." Powerful, with precise harmonies, "Wild Things"--punctuated with percussion and guitar--is the song QueensrØche wish they had written.

At the end of this journey we find "Fixxxer," a thumping, driving ballad that addresses the proper appreciation of continuing to live. It's a definite sing-a-long for the live shows, and a fitting end until the next Load.

--Bruce Cameron

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