Metallica: Load (Part 1)

Part 1 of my ‘Load’ retrospective. Metalli-history, album build up and a music exam delays hearing the album…..

I’m pretty sure I’ve covered this already elsewhere on this blog, but for completeness sake, indulge me again. Growing up I had a circle of about 4-5 friends with whom I hung out with regularly. A couple lived on the same street as me and other in the wider village. two of this group had older brothers whom, at the time (the late 80s), I was totally enamored with. They had long hair, denim jackets, went to gigs and had impressive vinyl collections. Through them I was introduced to Kiss, Anthrax, Phil Collins and…. Metallica. Having bought the ‘one’ single it fell to one of the older brothers to do me a copy of the ‘…And Justice For All’. All of these things combined together to begin a love of a band that has lasted me almost 30 years.

Skip forward a couple of years and it’s 1991 and the new Metallica album is on the horizon. Having already purchased the lead single ‘Enter Sandman’ I was primed and ready for new Metallica. And I loved the album. it was heavy (in my limited experience at the time) and had catchy tunes and solos and was just everything I wanted in my burgeoning love for the band. Around this time I started to get into Metallica bootlegs. I don’t recall how or why to be honest. I believe that (again) it was the influence of the older brothers. I remember getting copies of Donington 85, Newport 88, Hamilton 92…. anyway the point of this bootleg business is that it leads me to my friend Graham. Back in about 1994, I was in a band with some friends. One of the band’s father managed to arrange a rehearsal at a local rowing club which we were all very excited about. Until we found out that said father had mentioned to a fellow rower that we were jamming there so fellow rower then invited his son along to our jam. This was Graham. He didn’t say much, probably because the band was too busy arguing and yelling at each for him to be able to get a word in edge-ways.

The band eventually dissolved and time passes. I remember this kid that I met, this Graham, at the jam. He had a cool guitar seemed to be into metal and I wanted to be in a band. So I dug his phone number of the phone book (when there were such things!) and rang him. But the reason for meeting up was…. bootlegs. The start of my 22 year friendship with Graham was initiated by Metallica bootlegs. We met outside McDonald’s in Cardiff and swapped tapes (I can’t remember what I gave him but he lent me Wembley 92) and we were off and running. This developed into a friendship that developed into a band. Anywho time passes (a couple of years to be exact) during that time friendships are cemented, live shows are taped off the radio and fandom (of Metallica) becomes all-encompassing. Articles start appearing in Kerrang and Metal Hammer, news snippets about the new album. photos of the new haircuts (not bothered at the time, not bothered now). Words like “greasy” and “loose” and “bluesy” get bandied around. I’m fully invested by this point. Even though I was a fan pre-The Black Album I’m striding into the middle of my teen years at this point and the synapses are firing off and drawing this band and (later) this album into a place of strong resonance for me, emotionally. And then……. one evening I open up local newspaper, The South Wales Echo, and see this tiny news piece:


Ho.Ly. Sh.It. Wow. The excitement levels were off the charts. I very quickly got in touch with Graham and Huw (the latter, the drummer in our band) to arrange to go. So off we went to Coopers Field to find a whacking great big truck and a speaker stack that looked like it was about to topple over. So 4pm arrives. Then 4.15pm. No music. Then an announcement comes that due to an exam in the nearby music conservatoire, the playing of the album would be delayed by an hour or so. Some booing but we all sat down and waited. I’m not sure how many people were there but it definitely seemed to thin out after this announcement. I do know of one person who wasn’t there though: my buddy Huw. It seems that his sister never gave him the time r place we were meeting up and, back in 1996, there were no mobile phones so he never managed to get there. I seem to remember my thought at the time being, well this is different. It’s heavy and it grooves but it’s not as frenetic or… “razor-sharp” as the previous album. Of course I’d already had an inkling of this given that the previous year’s Monsters Of Rock had been broadcast on the radio and included a new song ‘2×4’. A week later, the first single from the album would drop and I’d have a better chance of digesting this new era of Metallica.

Here’s some footage of the truck on its stop in London taken from my own VHS archive. First broadcast on ‘The oZone’ on BBC1, 25 May 1996.

sleeps_advertSo about that single. Being as this was May 1996, I was knee-deep in preparing for my GCSE exams. And by “knee-deep” I mean, spending more time out of the house with friends than in it, revising. However on 20th May, I was otherwise engaged, most likely in school. Which was a real bugger as I wanted to be in town buying the new Metallica single, ‘Until It Sleeps’. Fortunately Graham was (and I believe, still is) a year older than me and had no such restrictions so I asked him (more like, begged him) to pick me up all versions of the single and I would pick them up from his house. So after school, I was driven to his parent’s house to collect my goodies. Graham’s room was in the loft and as I climbed the stairs, I remember thinking “I hope he’s not listening to the new song when I get to his room”, my reasons being that I wanted to hear it from the beginning, to be able to devour it and walking in mid-song would kinda ruin that. Fortunately he was listening to one of the B-sides so that was lucky! I gave him the money owed, I must have chit-chatted for a bit but swiftly made my exit so I could get back home and play this thing.

