A few bricks shy of a full 'Load' Is Metallica rusty or what? The new album, five years in the making, isn't as wimpy as feared. But it's a lollapalooza of a letdown.

June 04, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

This should be Metallica's summer. Five years after the release of the monstrously popular "Metallica" (9 million units sold and still in the Billboard Top 100), the band is finally leaping back into the fray.

Besides a new album, "Load" (Elektra 61923, arriving in stores today), Metallica will headline this year's Lollapalooza tour, making it the first metal act to headline the traditionally alterna-rocking festival. The tour ought to be a major breakthrough for the band.

Too bad "Load" is a major disaster.

It isn't that the band has finally gone pop, as some of the hardcore feared when "Metallica" hit the streets, or that the newly shorn quartet has opted for an alterna-friendly sound to go with its no-more-long-hair look. "Load" is a typical metal album in almost every way -- but that's the problem. Because the one thing Metallica has never been is a typical metal band.

That was what made Metallica matter in the first place. Salvaging the basic elements of thrash from the hyperspeed sludge served up by bands like Venom and Tractor, Metallica forged an entirely new approach, one that maintained the visceral intensity of thrash's harder-faster aesthetic while leaving room for melodic ambition and compositional complexity. At its best, Metallica's music delivers a depth, resonance and beauty rarely found in hard rock.

Unfortunately, each of those qualities is in short supply on "Load." Instead, what we get are bland riffs, bombast and -- God help us -- boogie tunes.

This is not a band that boogies.

Nonetheless, it does go through the motions, offering slide guitar, refried John Lee Hooker licks, a shuffling backbeat -- the works. James Hetfield even tries to sound bluesy on "2X4," going for a "downhome" feel through lyrics like "I'm a-gonna make you, shake, take you " (Oooh, James! Get down with your bad self!)

Trouble is, there's no bounce to the band's boogie, and without any genuine locomotion, these tunes end up going nowhere. So "2X4" sounds like warmed-over Foghat, while "Poor Twisted Me" comes on like an even more robotic version of ZZ Top's space-age stomp. And if "Ronnie" is meant as a tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Van Zant, Skynyrd fans have cause to feel insulted.

Not everything on "Load" is quite so far off the mark. "King Nothing" boasts a strong, sneering chorus (though the intro is awfully reminiscent of "Enter Sandman"), and there's a delicious bit of drum overdrive from Lars Ulrich that lifts "The House That Jack Built" clean off its foundations. "Until It Sleeps" is catchy without being condescending, and "Wasting My Hate" is magnificent from start to finish, blending the breathless urgency of the band's "Ride the Lightning" period with the compositional ambition of its last two albums. Clearly, the band can still deliver.

But four songs out of 14 is hardly a winning average. Whether it's the sappy sentimentality of "Mama Said" (and yes, that is pedal steel you hear on the chorus), the blustering inanity of "Ain't My Bitch" or the instrumental self-indulgence of "The Outlaw Torn" (10 minutes on one riff -- what is this, Iron Butterfly?), there's something here to disappoint everyone.

If "Load" truly is the album of the summer, fall just can't get here fast enough.

To hear excerpts from "Load," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the code 6204. Other local Sundial numbers onPage 2A.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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