This year has been a busy one for surprise releases. Radiohead released A Moon Shaped Pool with one day’s notice, Beyonce’s Lemonade was released following the airing of a special on HBO, Drake’s Views, which has been #1 for eight weeks in a row, was released exclusively to iTunes initially. Kanye West also rush released The Life of Pablo, as did Rihanna with Anti. Of course, all of these artists are superstars, and Radiohead has been playing around with release conventions for nearly ten years. Yet as the traditional music industry continues to evolve and with streaming now commonplace, the question is raised: what hard rock or metal act could surprise-release an album?
Zach Shaw: Without a doubt Metallica could surprise-release an album. That’s because as often as we talk about the band’s recording follies (happy 20th birthday to Load, by the way), Metallica no longer need to prove themselves with a new album. They are one of the few rock bands (not metal, but ROCK) that could still headline festivals like Lollapalooza or get millions of major media outlets to report on their farts without releasing a single note of new music. Hell, they’d probably sell out an entire North American arena tour even if they didn’t have a new album to promote. The fact is that the only real reason it would benefit Metallica to even release a new album (which let’s be honest, will sell WAY better than most records regardless of when or even how they release it) is so they have one extra thing they can sell while on tour.
Furthermore, not only could Metallica surprise-release an album, but they absolutely should surprise-release their forthcoming new record. Here’s a sad (but true…sorry, I had to) fact: in today’s sales climate, Metallica’s new album will likely sale considerably less than 2008’s Death Magnetic in its first week, even if it’s critically acclaimed and beloved by even metal elitists who dismiss anything that came after …And Justice For All. It’s not even Metallica’s fault; most bands nowadays see their first week sales pale in comparison to its predecessor (it even happened to AC/DC, whose 2014 album Rock Or Bust sold roughly 172,000 copies in its first week, while 2008’s Black Ice sold over 784,000 copies in its first week).
Ok, I know I just went on about how Metallica has nothing to prove anymore, and a new album is merely a product they can sell at the merch table. And it’s not like the headline “New Metallica Album Sells X less than Death Magnetic” would do any considerable damage to the band’s brand. But do you know what would be a better headline? “Metallica Sells X Amount Of Copies Of New Album, Despite Short Notice Of Release.” It’s cheap press, but hyping up the fact Metallica sold a shit ton of copies of an album they gave fans/press no notice on (which again, you know it will) is a nice way to downplay the fact it sold less than Death Magnetic. And as an added bonus, it avoids getting a new album lumped in with Metallica’s more recent… financial failures (namely that 3D movie, the destination festival, and Lulu).
Plus, remember when I mentioned how Metallica gets a ton of press for just farting? Imagine the media attention they’d get for this. The truth is though that even if Metallica doesn’t gain that much from a surprise-release album, they’re one of the few bands who also wouldn’t lose much from doing it either (and would maybe even lose less for the same amount of gain as they would from spending millions of dollars on an advance three-month PR push). Again, at the end of the day, the album will just be another thing for Metallica to sell at their already guaranteed successful tours, and maybe even get a few extra news hits from as well.