For many fans, “Load” and “Reload” represent the moment that Metallica jumped the shark. Released in 1996 and 1997 respectively, they’re the albums on which the band turned away from their thrash metal roots, embraced the mid-‘90s alternative rock trend and strove for a more self-consciously commercial sound.
There have been plenty of controversial moments in Metallica’s career, but the release of “Load” was probably the first major schism. While the change in direction was embraced by many, and opened the band up to a new generation of fans, others lambasted the seeming abandoning of their roots. On “Damage, Inc.” from 1986’s seminal “Master of Puppets” album, the band had defiantly stated they were “following [their] instinct, not a trend.” Now, 10 years later, it seemed like they were doing anything but.
In retrospect, “Load” and “Reload” were the albums that sowed the seeds of dissent in the once-Metallica faithful. And, as the years went on, the criticisms that followed those records would become amplified until the band reached near-breaking point in the mid-2000s. But, terrible they are not. In fact, for all of their flaws, there are plenty of later day Metalli-classics nestled within their mammoth runtimes. Which raises the question, “could things have gone differently?” Is there an alternative dimension out there where the “Load”/”Reload” era isn’t Metallica’s most divisive period? What would have changed to make that happen?
Hindsight is, of course, always 20/20. But, as I see it, these are five things that Metallica could have done differently with “Load” and “Reload” to save their reputation amongst fans and critics. First things first, lets talk about that runtime issue…
Release a single album:
Even “Load” and “Reload’s” most vehement champions have to admit that both records are just too damn long. 30 songs across two albums with a combined runtime of 160 minutes, listening to the two discs back-to-back is a massive undertaking. The sheer duration is daunting enough, but the variable quality across the two discs makes an uninterrupted listening session taxing to say the least. The second part of “Reload” feels particularly half-baked; getting to the end of it is a slog.
The sense of a lack of focus also permeates, and it sometimes feels like Metallica are throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks. Diversions like the country ballad “Mama Said” and aeonian, eight-minute, hurdy-gurdy driven “Low Man’s Lyric” are interesting, but deviate so much from the Metallica sound as to be completely incongruous.