“The Black Album” by Metallica, released back in 1991 is the definition of a breakout album if there ever was one. Metallica went from threatening to jump the fence, to full-on mainstream crossover, after the record was released in August 1991.
The success of Metallica was years in the making. Just two years prior, the band – James Hetfield on vocals and guitars, drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and then relatively new bassist Jason Newsted (who replaced original bassist Cliff Burton who died in 1986) played the 1989 Grammy Awards with a searing version of “One’ from their “…And Justice for All” album. It was the first time a speed metal band was given a spot on the music awards show after the sub-genre spent years in the fringes. The Grammy slot and eventual nomination for Metallica is a validation of the work the band put into previous hit albums such as “Kill ‘Em All,” “Master Of Puppets” and “Ride The Lightning.” The band eventually won a Grammy for “One” in 1990. And fresh off that milestone came “The Black Album.”
The album is an evolution for Metallica. Sure, the heaviness, speed, and fury of thrash metal were all there and intact, but this time, it is tempered with song craft. James Hetfield is writing with full-fledged themes that evoked stories and lyrics that conjured images. From “Enter Sandman” with its boogeyman and nightmare scenarios, to evoking the Wild West with “The Unforgiven,” and even classical-tinged balladry with “Nothing Else Matter.” There were no throwaways on the album.
The Bob Rock-produced album made megastars out of Metallica seemingly overnight. Suddenly, even non-metal fans found the sound of the band palatable. But more importantly, Metallica has become a major musical influence for a whole generation of young musicians. Not just in the U.S. where the band is based, but the world over.
And it is these same musicians who have now contributed to the just-released new compilation album titled “The Metallica Blacklist.” It is part of the box set release that includes studio outtakes, remastered versions in vinyl and CD to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the album.
Fifty-three music artists, from bands to solo acts, to rockers to EDM DJ’s, to Latin legends, to established pop and rock artists have reimagined versions of some tracks from “The Black Album.” “Enter Sandman” alone has six versions here including a faithful reading by Weezer. There’s an interesting take by Juanes which totally turns said classic on its head. Bands such as Alessia Cars and The Warning, Mac DeMarco, Swedish band Ghost, Japanese-British musician Rina Sawayama have all exciting takes on ‘Sandman.
But it’s the sonic diversity offered by non-metal acts is what’s giving this compilation its wallop.
Sam Fender gives tenderness to a shredder-of-a-song like “Sad But True,” as do Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit who give their version a swampy but tasty country stomp. Flatbush Zombies and DJ Scratch give “The Unforgiven” its rap x metal mash, while Sebastian offers a funky, brass mix inflected “Don’t Tread On Me.”
Major names include St. Vincent, Royal Blood (“Sad But True”), and Cage The Elephant, Corey Taylor (formerly Slipknot) on “Unforgiven.” The Neptunes (Pharell Williams, Chad Hugo) on a guitar-free take on “Wherever I May Roam.” While “Nothing Else Matters” gets an indie treatment from Phoebe Bridgers. The song also gets touches from Miley Cyrus and Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, Hootie and The Blowfish singer Darius Rucker and our fave version by My Morning Jacket.
Here's to another 30 years for Hetfield, Hammett, Ulrich and Rob Trujillo!