Blood! Semen! Haircuts! (But not at the same time. Eww). It’s part 2 of my ‘Load’ retrospective.
So a week or so (if my investigations are correct) after the listening party and first single release, I find myself queuing outside HMV Cardiff at around 8.30 am ready for the doors opening at 9am. Something I would do 9 years later for the St. Anger album actually. So 9am arrives and in I go straight to the CD section to pick up a copy. I don’t think I spent much time looking at it as I knew I would pour over it later whilst listening to the thing. Because, even though I’d heard it a week or so before, I pretty much couldn’t remember much of the album save for the single and ‘2×4’.
So, by this point in the year I was actually doing my GCSEs the upside of which meant that I had “study leave” (read: time off to do sod all) which meant that I could be at HMV at silly o’clock. It also meant that I could call into my friend, Huw’s, house and share the glory of listening to the new Metallica album with him. As you might recall, he missed the listening party so it would be his first time hearing it.
On the bus I went to his place and proceeded to attempt to gain (legitimate) entry to his house. After much knocking and ringing the doorbell, he appeared in front of me disheveled and bleary-eyed. The silly bugger was only still in bed!! On today of all days!! So as I bounded into his house like the Duracell bunny and a large measure of Peruvian marching powder he (somewhat snippily, I thought) informed me that he was going back to bed but I was welcome to stay. Which I did.
And so it came to pass that my first proper listen of this key album in the Metallica catalogue was in Huw’s parent’s study via headphones. I way that I still listen to new music to, to this day. And, perhaps out of guilt for waking him, I also recorded the album to cassette for Huw to listen to when he woke up. I’m pretty sure I left before he did, though. Anywho, let’s get into the track-by-track, shall we?
Ain’t My Bitch
One of the two “fast” tracks of the 6th album in Metallica’s catalogue. It’s the first marker of the blues tinged metal that the band are now employing. It’s a dumb but enjoyable romp through some fairly abstract and nonsensical lyrics. A whole ton of swagger and bravado just about save this track from the bin. Musically decent but (compared to what is to come) lyrically poor.
Standout lyric: “You arrived, but now it’s time to kiss your ass goodbye”
Like its predecessor this song is really let down by its lyrics. Ostensibly about a piece of wood (and its use on someone) its pretty juvenile and that’s saying something when you go back and read some of the lyrics on Kill Em All. Debuted live, a year before then studio version, this is probably one of the tracks I skip most. Although it does feature some very tasty playing from Mr Ulrich.
Standout lyric: “Friction, fusion, retribution”
The House That Jack Built
This is where the album really starts, for me. I mute start gives way to a dark and off-kilter riff. Which is pretty much died across all aspects of the song. Vocals pan left and right and fade in and out, guitars swoop by, percussion add a new dimension to the sound. This is a song that is aurally what it is portraying lyrically – the queasy state of body/mind under duress of drugs/alcohol/arrogance etc. And that talk box solo is just sublime. Why they never featured that again (more prominently) in a song, is beyond me.
Standout lyric: “Close my eyes, find my place to hide“
Until It Sleeps
The first single from the album and deliberately so because its one if the more weirder and un-Metallica tracks on the album. That fretless bass and Hetfield mournfully asking “where do i take this pain of mine?”. It’s a definite shot across the bow of those fans who will be challenged about what’s ahead. Is mean, the Mighty Hetfield talking about his pain?! Dealing with cancer (Hetfield lost both parents to the disease) the lyrics are in parts angry and accusing yet also fearful and frightened. The reference to “dirt still stains me” a fear of hereditary transmission, perhaps.
Standout lyric: “And the dirt still stains me / So wash me… till clean”
A mediation on the emptiness of fame and greed (explored more directly on ‘The Memory Remains’) and of being careful what you wish for…. This is a good but ultimately throw away song. I think the fact that my band used to cover this has attached more sentimentality to it than it deserves. There are some great dynamic to bits in the song though which stops it being a bit run of the mill. Plus it works better live than on record. 5 bonus points for including the lyrical callback to Enter Sandman at the close, too.
Standout lyric: “All the wants you waste / All the things you’ve chased“
Hero Of The Day
One of the standout tracks on the album. This has a wonderfully melancholic and melodic opening. Even when a crunchy guitar first appears it’s still mixed to the back so that the melody isn’t swamped. The more mature and personal lyrics that began on ‘Sleeps’ really comes to the forefront on this song and will continue over a number of other tracks. More on that later. What stuck with me and resonates to this day is the sense of searching for something: an answer, support, love, forgiveness. The sense of passing time and a need to feel something, to understand.
