|Metallica's fifth and best selling studio album: Metallica|
When Metallica went back to the studio to their fifth album, Lars Ulrich was adamant that they write short songs, similar to the ones on Ride the Lightning and Kill 'Em All. As to why he wanted to go back to old days, despite the new found commercial success Puppets and Justice albums, was revealed in an interview with MTV, in which Lars admitted he "(got) board" when playing different beats for the entire duration of the song while having to focus on tempo and riff changes. He further added, "Difference this time was that, instead of taking five riffs and cramming them all into one song, now we only have one or two for each song." You could look at this and say that Lars has gotten lazier over the years, but one thing to keep in mind is that Metallica had consistently been on the road for the better part of the 1980s. It was easy to see why they wanted to player simpler songs. James Hetfield also shared a like-minded opinion: he said in the same interview, "We always wanted to write short songs, and we actually did it this time."
Despite this change in direction by Metallica, it's important to point out the fact that, lengthy songs like "One" and "Master of Puppets" have become enormously popular among fans, and therefore, have become permanent fixtures on the band's live setlist.
Particularly noteworthy aspect of Metallica is their willingness to explore new musical concepts. Melodies like "Fade to Black" and "One" are quite unique for a metal band, and distinguishes them from the rest. So their "new direction" they undertook in the late 80s and early 90s wasn't all that new... until they met a key figure: Bob Rock. The band quickly got in touch with him though they never really liked him at first. However Bob Rock saw Metallica's potential to reach new heights, and eventually became the producer of the new album. The new parthnership proved to be a success. He'd, in fact, go on the produce three more albums until he was kicked out following St. Anger.
Producer Bob Rock knew how to make radio-friendly songs, rock radio that is, not pop radio. Such songs have two basic aspects: around four to five minutes long and subdued level of distortion that's otherwise heard in a typical metal song. Half of this equation was already taken care of with Metallica themselves agreeing to make songs shorter. As for the other part, Bob Rock managed to twist the arms of Lars and James into making songs that sound more mainstream. This was still new at the time, but nowadays this sub-genre is known as progressive metal. The band's some of the earlier work, like "Fade to Black" and "One" can be included in this class, but under no circumstance, were they known as a progressive metal band; they had always been a HEAVY band. However once the Black Album was produced, it merely reflected Metallica's distorted, thrash metal roots... it was a clean-cut commercial album. As a rock n' roll fan, I absolutely don't have a problem with this. But hardcore, loyal thrash metal fans who followed the band up until that point felt otherwise. Accordingly that was when the "sellout" label was permanently tattooed on to the band.
This was bound to happen sooner or later. Metallica's decision to make an MTV video for "One" showed lack of obedience to underground metal laws. Few fans stopped following the band, and in fact, James has said one of them "spitted in his face." But the music video was one of a kind, not mainstream whatsoever - it was thousand miles away from being close to a typical Micheal Jackson video. Also, the song and album was still rooted in metal values, containing heavy drumming and distorted guitar solos. However Black Album was quite the contrast to Justice, in terms of lyrics, music and style.