Metallica (album) – 1991

Metallica (commonly known as The Black Album) is the eponymously titled fifth studio album by American heavy metal band Metallica. Released on August 12, 1991 by Elektra Records, it received widespread critical acclaim and became the band’s best-selling album. Metallica produced five singles that are considered to be among the band’s best-known songs: “Enter Sandman”, “The Unforgiven”, “Nothing Else Matters”, “Wherever I May Roam”, and “Sad but True”. “Don’t Tread on Me” was also issued to rock radio shortly after the album’s release, but the song did not receive a commercial single release. The album marked a change in the band’s sound from the thrash metal style of the previous four albums to a slower one. Metallica promoted the album with a series of tours. In 2003, the album was ranked number 252 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time.

The recording of Metallica was troubled, as the band frequently entered conflicts with Bob Rock, the band’s new producer, during production. The album debuted at number one in ten countries and spent four consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard 200, making it Metallica’s first album to top album charts. By February 2016, the album spent 363 weeks on the Billboard album chart, making it one of the ten longest running discs of all time. Metallica is one of the best-selling albums worldwide, and the best-selling album in the United States since Nielsen SoundScan tracking began. The album was certified 16× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 2012, and has sold over sixteen million copies in the United States, the first album in the SoundScan era to do so. Metallica played the album in its entirety during the 2012 European Black Album Tour.

At the time of Metallica’s recording, the band’s songs were written mainly by frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, with Hetfield being the lyricist. The duo frequently composed together at Ulrich’s house in Berkeley, California. Several song ideas and concepts were conceived by other members of the band, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Jason Newsted. For instance, Newsted wrote the main riff of “My Friend of Misery”, which was originally intended to be an instrumental, one of which had been included on every previous Metallica album. The songs were written in two months in mid-1990; the ideas for some of them were originated during the Damaged Justice Tour. Metallica was impressed with Bob Rock’s production work on Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood (1989) and decided to hire him to work on their album. Initially, the band members were not interested in having Rock producing the album as well, but changed their minds. Ulrich said, “We felt that we still had our best record in us and Bob Rock could help us make it”.

Four demos for the album were recorded on August 13, 1990; “Enter Sandman”, “The Unforgiven”, “Nothing Else Matters” and “Wherever I May Roam”. The lead single “Enter Sandman” was the first song to be written and the last to receive lyrics. On October 4, 1990, a demo of “Sad but True” was recorded. In October 1990, Metallica entered One on One Recording Studios in Los Angeles, California, to record the album. The band also recorded the album at Little Mountain Sound Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia about a week. On June 2, 1991, a demo of “Holier Than Thou” was recorded. Hetfield stated about the recording: “What we really wanted was a live feel. In the past, Lars and I constructed the rhythm parts without Kirk and Jason. This time I wanted to try playing as a band unit in the studio. It lightens things up and you get more of a vibe.”

Because it was Rock’s first time producing a Metallica album, he had the band make the album in different ways; he asked them to record songs collaboratively rather than individually in separate locations. He also suggested recording tracks live and using harmonic vocals for Hetfield. Rock was expecting the production to be “easy” but had trouble working with the band, leading to frequent, engaged arguments with the band members over aspects of the album. Rock wanted Hetfield to write better lyrics and found his experience recording with Metallica disappointing. Since the band was perfectionist, Rock insisted they recorded as many takes as needed to get the sound they wanted. The album was remixed three times and cost US$1 million. The troubled production led to Ulrich, Hammett and Newsted divorcing their wives; Hammett said this influenced their playing because they were “trying to take those feeling of guilt and failure and channel them into the music, to get something positive out of it”.

Rock altered Metallica’s working schedule and routine so much that the members swore never to work with him again. The animosity and tension between Metallica and Rock was documented in A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica and Classic Albums: Metallica – Metallica, documentaries that explore the intense recording process that resulted in Metallica. Years after the production, a petition signed by 1,500 fans was posted online in an attempt to encourage the band to prohibit Rock from producing Metallica albums, saying he had too much influence on the band’s sound and musical direction. Rock said the petition hurt his children’s feelings; he said, “sometimes, even with a great coach, a team keeps losing. You have to get new blood in there.” Despite the controversies between the band and Rock, he continued to work with Metallica through the 2003 album St. Anger