On September 10, 1991 the world was irrevocably damaged by the release of one of the most obnoxious, nonsensical, vacuous musical releases in the history of popular music. That song was Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.
And yet the song was brilliant in its simplicity and ability to grab the listener. It was brilliant in its meaningless “core”, which became a Nirvana trademark, and brilliant in its simplistic composition intended to grab the listener with its hook laden melodies. Kurt Cobain knew how to write a catchy song, that is without question, no matter how lacking in depth the song was it almost always had a melody that dug into the psychology of the listener that translated into serious album sales.
And so grunge had arrived. The labels ran to the latest cash cow, and Metal began to suffer the consequences of not only the growth of grunge that worked to replace it, but also the loss of the industry support. They thought Metal was over.
But despite this, right before grunge arrived in full force a hero began to emerge from an unlikely place – Hair Metal. But it was not just any hair band, it was a band that had been going through a transformation after the release of landmark Thrash albums in the second half of the 80s. Thrash began to heavily influence them, but there was still something missing, and with the addition of Phil Anselmo in 1986 the metamorphosis was complete, and the light of Metal in the 90’s began to slowly creep itself into the consciousness of the Metal world.
It can fairly be said that Pantera was what kept Metal relevant to a degree not thought possible in the 90’s due to Metal being relegated to its deathbed by the industry and grunge. But despite their heroic efforts in leading the underground and keeping Metal alive in an otherwise dead Metal decade, they could only do so much because their music was not intended to have mass appeal. They were a force of Truth in a sea of lies. Pantera did their part, but they had no real support, and frankly they did their part in both keeping the flame going as well as keeping it from fully blossoming due to their internal drama. Regardless, their foundation as heroes of the 90’s was set, and they made their mark becoming one of Metal’s all time greatest bands, not just for the music but because they were the beacon of light that kept Metalheads hopeful in the 90’s, they filled the void of integrity that no one else could at the time. They were the impact transition band between the end of Thrash and the reemergence of American Metal in the 2000’s.
But there was one band that could’ve done even more in the 90’s than the mighty Pantera. They had the power of numbers, industry support, and after the release of the Black album they could literally do whatever they want and it would sell millions.
But instead of saving Metal they betrayed it. They turned their back on their original fans, embraced their new found fame as “artists” and spit in the face of the genre that had placed them atop the industry mountain they used to claim to hate.
After the release of And Justice For All Metallica had reached a place few thought they ever would, they had commercial appeal but WITHOUT compromising the Metal that had made them incredible. It became a multiplatinum album that brought them tons of media exposure, but they were still the people’s band. They were still Metallica, they were still heavy, mean, aggressive, and unrelenting. They had not compromised anything musically, the integrity was still there, and it made them an arena band that sold millions of albums and were poised to do even more for the genre that had elevated them to the top of the Metal mountain. MY band, the PEOPLES band had arrived and we, as a team, were ready to do even more ear splitting slaying of the pop culture masses that abhorred we the working class Metalheads that comprised the foundation that made Metallica our leader of a brave new Metal world. A world where we, they, and all Metal could not be ignored anymore.
And then they released the Black album.
They reached levels unseen before in Metal. And it was the beginning of the end.
Metallica, had they simply stuck to even the basic formula they created for the Black album, would have kept Metal relevant with mass appeal in the 90’s. They could have helped lift all other Metal bands. They could have forced the industry to take Metal serious and we wouldn’t have suffered like we did. At a minimum they would have kept their integrity of not just themselves, but ours as well for supporting them as they grew into the monsters they became.
With grunge and the industry trying to slay Metal it was Metallica who could have helped our sacred genre. Kept it pure, kept it commercially alive, kept it going forward so that there would not have been a dark period for Metal.
But instead they released Load…
And the end had arrived.
Imagine a person you truly love stabs you in the back, turns you around, spits in your face, pushes you back to fall into an emotional grave, and then covers you with dirt. That’s what the Load/Reload albums felt to many of us. In music history there are few examples of a band turning its back so drastically on not only the very thing (Metal) that got them to the top, but the people that put them on their shoulders and carried them there. This kind of betrayal is hard to put into words because it was unprecendented in its scope and timing. From a band so massive during the worst possible time.
They could have saved Metal in the 90’s, but instead they did their part to try and kill it and then dump it into the garbage bin like so much trash. And us along with it.
There is very little left of Metallica other than four passionless bodies that can release fart noises and sell millions to dumbed down masses. They will sell out arenas, they will sell tons of merchandise, and they will sell albums, but they will never sell themselves as the band of integrity they once were before the fame swallowed them whole and killed the best part of what they were.
The band that could have helped save Metal instead chose to “save” themselves. They chose to walk among their pop culture class, to think themselves as artists instead of Metalheads, and leave everything that made them the greatest band ever for 5 albums. And despite their best efforts to recapture that old Metal sound in recent years they haven’t been able to do so successfully. It’s what happens when you go for the gold and sell your soul to the industry devil, the magic goes away. Metallica will always be both my favorite band and my most loathed band. It is bitter and sweet all in one band. It saddens me deeply.
Despite the tragedy that is Metallica during that time (and beyond) two great things happened in the 90’s.
Pantera lived, and grunge died.
Proving yet again that there is a God.