Metallica's Reload gets an underwhelming score from Classic Rock's readers in the Album Of The Week Club

When Metallica tried to follow The Black Album, the results were mixed. Then the leftovers arrived

Metallica - Reload cover art
(Image: © Blackened Recordings)

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Metallica - Reload

Metallica Reload cover art

(Image credit: Blackened Recordings)

The Memory Remains
Devil's Dance
The Unforgiven II
Better Than You
Carpe Diem Baby
Bad Seed
Where the Wild Things Are
Prince Charming
Low Man's Lyric

Perhaps if producer Bob Rock hadn’t become so friendly with Metallica in the aftermath of the phenomenal success of the ‘Black’ album, the producer might have had the balls to tell James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich that about half of the ideas they were offering up for its successor weren't perhaps as good as they might have been. 

Even James Hetfield himself has since conceded that he "wasn’t 100% on with it, but I would say that that was a compromise," effectively throwing his bandmates under the bus by adding: "I said, ‘I’m going with Lars’ and Kirk’s vision on this. You guys are extremely passionate about this, so I’ll jump on board, because if the four of us are into it, it’s going to be better.’ So I did my best with it, and it didn’t pan out as good as I was hoping, but, again, there’s no regrets, because at the time it felt like the right thing to do.”

Well, spoiler alert, it didn't work out. With Load front-loaded with the better songs, the following Reload picked up the slack from the writing sessions, and understandably suffers as a consequence. While James Hetfield’s lyrics hit new peaks of maturity, too many of his riffs here are – to employ a Lars Ulrich passive-aggressive criticism – ‘stock’, and should have ended up in the Pro-Tools recycle bin. The Memory Remains is one hell of a tune though.

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Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in November 1997

  • Distant Horizons - Hawkwind
  • Keys to Ascension 2 - Yes
  • Signs of Chaos - Testament
  • Unit - Regurgitator
  • BBC Sessions - Led Zeppelin
  • The Omega Sessions - Bad Brains
  • Satisfaction Is The Death of Desire - Hatebreed
  • So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes - NOFX
  • Breed to Breathe - Napalm Death
  • Caring and Killing - Converge
  • Scum - Anti-Nowhere League
  • The Lonesome Crowded West - Modest Mouse
  • Songs from The Capeman - Paul Simon
  • We're Outta Here! - Ramones
  • Endless Nameless - The Wildhearts
  • Sixpence None the Richer - Sixpence None the Richer


What they said...

"If the foursome is not capable of making a truly bad record anymore, Re-Load is not one of their greats. Like the transitional albums that moved the band from the pure aggression of Kill ‘Em All to the flawless “black album,” Load and Re-Load are just steppingstones in the ongoing Metallica legacy." (Rolling Stone)

"There are a couple of ballads and country-rockers that don't work quite so well (it's never a good idea to have an explicit sequel, as on The Unforgiven II), and that, along with a few plodding Metallica-by-numbers, is what keeps Reload from being a full success. Still, the towering closer, Fixxxer, along with handful of cuts that successfully push the outer edges of Metallica's sound, make the record worthwhile." (AllMusic)

"Reload actually started out well enough with the rock radio hit Fuel. While it certainly didn’t contain Metallica’s greatest lyrics, it was a catchy, sturdy opener. Second track was the ballad The Memory Remains. It was mellow, but also above average. The crusty Marianne Faithfull vocal line at the end made it work. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. Like a lot of albums made for the CD era, Reload ran way too long. The two good songs were followed by more than 65 minutes of filler. At times, it’s actually painful to listen to. (Punk News)


What you said...

Chris Downie: There are but a handful of bands who produce an album so gargantuan in worldwide impact it cements their place in rock and metal immortality, but also becomes an albatross around their neck, in that nothing they subsequently produce could ever live up to it. How many outside of diehard Led Zeppelin fans speak of the otherwise brilliant Houses Of The Holy? Was AC/DC's For Those About To Rock better than given credit for? What if Don't Look Back was Boston's debut and the self-titled masterpiece its follow-up? In short, Metallica were on a hiding to nothing after the eponymous mainstream smash of 1991 and, it could be argued, would have faced backlash regardless of their next move. The fact they milked it and took 5 years to release a follow-up suggests they knew this.

While 1996's Load and the following year's Reload are not in the same class as the aforementioned greats, it is notable they are not as big a departure from the Black Album as that was from its predecessor. Unfortunately however, they were also the start of a common trend which has permeated every Metallica album since; an infuriating inability to self-edit, whether it be decent songs that overstay their welcome (Carpe Diem Baby), or should have remained on the cutting room floor (Low Man's Lyric). Like Guns N' Roses and their Use Your Illusion double set half a decade earlier, Load and Reload also suffer from the modern curse of 'CD bloat', where albums took advantage of the format's increased capacity over vinyl, but simultaneously proved less is most certainly not always more. If cut down to 9 tracks and circa 50-55 minutes each, as opposed to 14 and 13 tracks and almost 80 minutes respectively, Load and Reload would have made for a much more compelling, taut experience.