‘Until It Sleeps’ was a VERY bold choice for Metallica to make as first single. Whilst not the most divergent from their sound (that’ll be ‘Mama Said’) it was a clear marker about what we could expect from the SDC13250new album. Not so much in tone but style. Gone was the razor-riffs of ‘Puppets’ and ‘Justice’, even the chug of the ‘Black Album’ had wandered off. What this was, was still heavy but it grooved. It shift and slunk in a way that no Metallica song had done before. I remember instantly loving it, partly because it was new Metallica and I was SO ready for that but also because….well….it’s catchy! It’s a well crafted slab of rock. And that’s the key here, the word “rock”. The band were straying from their “metal” roots for a variety of reasons (more on that in Part 2) and this was a shot across the bow for those fans that were unwilling to embrace change. What started with the haircuts (yawn….) bled through into the music. Things were going to be a bit different from now on. And I was just fine with that. I’ll discuss the song in more detail in Part 2 but let’s take a gander at the B-sides.

“‘2×4 (Live)”
Recorded at the Monsters of Rock festival at Donington in 1995 (although cunningly re-titled “Escape from the SDC13251Studio ’95”), the song opens up with James telling the audience and us, the listener, that he’s “going to say ‘Motherfucker’ a lot” and then the band proceeds to lurch into song with an almost gleeful abandon. At a number of points it threatens to collapse on itself. There are a few lyrical differences from the studio version, naturally as it was (I presume) at that time still not finalised in studio. As rote as this song is, it never fails to make me tap my foot and bob my head. What’s most interesting about this is that they chose such a huge gig to début a new song. Having not been in attendance at the time I could only image what it must have been like to finally hear a new song, 4 years after the last album. I have no idea why I didn’t go the gig. To be honest I was probably a bit scared of being in a crowd of that size. Also it was outdoors and the UK weather in the summer month is not always guaranteed to be warm. Or dry for that matter. Still this is a great version of the song. Obviously fresh in the band’s mind, it has a fire and glee to it that is infectious.

until it sleeps 1“F.O.B.D. (aka Until It Sleeps – early ‘writing in progress’ version)”

LARS: Can we get fucking Kirk in here?
JAMES: Yeah get “fucking” Kirk in here. Not “regular” Kirk.

Following the tradition of putting demos on singles, F.O.B.D. gives us a little insight into the recording process. Beginning with a joke so bad it should be put to sleep, what follows is an uninterrupted live take recorded on 8th December 1995 as part of the ‘Load’ sessions. As with all the other demos up until that point, there are no lyrics so James substitutes either “whoa”, “yeah” “oooh”, “hey” or “na-na-ne” as placeholders. Structurally it’s pretty much what ends up on the album and it’s an interesting but ultimately, forgettable little tidbit. I particularly like the end of the song though, when Kirk asks “where’re we going?” (with the song) Lars replies “we’re making this up as we go along”, a telling comment that indicates how he and James have loosened the reins of control on this album.

until it sleeps 2 back“Kill/Ride Medley (Live)”
Another live cut from the Donington show (if this show doesn’t get a complete release in the ‘Load’ deluxe boxset, I’m going to have a paddy). No stranger to medleys, the first one arrived on the Black Album tour featured songs from the ‘Justice’ album, this one is a hodge-podge of songs from the first two albums. I remember the review of this show in Metal Hammer magazine and one part in particular that said that if Metallica had spent less time dicking around on stage they could have played a number of these medley songs in full. A fair point but I think the point of this one is twofold. Firstly it’s not just a nod back to their thrash past but it also seems to be a concession to the new direction that they were taking with the upcoming album. Of course, they must have still enjoyed (and continue to) playing those songs but, to me, it’s almost like they were putting this together for the older fans to remind them that they were still Metallica. Just a shifting version of Metallica. The fact that they continued to play this on the ‘Load’ tour indicates this as well. As for the medley itself? It’s a great gallop through their roots and it certainly featured frequently when Graham and I got together to jam. Although I could never quite nail the double bass intro to ‘Fight Fire With Fire. Still can’t actually.

“Until It Sleeps (Herman Melville Mix)”
Ahhh the controversial “dance” remix. Legend has it that James got so enraged when he heard this remix that he trashed a stereo in the studio. It’s certainly a bold move. But again, it’s in keeping with the sleeps-vinylprevailing attitude of the band at that time. Hair was being cut (apparently this was a BIG deal at the time), riffs were becoming bluesy and less jagged and their whole image was about to get a radical overhaul. And that includes the logo. This remix created by Moby (it was only until years later I understood the Melville reference….) it’s an interesting addition to the catalogue. Not being an aficionado of the genre, I can’t really compare it or critique in that context. I can, however, say that it featured regularly on my stereo.

Most Friday nights in this period was spent in a pub the Angel Tavern. Situated beneath the Angel Hotel in Cardiff city centre, the Angel was where everyone went. A tiny place, it was almost always filled with people I knew. Often it would take about 20 minutes to get to our table simply because we would stop to say “hi” to various people on the way past. Many drinks, laughs, tears and arguments were had there. Anyway, prior to getting on the bus to town I would somewhat of a Friday night ritual to get ready for the evening. This would involve get ready to go out, checking I had my keys, wallet etc. and all of this to music that would set the mood. This is where the remix comes in. Something about the insistent beat, the nightclub-like vibe (to my young ears at least) put me in the right mood for the impending shenanigans. I’d put this on, crank the stereo and get washed and ready to go out. It became synonymous with nights out. As did ‘Firestarter’ by the Prodigy. So is it a good song? You’ll have to get a genre-specific critique elsewhere but I like it for what it symbolized: the prelude to good times.


The Angel Tavern, Cardiff. Our table was at the very top left of the photo where that green board is.

So that’s Part 1 of my ‘Load’ retrospective wrapped up. Next up is my review of the album as a whole where I’ll no doubt talk about haircuts (double yawn….), those booklet pictures, changing musical styles as well as a large amount a waffle/backstory. I’ll also cover the other single’s B-sides and related releases. Stay tuned!


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