Standout lyric: “Excuse me while I tend to how I feel / These things return to me that still seem rea
There is a reason why this song is set in the middle of the album running order – it’s the absolute jewel in the crown of this album. By a county mile. A meditation on James’ first attempt at rehab, he says in the (now notorious) interview with Playboy: “There’s a lot of things that scar you when you’re growing up, you don’t know why. The song Bleeding Me is about that: I was trying to bleed out all bad, get the evil out. While I was going through therapy, I discovered some ugly stuff in there. A dark spot.” And boy does he verbalise that well on this track. Musically, its a wonderfully journey through melody and power and when that middle riff appears it’s just wonderful. I remember hearing it at the London gig and it damn near rumbled the foundations such is it’s weight. There’s also an interesting radio edit of the track which features some judicious editing from the original running time of 8:18 to 5:57. Check it out here.
Standout lyric: “I’m digging my way to something better
And so after the lyrical and musical weight of ‘Bleeding Me’ we have, on the surface at least, a more abstract and lightweight track. In the same way that the depth of ‘Sleeps’ was followed by a more “surface” ‘King Nothing’, the lyrics actually belie, I believe, a deeper meaning. I think this is, again, about rehab and trying to embrace a different way of living. There is a line (“He thinks the answer’s cold and in his hand / He takes his medicine”) which I believe is about alcohol (James’ drug of choice) and the stuff about uncrossing arms and believing is the struggle (skepticism?) of the 12 step treatment and rehab in general. Musically, this is a groovy, slinky track that screams to be played live and it’s a damn shame they haven’t (yet?!)
Standout lyric: “Betting on the cure / It must get better than this”
Poor Twisted Me
Ahhh the other skippable track on the record. Based around a delay-processed blues riff and James’ processed vocals (and bearing somewhat of a similarity to ‘Spirit In The Sky‘), it’s pretty much a basic rock track that sort of meanders until the song draws to a close. Much has been made of the fact that ‘Load’ and ‘Reload’ contain songs that could have been used as b-sides and that the two albums should have been combined. This is certainly a track for me that I wouldn’t have gotten upset about if it hadn’t appeared on the record. Mind you, for a while in 1997/8 they were playing as part of an acoustic set and it sounds much more at home in that format. There’s a great version with John Popper from Blues Traveller out there. Listen to it here (and try not to punch your own face at the vocal delivery in parts….).
Standout lyric: “You finally reached the shore, survived the storm”
Wasting My Hate
The other “fast” track on the album, this song starts of nice and gently; Hetfield crooning over at clean and then the band thunders in and pretty much barrels through the song at (for the mindset they were in at the time) breakneck speed. Lyrically about the effort of hating someone for an unjustified reason, it was inspired by a story Waylon Jennings told Hetfield. This was another ‘Load’ track that my band used to bash out back in the day. In fact, lucky you, you can hear a version of it here recorded live in Graham’s parent’s garage on 2nd February 2007. The sound is terrible, the playing wonky but the vibe is there. Features me on bass and vocals. Sorry.
Standout lyric: “You think you’re worthy now? / You think enough to even raise the brow?”
How lucky that the previous song had its lyrical routes in Waylon Jennings because this one has its musical roots in Jennings’ genre. Metallica were no stranger to softer, ballad songs by this point in their career. But on this track, they take it to the Nth degree and serve up a country song. Wow. Obviously, I was knee-deep in my love affair with the band in 1996 so this track fell immediately into the category of “great”. However, for some fans, this was the last nail in the coffin of their Metallica. The haircuts were tolerable (this was the mid-90s after all) the photos could be ignored (they were photo shoots specifically for the album, of course they’re not going to wear jeans and t-shirts anymore, this was the mid-90s after all). But a country song? No, that was the final straw. Fair enough, I guess. But I love this song. Have done since the day I heard it. I mean, how could you not? Hetfield’s performance is spine-tingling. Dealing with the death of his mother and the regret at not getting to spend time with her before she died, it’s a raw, open, honest tune that not only takes the band on a different musical path but also allows Hetfield to bring his personal tastes in music into the band. Something that is rife throughout this album. The performance on ‘Later….With Jools Holland’ from 1996 is awesome too. Just James, a guitar and his voice. See it here.
Standout lyric: “Mama, now I’m coming home / I’m not all you wished of me”
Tucked away toward the end of the album, this track seems to get overlooked/forgotten somewhat. Perhaps because musically it’s not jaw dropping (although some riffs and dynamics are contained in it). Yet another standout set of lyrics from Hetfield. Dealing with the anger of being made to feel guilty, this features some of my all-time favourite lyrics. I also particularly love the jam feel of the ending. Hetfield riffs on some solos (pretty certain it’s him) and that final delivery of “I am the thorn withinnnnnnnnnn” is damn good. Over the past 10 years or so, Metallica have taken to re-working some of their songs into acoustic form, I’ve always thought this would be a good candidate for that treatment. Something slow and moody. You never know what might happen!
