When a band has a successful album, the usual plan is to release another one with a reasonably similar sound a couple years later to capitalize on the previous record’s success and keep the momentum going. Metallica has never done it that way. They work on their own timetable, and generally piss off a portion of their fan base with every new release, but garner legions of new fans in the process.
After the incredible success of ‘Metallica,’ also known as ‘The Black Album,’ there was a five year gap before the next release. Metallica also changed up their sound, logo and look for ‘Load.’ Bob Rock produced again, and the group nearly abandoned their thrash metal roots, going for a bluesier style.
And if being more mainstream was not enough, many fans were outraged when Metallica actually cut their hair! It was a sign (to those fans at least) that the band really sold out this time, which they of course had been hearing since their second album.
Despite all those things, fans still bought ‘Load’ in droves. Released June 4, 1996, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart and remained on top for four weeks. ‘Load’ would go on to sell more than 5 million copies in the U.S. Yes, it was considerably fewer than ‘The Black Album,’ but was still an unquestioned success.
A couple of interesting side-notes for ‘Load.’ The 14 song behemoth included zero songwriting credits from bassist Jason Newsted. Also, the unusual artwork was based on a work by artist Andres Serrano called ‘Semen and Blood III,’ where he mixed bovine blood with his own semen between plexiglass sheets.
’Load’ Track by Track
’Ain’t My Bitch’
The opening track on ‘Load’ packs plenty of punch and attitude. It features Kirk Hammett playing slide guitar for the first time on an album. The lyrics for ‘Ain’t My Bitch’ were thought to be misogynistic by some, but the meaning referred to someone who didn’t care about anybody’s problems or issues. It was released as a single and peaked at No. 15 on the Mainstream Rock chart.
’2 X 4‘
With a guitar solo inspired by the jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, ‘2 X 4‘ introduces that bluesy feel to ‘Load.’ The band played the song live before the album was even released, and the lyrics describe the failure of having to resort to violence.
’The House Jack Built’
Moving away from the political and social lyrics on previous albums, Hetfield focuses more on the personal side of things with ‘Load.’ ‘The House Jack Built’ is about the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, a subject Hetfield was very familiar with. He also played the solo on this song instead of Hammett. The track has never been played live.
’Until It Sleeps’
The first single released from the album, ‘Until It Sleeps’ would make it to No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, the band’s first single to do so. Based on his Christian Scientist parents’ deaths from cancer, the song has a musical resemblance to Soundgarden’s ‘Fell on Black Days.’ The video for ‘Until It Sleeps’ won the ‘Best Rock Video’ award at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards.
He doesn’t get any songwriting credit on ‘Load,’ but at least Jason Newsted’s bass riff is prominent in ‘King Nothing.’ It’s about those who strive to accumulate things like power, material things or financial success, but end up left with nothing but emptiness ‘when it all crashes down.’ Released as a single, the very melodic ‘King Nothing’ climbed all the way to No. 6 on the Mainstream Rock chart.
’Hero of the Day’
The second single released from ‘Load,’ ‘Hero of the Day’ would follow ‘Until It Sleeps’ to the top of the Mainstream Rock chart. It was the first song recorded for the album, and has several musical ebbs and flows. The lyrics chastise people for finding their heroes in pop culture and the media, when they meet far bigger heroes every day in their regular lives.
Never officially released as a single in stores, the label sent an edited version of ‘Bleeding Me’ to radio stations, and it ended up making it all the way to No. 6 on the Mainstream Rock chart. The eight plus minute mid-tempo song has Hetfield lyrically wrestling with his demons, trying to bleed out the bad stuff.
‘Cure’ is another of the four songs on ‘Load’ that have never been played in concert. One of the more obscure songs on the album, ‘Cure’ has a strong groove, but doesn’t really stand out, especially compared to some of the album’s stronger songs. It was originally titled ‘Believe’ on the demo version.
’Poor Twisted Me’
The names of Metallica 1996-97 tour ‘Poor Touring Me’ and 1997-99 'Poor Re-Touring Me’ were taken from the name of this song. The track refers to a drama king or drama queen always looking for sympathy and attention.
’Wasting My Hate’
The only song on ‘Load’ that is under four minutes, ‘Wasting My Hate’ is one of the more underrated songs on the album. Never released as a single, it has some excellent guitar riffs. The title came from a story country singer Waylon Jennings told Hetfield about wasting his hate on a guy that he thought was giving him the evil eye, but was actually sleeping.
‘Mama Said’ is a mostly acoustic ballad that has flavors of blues and country, including some steel guitar. It showed they weren’t afraid to push their sound in new directions, no matter the criticism. Hetfield’s lyrics chronicle the difficult relationship he had with his mother, whose Christian Science beliefs meant she did not seek medical treatment for her cancer, and she died when Hetfield was just 16. The track was released as a single in Europe.
Being near the end of such a long album, ‘Thorn Within’ is another ‘Load’ track that hasn’t received a lot of attention, and has not been played in concert to-date. It’s an angry song, and Jason Newsted’s favorite on the album. The lyrics tell the story of somebody who feels guilty about what they have done, but nobody is willing to forgive them.
Although most of the songs on ‘Load’ had reflective and personal lyrics, ‘Ronnie’ was based on a 1995 Washington school shooting. It referred to Ron Brown, referred to as ‘Ronnie Frown’ and 'Ronnie Long’ in the song. ‘Ronnie’ has also never been played live by the band.
’The Outlaw Torn’
Because ‘Load’ is such a long album, all of it originally wouldn’t fit on a single CD. The limit was 78:59, and ‘Load’ was about a minute over that. ‘The Outlaw Torn’ ended up being edited down to fit, although it’s still 9 minutes and 49 seconds long. The complete song was released as part of ‘The Memory Remains’ single.