Today marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most important metal albums ever made. Sure, it can and should be argued that it’s not Metallica’s best album. And hell, when you really break it down, it’s more of a rock album than anything else, but at over 16 million sold, it’s the biggest-selling album of the SoundScan era by far, and the fact that it’s still selling a solid 5,000 copies a week suggests that it’s going to be holding that record for quite some time.
Metallica started playing fast, traditional thrash metal back in the early 80’s and, at the time, they enjoyed the success of their work and became one of metal’s elite bands throughout their first four albums. Master of Puppets had gone gold five years earlier, and …And Justice For All, released in 1988, was a lot more progressive of an album. Instead of going even deeper and heavier, creeping up on the 90’s, the Bay Area giants geared up to create one of their monolithic records in their entire discography: their self-titled album, also known as Black Album.
The Black Album was originally conceived during one of the …And Justice For All tour in the late 80’s and was mainly written by singer James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich. The record also marks the turning point where Metallica changed their sound from their traditional thrash sound to a slower, more heavy metal approach. It was also the first album where the songs started to become shorter after the band realized the crowd seemed bored during their …And Justice For All where the songs are almost 10 minutes long.
Metallica approached producer Bob Rock to work on the record after they heard Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood expecting to break into the mainstream rock audience. Rock has been regarded as the main influence on Metallica’s new direction, despite all the difficulties the band had working with him. The conflicts between Rock and Metallica grew higher during the recording process that Metallica even swore never to work with Rock again, just to later changing their mind and keeping Rock as their main producer through their 2003’s St. Anger.
Once the album saw the light of day on August 12th 1991, the reception of the record spread throughout the rock and heavy metal media as well as the mainstream media, receiving praise by Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times and The Village Voice. The album debuted at number one in ten countries and spent four consecutive weeks at the top spot of the Billboard 200, making it Metallica’s first album to top the album charts. By February 2016, the album spent 363 weeks on the Billboard album chart, making it one of the ten longest running discs of all time as well as one of the best-selling records in history.
The influence of the record has been immense ever since, inspiring many musicians throughout the globe and even regarded as the album that turned them into heavy metal. That’s why we decided to ask some of our metal musician friends to tell us what the album meant for them:
“I personally thought it was a great album and showed maturity in production and song writing. I loved the older stuff, but I was not disappointed in that album at all. I thought it sounded great, maybe that’s because I am a musician and not just a fan. Fans have expectations and like things to stay the same, musicians appreciate creativity and growth.” Harley Flanagan
“Happy born on date to an incredible album, The Black Album. I’ve always appreciated bands that evolve, experiment and stay hungry and creative throughout their careers. Metallica is one them. That said, don’t expect to see Lulu on my turntable anytime soon.” Don Jamieson, comedian, That Metal Show
“Growing up around the Bay Area, everyone is sort of born with a thrash metal spoon in their fist. Even if your tastes were more for the crossover side, like D.R.I., you had probably spent some time in a thrash metal pit. When I saw Metallica on the …And Justice For All tour, I had never seen a pit that size before in my life! Or maybe I should say, “Before that show, I’d never been thrown from one side of an arena to the next, and still be in the pit!” Fast forward a couple years and we’re all foaming to hear the new Metallica Black Album. Except, track after track, I kept thinking, “When is this going to get good?” I was yearning for an unmistakable Dave Mustaine or Cliff (RIP) contribution. However they did take a big cue from the crossover band Excel for their big hit, I was disappointed by the lack of their signature mutation of speed spun into thrash metal gold. With all that said, what do I know? They still sell huge numbers until this day. Regardless, I confess “Sad But True” is a damn good song. That, and “Through The Never” still warrants enough adrenaline to relive a go around the pit. Metal up your 25th!” Reyka Osburn, Death Valley High
“The Black Album is an amazing record, Metallica was a huge inspiration for me as a kid wanting to learn to play guitar. Sure it was a major turning point in the bands career and some of the songs on it are played out, but I still think that it is a masterpiece. I was a huge fan of Master of Puppets growing up, but these songs were more straight to the point and easier for me to play. Anything after the Black Album wasn’t so much my cup of tea but, I will always be a fan of their music up to that point .” -Kenny Cook, Anciients
