For younger headbangers, metal overlords Metallica have always been just that, all-powerful riff masters whose tours sell out stadiums in every country they touch. They’re comfortably part of metal’s elder statesman, performing acclaimed two-hour shows, releasing mad merch that would rival Kiss’s output, and are now happy to look back at their genre-shaping early releases - but how did they get their throne? Their first decade was one of rapid musical growth and fury for the four horsemen, debut ‘Kill ‘Em All’ immediately bettered by ‘Ride The Lightning’s complex arrangements and darker hues. Onto a good thing the band followed suit with arguably their greatest statement, 86’s ‘Master of Puppets,’ before pushing the proggy envelope of thrash with 88’s ‘...And Justice For All.’ In seven short years, these hairy boys had gone from kings of the underground to MTV oddities on the verge of something even bigger. Just how big no one could have imagined.
Released on August 12th, 1991, Metallica’s self-titled fifth album - better known as the ‘Black Album’ - landed like an atom bomb. With hair-metal and the like taking a heavy hit from alt-rocks’ new dominance, Metallica stood firm, their new polished and groove indebted sound-winning legions of fresh fans. Teaming up with producer Bob Rock for some often arduous sessions, the twelve tracks they forged would change the band forever, Black selling over 30 million copies. That’s just as many as Nirvana’s game-changing ‘Nevermind’ released the same year and almost half of the group’s US sales to this day. While purists might have bemoaned Metallica’s ‘simplified’ sound at the time, the album stands as not only one of metal's finest moments but also one of the most celebrated LPs of the 90s.
If any proof were needed, The Metallica Blacklist project showcases the lasting impact of these songs with ease. Fifty-three artists of all ages and genres have given the numbers their stamp in this typically OTT charity covers release. While names like Corey Taylor and Ghost would be expected on such a collection, the likes of Kamasi Washington, Rina Sawayama, and Miley Cyrus popping up just shows how universally beloved these songs are 30 years on. Now, no covers album is gold the whole way through, and The Blacklist is no different, but there are plenty of thrilling moments to enjoy.
Despite its chunky runtime, the division of love between the songs is massively uneven, ‘Nothing Else Matters’ receiving 12 covers while ‘Of Wolf And Man’ getting just the one. Still, this is a minor grumble because only a maniac and this reviewer will be playing this set in its entirety more than once. The collection can be divided into three approaches, those going for a straight cover, those sprinkling their trademark sound on things, and the brave who have wholly deconstructed these iconic anthems into something alien.
Mac DeMarco might just win the first category, his hella fun stab at ‘Enter Sandman’ adding some garage rock panache to this guitar shop classic. It’s heavy, it’s goofy, and he sounds like he’s having the time of his life with it. Mad Aussies The Chats bring some snot and snarl to ‘Holier Than Though,’ morphing the original’s bruising beat into a lost punk classic circa 1977. For something completely different, we have Phoebe Bridgers baroque-pop go at ‘Nothing Else Matters,’ twinkling keys and somber strings adding some welcome ambiance to the power ballad.
IDLES pummel ‘The God That Failed’ into their wheelhouse, snarling guitars and sparse bass transforming the song into something wholly new and completely thrilling. Ghanaian-American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney brings soul and pathos to ‘The Unforgiven,’ a true highlight and the most beautiful moment of the set. Miley Cyrus, Elton John, the Chili's Chad Smith, and Metallica's own Robert Trujillo join forces for an absolutely stacked cover of 'Nothing Else Matters,' Cyrus channeling Stevie Nicks for some serious 80s wind-machine worthy epicness.
Bar a couple of underwhelming or wholly unoriginal takes, 'The Metallica Blacklist' is a surprisingly solid listen considering its breadth. While the snobbier rock connoisseur out there might still view Metallica’s king-making album as when they ‘sold-out,’ this set just shows how malleable, how influential, and just how damn fun these songs still are. May it continue to create little moshers for years to come.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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