Standout lyric: “For I am shadows and will follow you, one and the same are we”
A very definite Country tinge to this one. It’s a bit of a fence-sitter for me. Sometimes I want to listen to it that’ll I’ll go directly to it, other times I wish it wasn’t on the album. In fact, I get more enjoyment out of jamming along to it on my bass than I do just listening to it. Perhaps because it riffs mainly in ‘A’ and allows me to play my tired and stock blues licks all over it. Mind you that little pinch note James plays in the main riff is one hell of a hook. It also suffers, for me, because the next track is so epic and awesome that I’m usually getting kinda antsy to listen to that instead.
Standout lyric: “He said, “Don’t you dare ask why I’m cursed to wear this face”
The Outlaw Torn
Well now. If you’re going to end an album successfully, it’s always a good idea to go with something that has an epic vista. It also helps is the song is so epic it has to have a minute cut off it just to fit on the CD. The finally track for this momentous album has all those things. And more. Perhaps the most song with the most oblique lyrics (some posit it is to do with the death of Cliff Burton, others a dialogue between Jesus and God (!)). Whatever the meaning it’s not really important, it’s the tone and the delivery. A brooding, dark, at times oppressive, musical backdrop allows Hetfield (yet again) to step forward and delivery lyrics that at the same time feel so personal yet abstract. That discordant intro, the bass riff, the volume swells in the middle… it’s just perfect from start to finish. The version with the San Francisco Orchestra on S&M is excellent too – padding out and adding to the musical palette although it lacks the vocal menace that the studio version holds. It’s a breathtaking piece of work to close out a controversial album.
Standout lyric: “And when I start to come undone / Stitch me together”
And there we have it. My track-by-track for Load. And I’ve not even finished yet! Sorry. Musically (as been said before ad nauseam) this is more bluesy, looser, groove orientated album. But that’s not what sticks with me. The tunes are great but the lyrics? Untouchable. The opening up of emotions that James started on the Black Album (Unforgiven, Nothing Else Matters, The God That Failed) REALLY takes a leap here. It “helped” that 1995/6 was a tumultuous year for him; his (once estranged) father dying of cancer, his first stint in rehab. Plus, I think, the self-confidence he clearly felt about looking inward and making things somewhat more relatable for the listener, that he didn’t need to go to CNN for darkness, he could go within (“Find me guilty when true guilt is from within”).
Even the presentation of the lyrics in the booklet was designed to make me, the listener, do what was in my job description: LISTEN! Let the song unfold around you go on the journey that he/they wanted you to go on. NO skipping ahead in the tale, you lived it in the moment. You felt it. Back in the day, I couldn’t get my head around how open and yet how internal the words had become:
“Excuse me while I tend to how I feel / These things return to me that still seem real”
“Mama, they try and break me”
“So point your fingers, point right at me / For I am shadows and will follow you, one and the same are we”
“And the hate still shapes me”
“So on I wait my whole lifetime for you / The more I search, the more my need for you”
“Mama, now I’m coming home / I’m not all you wished of me”
“And when I start to come undone / Stitch me together”
It blew my mind. Here was a “metal God”, an icon, penning the most open, real and honest lyrics that I’d ever heard from him. This was something more, something real. It wasn’t as though I listened to the lyrics and said “That’s me! I know EXACTLY what he’s talking about”; far from it. They made me realise that if the “alpha-male” of metal could let down his barriers and put his heart into a song, so could I. I realised this applied to the way I could be: to be open, be vulnerable let them see how hurt I was or afraid I could be or happy I was. Obviously it also tied in with me being a teen, being in a band, getting my first part-time job and earning money, all the things that meant freedom and expression and exploration. It was the soundtrack to my summer….. and in many ways the next couple of years.
30 years on how does it stand up in the catalogue. Well, art is subjective. I don’t go to this album for razor wire riffs, for aggression, for skull crushing speed. I go because I love the tunes. I love the vibe. I love the memories it bring back. I love that it gave me the confidence I must have felt I needed back then. The confidence, for example, to wear black nail varnish and not give a shit what people said (they laughed, that’s ok). I love that the biggest metal band in the world, once again, confounded a certain sector of their fans and did what felt right to THEM. ‘Load’ reflects the changes in their lives and their tastes, it showed the desire to progress, to explore, to change and shift and not become a repeat of themselves. It was a brave move. One only echoed again once (so far) in their career with the equally polarizing ‘St Anger’. But that album is another post altogether. I’m going to finish up with the eternal debate amongst a niche section of Metallica fans…..
If ‘Load’ and ‘Reload’ were one album, what songs would you have on there?
(Ignoring the limitations of CDs. Or it’s a double album.)
The ‘Load’ Collection: