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Flashback Track-by-Track Review: Metallica - Reload
On November 18th, 1997, Metallica released its seventh studio album “Reload.”
The record included the final 13 songs that were written during the “Load” sessions in which the 27 total songs were initially conceived as a double album.
Once the band decided a double was too ambitious of a project, they selected the songs that were further along in the recording process to include on Load and circled back to complete the rest to include on “Reload”
So in Honor of the anniversary of “Reload’s” release here is my track-by-track review.
“Reload” opens up with the absolutely barbarous track “Fuel.” The energy on this song harkens back to the days of “Kill ‘em All” where the band approached songwriting with reckless abandon.
Lars Ulrich’s performance on this track can best be described as positively “Thundering.” The drums sound fantastic as they set the breakneck speed of the song and play off the riffs perfectly.
The Memory Remains
“Memory” has remained a live staple in Metallica shows since its release and it is easy to see why. With a nice mid-tempo beat, mixed with a slick main riff, that bleeds into a great sing-along section, it is a textbook example of how simplicity can stay on par with intricacy.
The highlight of this track for me is when Hetfield spits out “Ash to Ash, Dust to Dust, Fade to black, the memory remains” In front of a nice and heavy palm-muted guitar at the 2:50 mark.
Give the video a view of how much coolness the band was oozing. Just maybe avoid the performance of the song on SNL when things did not go as planned.
“Dance” kicks off with a heavy, dirty, groovy bass line, that leads into one of the heaviest songs in the Metallica Catalogue. This track reeks of a dark atmosphere and is one of the strongest on the record.
Producer Bob Rock and the band really peppered “Dance” with plenty of fills and dubs that leave me still finding new things to grab my attention 24 years later.
The song captured some of the finest guitar work of this era from Kirk Hammet. The solos are not overly complicated but fit perfectly Infront of what the rest of the group is playing.
The Unforgiven II
The second part of the eventual “Unforgiven” trilogy is a nice deviation from the first three songs on the record. To date, the song has been performed six times, five of which occurred in 2015. The first performance at the 1997 Billboard Music Awards was… and explains why the band shied away from incorporating it into their live sets.
The song follows the traditional clean verse, heavy chorus formula, but each verse introduces some different sounds and keeps things interesting.
The crunch on the chorus guitars is spectacular and post solo breakdown has one of Hetfield’s strongest vocal performances on the record.
Better Than You
I am still perplexed at how “Better than you” snagged the band a Grammy award in 1999 for Best Metal Performance. Either the song was that good or the competition was that bad, I will let you be the judge.
“Better” has a solid opening build and strong verse/chorus. The song runs on a bit too long and becomes hyper-repetitive. The edited version released on the single is a tad more palatable but either way, the bridge section kills the vibe for me.
On Slither Hetfield is embracing parenthood, with lyrics focused on Puppets, Tap Shoes, Clowns, and snakes. The highlights of this song are the solos and fills that Hetfield and Hammett provide us with.
Littered amongst the lines focused on children’s paraphernalia, Hetfield doles out some great wisdom with the lines “Don’t send your eyes to the sun, you might blind them” and “Have your heroes disappeared?”
Carpe Diem Baby
“Baby” is my favourite song on Reload. There is so much to like about this track that I could write an entire appreciation post focused on just this one song.
It is not often that I find a song where I would not change anything, and this is one of those occasions.
I will not gush too much over this track and just focus on my favourite part which is the pre-solo breakdown where Hetfield screams “Ah, Suck It,” it fits the attitude of the song perfectly.
While the band has not formally performed “seed” live, it served as part of their show opening jam during the “Poor Touring Me” Tour. The song is not overly complicated but packs a solid punch.
The only drawback is the verse vocals sound remarkable like “Carpe Diem Baby” and the drums on the pre-solo/end-of-song sections (my favourite part of the song) are reminiscent of “Hero of the Day” from Load.
True story, it took me forever to realize Hetfield sings “at the mercy” and not “Happy Birthday” during the solo, which makes a lot more sense than a random birthday greeting in the middle of a song.
Where The Wild Things Are
We can thank Jason Newsted for contributing the main riff of “wild.” The song that follows behind that riff is my second favourite on the album.
The band paid close attention to all the details of this song and created a unique journey that remains an undervalued gem in the Metallica catalogue.
On the bridge, Hetfield muses about hand puppets, clowns, toy soldiers and robot chessmen, it is easier to digest this time around given the source material, however, it still sounds a tad awkward, because it is so out of place in a Metallica song.
When Hetfield sings “So close your little eyes” at the conclusion of the song with the matching guitar it gives me goosebumps every time.
“Charming” is second only to “fuel” in providing an energy boost to the record. The song has a strong build to the verse but loses itself along the way.
The vocals sound rough and incomplete, to me, it feels like half were produced and half were left raw. Hammett’s solo would not be out of place on current Metallica releases, as it sounds, he took an improvised approach to recording. It is one of my least favourite songs on the album.
The post-solo section is my favourite part of the track, so it is not all doom and gloom.
Low Man’s Lyric
“Lyric” is the most un-Metallica-sounding song the band has ever recorded in terms of instrumentation. The boys took a stripped-back approach with their performances, added some hurdy-gurdy to the mix and did not look back.
While the song has a bloated run time, the emotion Hetfield pours into the lyrics and his vocal performance stand the test of time and in retrospect paint a picture of the journey he was on at the time.
Search out the demo version called “My eyes” to hear how vastly different the album version is from its original conception.
“Attitude” is the weakest song on the record and would have made a good B-side. While I enjoy the opening riff and the solo section, it gets clunky and drawn out. The lyrics are confusing although, “Throw all your bullets in a fire and stand there” is a hell of a good line.
“Fixxxer” is widely regarded to be one of the finest songs Metallica has recorded and it is hard to argue with that sentiment.
It took 23 years for the band to perform it live and when they unveiled it during the 40th Anniversary concerts in 2021 it did not disappoint.
The post-solo section and back half of the song is a masterclass in how Metallica can evoke emotion and deeply connect with its fans. This song is an emotional rollercoaster, so settle in, close your eyes and enjoy the ride.
Whether you love or hate the Load/Reload era of Metallica’s career there is no denying that it represented the best and worst the band had to offer.
Personally, this is my favourite era of Metallica’s career and “Reload” represents the creative apex of that time.
When compared to “Load,” “Reload” is the weaker of the two albums, but it produced more memorable and dare I say popular songs (Fuel, The Memory Remains.) I am taking some liberty there because technically the albums should be treated as separate projects, but it is hard to do that given how intertwined they are.
I feel the band could have omitted a couple of the tracks from the finished product (Attitude, Prince Charming, Slither) to make a more cohesive album, but I admire the band for keeping it all there. No one can ever accuse Metallica of playing it safely and that is one of their finest traits.
Until next time, play it loud friends!