It is significant that Corrosion of Conformity were their support band on the Load tour, for an argument could surely be made that, had COC released those albums, they would almost certainly have been better appreciated. Such are the standards Metallica set on their first five albums however, they are instead relegated to a curious footnote in their illustrious history. Choosing between them is an interesting proposition; take the best 6 tracks of the 27 and at least 4 are on Load. Take the weakest 6 however and at least 4 are also on Load. On both counts, they are a solid, if unspectacular 7/10.

Gary Claydon: Not half as bad as it's made out to be but only half as good as it could have been. Trimming the flab & cutting the running time in approximately half would have been a good start. Half the tracks are half-decent while the other half are half-hearted. Would combining the good half of Load with the good half of Reload result in a good Metallica album? Not half! Score out of 10? 5 seems appropriate.

Andrew Cumming: I know this has been well rehearsed but Load and Reload should have been 1 (great) album. Load was a change of sound, tone etc. But ultimately it’s always the quality of the songs that makes the difference. And that’s what let these two albums down. Fuel and Memory Remains are a killer 1-2. I like Unforgiven II and Low Man’s Lyric. And Fixxer is a great underrated track (perhaps their most underrated track??). Many are ok, but it gets too samey. And how did Better Than You win a Grammy!!!!! Could, and have, done better

Phillip Qvist: A better album than it is made put to be, and better than St Anger, but it is still a pretty mediocre album by Metallica's standards. I actually liked Load, not their best but still a pretty decent album in its own right; but, as many people have already said, this album seems to be filled with leftovers from the Load sessions. I heard Reload for the first time in over 20 years this week but I doubt I will listen to it again. A 6/10 at best from me.

James Doughty: I have long believed that if they had given this album another title it would have been better received. Reload sounded like a retread, which the band openly admitted it was. So a lot of fans I know didn't give it much of a fair shake.

John Bethel: Love this album personally. I got into Metallica as a 13 year old with the Black album cycle. I got to explore the earlier stuff but it didn’t click til much later, whereas 90s Metallica - TBA, Load, Reload, Garage Inc. was my jam and formed a big part of my teenage years soundtrack so have a real soft spot for it.

With experience and perspective I can see why older fans - with them from the 80s - were wondering WTF was going on, but Reload has some great tunes on there.

The opening 4 - Fuel, Memory, Devil’s Dance and Unforgiven II are all excellent. Carpe Diem Baby, Where The Wild Things Are, Low Man’s Lyric and Fixxxer are also great songs. The rest are standard rock by numbers fayre decent without being brilliant- “Grammy Award Winning” Better Than You and Prince Charming are probably the best of those songs. In my book only Slither struggles to pass muster.

It’s not Ride The Lightning - they were a different band by the mid-late 90’s - but this album and Load deserve a lot more love and respect as they were still great records

Oscar Frank: Metallica changed so much during this period (starting with The Black Album) that their "older" audience/fans, didn`t like the new sound. This new sound did put Metallica into a different genre, more commercial/radio friendly, and that gave them more new fans, and in bigger numbers, than the ones who said goodbye. Some say you can't please everybody, and that's exactly what happened. I happen to like every version of Metallica, the 80s, the Load-era and the albums after 2000. What Metallica did to me, was to broaden my taste in music. I enjoyed Bon Jovi, Def Leppard etc in the 80s, the "heaviest" band I listened to was Maiden. I did like some of the songs on Black Album, then after Load and Reload I thought I`d give their 80s albums a second chance (it was too heavy/too metal for me at the time) and sure enough, I liked them a lot. That got me listening to Slayer, Testament, Anthrax and so on. I finally "got it". These days nothing can be "too heavy", but I need someone who`s able to sing in a way where I understand the lyrics. Load/Reload is what made me get into metal, and that`s a good thing. They`re albums that are somewhere between Metal and Bon Jovi, and that`s what it took. These days I listen to all kinds of music, but back then that was not the case.

Uli Hassinger: Like expected the responses are diverse. I’m a Metallica fan from the start. First saw them on their RTL tour and after that on almost every tour in the 80th and 90th. My favorite album of them is still Kill 'Em All, which was mindblowing in its time. Other than many die hard fans from the early days I have liked Load and Reload from the very start.

Reload even more than Load brought some 70s influences up which makes it special. Most recognizable in Hammett's guitar playing which is much more varied than on his early works. The same with the singing of Hetfield.

The album is framed with two classic Metallica songs. Fuel and Fixxxer could easily be on MOP without attracting attention. The Memory Remains was the song that flashed me also because of the cool video. The idea to involve MF in the outro is just brilliant. The Unforgiven II is a worthy follower of part one. Carpe Diem Baby, Prince Charming, Slither, Better Than You are all great songs other bands would love to have written.

Where The Wild Things Are Are with its psychedelic touch is one of my favorites. Astonishingly they played it on their 2018 tour.

I could not understand the bad critics. If you listen to it unbiased and not compare it with their early works every note you have to appreciate that it’s still a great rock album. The only thing I go with is that it is too long and could be shortened about 10 minutes or so. To me 8/10.

Chris Elliot: It's okay ......... sounds more like a B sides compilation than an album. I've never been the biggest Metallica fan the first 4 albums deserve their reputation but after that can't say there's one I'd like to listen to again by choice.


Final score: 5.86 (258 votes cast, total score 1,512)

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