“Metallica was a band that came to me later on in my music-hood years, as I started playing guitar at 16 (which was 2002). So, Metallica had already been crushing the above-ground metal world for over a decade (that’s not to say I didn’t listen to them during the years I didn’t play an instrument). But, I will say, the Black Album is my favorite album, and looking back at it I find it to be a definitive album for many reason. Namely, it seemed progressive to me in a sense; much like Gojira’s Magma album, Black Album had this familiarity coupled with a sound that was totally new and very thought out. I say progressive because it sounds like an album that made a huge advancement, and for the better. Like I said, I was already listening to modern (at the time) metal bands in the early 2000s that had a big impact on my playing, BUT, I do remember learning a handful of Metallica songs from that album. I don’t think I’ve ever called a band a “sell out” before, and I don’t think it applies to a band like Metallica. I loved this album the moment I heard/saw “Nothing Else Matters” on MTV. It made back-tracking through their catalog difficult, because it was so different from the rest of their material.” – Jesse Zuretti, Binary Code
“The black album will always have a special place in my heart. I’d gotten ‘…and justice for all’ for my 12th birthday. I really dug it and didn’t have any other friends into metal at all. But, some of the lyrics scared me and I was told they were evil so I sort of stopped listening to it. When the black album came out, I was pumped and picked it up right away. I was 14 and I loved it just to love it. I stopped caring about ‘evil’ or not and was heavily into learning guitar more. So I spent half of 9th grade learning all the riffs on it. Ultimately I went back to AJFA and mastered all the riffs on it. I learned a lot about song structure and how to make riffs evolve to keep them fresh thanks to James’ knack for modifying the tail ends of riffs.” – Mike Thompson, Withered
“The Black Album was definitely in one of my top metal CD playlists during the first few years when I just started listening to metal. Like all the guitar kids, I jammed around the main riff of “Enter Sandman” over and over again. But I guess I eventually stopped for the lack of unique artistic sound in that album. I totally understand the artistic choice the band made. It lifted ‘em up to a brand new commercial level and reached a bigger market. But for a thrash metal ear? I guess I’d rather play some Exodus.” – Nature Ganganbaigal, Tengger Cavalry
“The Black Album first and foremost is an array of top notch songs, and whether you think they sold out or not, there’s no denying it was an album that put metal on the map. As far as I’m concerned, the world needs another Black Album.” – K’noup, Viza and Blackmore
“For me, Metallica’s Black Album had a perfect blend of peaks and valleys that really made me appreciate the heavy and the melodic moments. Hearing both of those elements combined has now set an expectation of what I want to hear in a band and a song.” – Cody Perez, Amerakin Overdose
“After the rabid technicality of …Justice, the album has a bizarre duality where it displays the lighter side of Metallica for the first time. It also features some of the heaviest songs they ever recorded. For every “Unforgiven” there’s a “Holier Than Thou,” for every “Nothing Else Matters” there’s a “Through The Never.” The dark always outweighs the light for me, but the lighter aspects of The Black Album are the reason this album is so good… despite that fact, if I could describe this album in one word: RIFFS!” – Darren King, Buffalo Summer
“I was a young teenager when the album came out and it immediately struck a chord in my heart, the songs and also the production were so perfect. I was spinning the album over and over for months… it is one of those few records that I felt a deep and strong connection with and marked my life with very special feelings and memories. After 25 years, I still feel the same way about it every time I listen to it, very inspiring…!” – Swan Hellion, BlackRain
“…And Justice For All was the first “metal” I had ever heard at a very young age. It made me like metal. After that, I went backwards and bought all the rest of their albums instantly. It was my gate way to thrash AND punk rock. By the time the Black Album came out I was listening to Eaten Back to Life and Butchered at Birth by Cannibal Corpse. The Black Album didn’t impress me. I was expecting something much heavier. It seemed trendy to me, even at an early age. I got into the progression of the Metallica albums. This album seemed to digress for me. It was the time where house payments and nice cars took over and heavy music “for them” took a back seat!” – Nick Williams, Six Prong Paw
“When I think of Metallica, I honestly think of Cliff Burton. The way I understand it, much like Geezer Butler, he was a key writer and main creative component in the band, although not widely recognized as such. A genius, in my opinion and a detrimental loss to music at large. Who knows what the face of modern metal would be like if he were still alive today. I personally only acknowledge the first three albums. To me, Metallica is this: Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning (an absolute masterpiece) and Master of Puppets. I don’t really have much of an opinion on the Black Album because I just don’t really think of it as Metallica. Some real good pop songs on there. A great entrance to radio. Good for those guys. I completely understand and accept the idea of art forming into a marketable product to the mainstream masses. It’s just not something that is part of my formative heavy metal years that I hold sacred and it conflicts with my nostalgia. I don’t hate it or love it. The moral of the story is, it’s not my particular taste in music but what you can take from it is this is; remember kids, you decide what’s in your music library so you can have your own world of what musically is and what never even happened. Not just what bands exist and don’t exist in your reality, but what albums. If this seems a bit lofty coming from the manager of Mac Sabbath, understood. OK Haters, roll the ugly comments.” – Mike Odd, manager, Mac Sabbath