On August 12, 1991, Metallica released their fifth album and with it ushered in a new era for the band that yielded unparalleled success. The Black Album produced five singles and to date has sold a squillion copies.
The album’s opening track was initially conceived as a song about crib death. Luckily, Producer Bob Rock talked the boys into walking the lyrical content back a bit or it is quite possible that the song would not have become the biggest song of Metallica’s career.
It is a fantastic song, just not my favourite from the album, the high spot for me, follows Hetfield’s ominous laugh at the tail end of the track.
Sad But True
The slowest and heaviest song in the Metallica repertoire. “Sad” started off as a faster and happier number, until Bob Rock suggested d-tuning the guitars, adding an 8-string bass, and slowing the tempo down. This was a way to introduce a little variety after it was discovered that all the songs on the record were in the same key.
The suggestion paid off in spades and we are left with a song that is virtually guaranteed to get your head nodding in rhythmic synchronization with the band. The highlight of the song for me is the pre-and post-solo sections.
Who remembers when Metallica used to introduce the song this way? “You want heavy?” “Metallica gives you heavy baby,” Pure gold!
Holier Than Thou
Bob Rock felt “Holier” was strong enough to be the lead single from the album, and truthfully, I agree. This is my favourite cut from the album and embodies all that I love about Metallica.
The buildup to the main riff of the song really gets my blood pumping with anticipation and once things get rolling, we are treated to a galloping ride of ultimate riffage.
While it is the shortest song on the album, pay close attention to Hammet’s understated solo and post-solo breakdown, it is nothing short of genius.
Another high point for me is how the track ends with Hetfield confidently spewing “You. Know. Not.”
The Unforgiven is as close to having a cinematic experience as you are going to get listening to Metallica.
This epic perfectly blended the band’s love for spaghetti westerns and their ability to create heavily layered, emotionally entrenched songs.
While the song drags on a bit on the backend, it is still a magnificent beast and features one of Kirk Hammett’s finest solo performances.
I label this one: Amazing.
Wherever I May Roam
“Roam” is the finest example of the power a rhythm section can have on a song. Ulrich and Newsted are locked in and really carry this track to the stratosphere.
Other highlights of this song are the tempo changes, riff builds and exceptional solo work from Hammett just creates an amazing atmosphere that pulls the listener in.
Do yourself a favour and watch the video for this one!
Don’t Tread on Me
I always get the impression that the band half-finished “Tread” and just focused their efforts on the stronger material.
The intro sounds muddy and confusing, and overall, the vocal blending on the chorus feels off and unpleasing. Ulrich’s drum work is the only redeeming quality on this one.
Through the Never
I have read the lyrics to this song 1000 times and still cannot make much sense of them, but that does not stop this song from being a true banger.
While the “Mighty Het” spins a yarn about time and space, we can settle back and enjoy the ferocious main riff and meaty post-solo section.
Hetfield was right! “We must go on through the never” to get to the next track.
Nothing Else Matters
In my humble opinion, “Matters” really breaks the momentum of the record, and it is not because it is not “metal” enough or because the band “sold out.”
For me, the song is boring and repetitive.
While I do enjoy the S&M version and the “elevator mix” of the track, this one is an easy skip for me.
Of Wolf and Man
“Wolf” was a terrific way to great some energy flowing following “Matters” and there are plenty of savoury parts on the bones of this track. Pay close attention to the post-solo section for one of the finest moments ever recorded by the band. It is truly transformational.
If this song does not get you howling, I recommend finding your nearest mountain top at the next full moon and turning the volume up to 10, so you can “seek the wolf in thyself” as well.
My Friend of Misery
Originally conceived as the instrumental cut for the album by Jason Newsted (until Hetfield and Ulrich got their hands on it), “Misery” is one of the finest songs on the album, and dare I say finest moments of Newsted’s time with the band.
While the middle section is most revered by most fans, do not sleep on the ending where we have some strong vocal work by Hetfield, in conjunction with some mad soloing from Hammett that leads us to the end of the emotional cut.
Hit repeat on this one for full effect.
The God That Failed
A solid beat and a killer bass riff intro to this one, which is my least favourite on the album.
While it does pack a solid pre-chorus and chorus section punch, overall, it just does not draw me in emotionally. I also find the solo work on the song to be a tad on the mediocre side, compared to the others on the album.
This one is an easy pass for me.
The Struggle Within
While I really enjoy the musical side of the album’s closer, I find Hetfield’s lyrics and vocal delivery to be distracting and frankly a detriment to the final product.
Hammet’s solo work on this one really brings the overall quality of the song up and the post-solo section really strengthens what would otherwise be a filler.
I could take or leave this one.