Midnight tonight marks 20 years since the release of one of the most fringe mainstream albums to breakout and take the world by storm. Recorded over the course of eight months — during which tensions were at peak levels between band mates and their new producer, Bob Rock — this album took Metallica on a new direction, a less thrash sound than previous efforts and a more laid back tempo, but the sound of this album is fulller than previous efforts. This album became one of the best hard rock/metal efforts to date, selling 22 million albums worldwide and having the number one spot of the Soundscan era. It was certified as a diamond record in the US with over 15 million copies sold in 2009.
Bob Rock came on board because Metallica liked what he did with the Motley Crue Dr. Feelgood album and came in with an idea to shake up how they recorded. Instead of Metallica’s members going off and writing somewhere by themselves, they played the majority of tracks live in studio, as a whole band. The sound was different, as James has said, they took “everything out to the bare walls and it still didn’t sound harsh enough, so we thought, what could we add in and make it more harsh?” The mixing was meant to give a fuller sound, by creating a sense of dimension, instead of previous albums which took an ‘everything louder than everything else’ attitude, the sound is rich, full, and comes out of all speakers. The lower RMS volume of the mixing allowed for a more defined sound, and for Hetfield to explore his vocal range better than previous efforts.
The album received praise and criticism upon release. Most called it Metallica’s best album to date, and gave it high praise as the band took a new direction that Entertainment Weekly called “progressive thrash.” Other reviews called it a shunning of the sound and style that made them the best in the thrash metal circuit, a smack in the face to the hardcore fans.
One thing is for sure, these songs have stood the test of time. Each song is a monolith, but all build up to the whole package being an epic storytelling adventure that 22 million people or more have had the pleasure of listening to. Metallica’s Black Album is up there with Led Zeppelin IV, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Back In Black. It will continue to stand as the album that defined a new generation of Metallica, and a new direction that was widely accepted. Something will continue to be remiss about the band, but regardless, they soldier on, and new generations get introduced to Metallica daily, as they will 20 years further down the road.