With their fifth record, Metallica provided a template for how a band can transition into the “mainstream” without sacrificing identity or integrity. They may have smoothed a few rough edges here and there, but “The Black Album” is still a heavy-metal manifesto that is undeniably Metallica.
It’s hard to pick a place to start on this CD because most of it is so amazingly good, so let’s just start at the beginning: “Enter Sandman” retains all of its nightmarish glory (and is darn fun to play on “Rock Band”); “Sad But True” roars as loud and large as any of their previous work; and “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters” are the gold standard for metal ballads.
By trimming their songs down to a more radio-friendly running time, though, that meant a little filler was able to sneak in. Both “The God That Failed” and especially “My Friend of Misery” are a bit more like “old” Metallica and thus sound out of place here; it doesn’t help “Misery” recycles some of the riffs and solo phrasing from “Sandman.” And if we’re getting really picky, hard-driving “The Struggle Within”—the shortest song on the album at 3:54—might have worked better somewhere in the middle rather than its seemingly tacked-on position at the end of the disc; it’s an odd finale for such a monster of a record.
And make no mistake, this is a monster. “The Black Album” still holds up exceedingly well today, one of the greatest rock records of the 1990s and a reminder of why Metallica became one of the biggest bands on the planet. They earned it with this one.
Favorite Track: “Sad But True”
Least Favorite Track: “My Friend of Misery”