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“I think James is still fuming”: an interview with the artist who created Metallica’s Load and Reload album covers

Metallica’s Load and Reload album sleeves
(Image credit: Elektra Records)

The mid-90s remains the most controversial period of Metallica’s career. The musical shift the San Francisco band took with the Load and Reload albums upset certain sections of their fanbase, though not as much as the fact that the band now sported a brand new look that involved short hair and make-up.

With hindsight, Metallica were simply trying to shake off the clichés of heavy metal – something apparent when they recruited controversial artist Andres Serrano to create the covers for Load and Reload. The former featured an image titled Blood And Semen III, which featured cow’s blood mixed with semen, while the latter’s cover was the self-explanatory Piss And Blood. Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett were big fans of the artist’s work, though James Hetfield was reputedly less impressed.

We asked Serrano how he got involved with the biggest metal band on the planet.

Metal Hammer line break

How did Metallica get in touch with you about your art?

“It was Kirk and Lars who asked for the picture for Load. I met with them at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, and we arranged for them to use the image for the album, merchandise and all promotional purposes. I was flattered and honoured they wanted it.”

Why do you think they wanted your artwork?

“Because it spoke to them. They were drawn to it and I’m glad they were, because the image and album was a match made in Heaven.”

Were you familiar with their music?

“I knew their reputation as the greatest heavy metal band ever. It was only later I became familiar with their music.”

Did they ask for those pieces for Load and Reload specifically?

“Yes, they knew what they wanted for both albums.”

Where did the inspiration for the art itself originally come from?

“It was part of a series called ‘Bodily Fluids’. They were photographs intended to look like paintings, using milk, blood, piss and semen.”

How did you get the bovine blood?

“I bought it at the butcher. It would be labelled ‘edible beef blood’ and I would buy a gallon of it whenever I needed it. The blood would darken after a day, so I thought I needed fresh blood to get the bright red. Later, someone told me to put the dark blood in a blender and it would brighten up again.”

What did you think of the Load and Reload records?

“They’re amazing! I was not aware of the evolution Metallica’s sound had taken. But I know they felt there was a connection between the two albums. That’s why they wanted another image from the series for the follow-up album. Related but different. Everything comes from somewhere, and sometimes an audience may not realise there is a connection between one body of work and another but there could be. Only the artist knows for sure.”

What was the reaction, from their fanbase and the band?

“I think the images were a hit. I read a review once where the Load album was named No.1 on a list of best album covers. We know Lars and Kirk were happy with it but James was not. I think James is still fuming!” 

Eleanor was promoted to the role of Editor at Metal Hammer magazine after over seven years with the company, having previously served as Deputy Editor and Features Editor. Prior to joining Metal Hammer, El spent three years as Production Editor at Kerrang! and four years as Production Editor and Deputy Editor at Bizarre. She has also written for the likes of Classic Rock, Prog, Rock Sound and Visit London amongst others, and was a regular presenter on the Metal Hammer Podcast.