For a good portion of Metallica fans, the Load era was the one moment where thrash’s greatest band started to “sell out” and unravel. Every band has to evolve, but fans did not take too kindly to the same faces behind something like “One” or even “Sad But True” making the kind of radio rock that bands like Alice in Chains were getting into around the same time.
In hindsight though, James Hetfield has made no secret about how this isn’t exactly his favorite era of Metallica either.
When the rest of the band were going through therapy during the Some Kind of Monster documentary, James had mentioned not wanting to force a song onto the record just because it’s average. Going through the songs in St. Anger, James said “we’ve already been able to whip pretty much anything into decent enough shape and we’ve proved that on Load and Reload.”
James also wasn’t all that comfortable with the band changing their image overnight, adopting new haircuts to fit in with the other alternative acts of the day, saying that both Bob Rock and Lars Ulrich were “after a U2 kind of vibe, Bono doing his alter ego. I couldn’t get into it…The whole ‘We need to reinvent ourselves’ topic was up. Image isn’t an evil thing to me, but if the image isn’t you, it doesn’t make much sense.”
Then again, not every member of Metallica was looking to make The Black Album Part 2 either, with Kirk saying in response that “Metallica is about music…not the length of our hair.”
Specifically regarding the Load/Reload era of the band, Hetfield has always been pretty forthcoming about where he stands in the years following its release, telling Clash Music once that:
“As far as doing something that doesn’t feel right, I’m sure there’s been a few times that it’s happened – the Load and Reload era, for me, was one of those; the way that was looking, I wasn’t 100 percent on with it, but I would say that that was a compromise.
I said, ‘I’m going with Lars’ and Kirk’s vision on this. You guys are extremely passionate about this, so I’ll jump on board, because if the four of us are into it, it’s going to be better.’” The pair of albums as far as James was concerned “didn’t pan out as good,” but added that “there’s no regrets, because at the time it felt like the right thing to do.”
Other interviews have also confirmed that he was not on board with the creative vision for the albums, with the artist who made both covers saying that:
“I think the images were a hit. I read a review once where the Load album was named No.1 on a list of best album covers. We know Lars and Kirk were happy with it but James was not. I think James is still fuming!”
For all of the uncomfortable aspects of the Load era, though, there were some positives. James also talked about opening up a lot more on this album as well, with “Bleeding Me” being about going to therapy for his constant substance abuse, saying “Going to therapy for a year, I learned a lot about myself.
There’s a lot of things that scar you when you’re growing up, you don’t know why. The song Bleeding Me is about that: I was trying to bleed out all bad, get the evil out. While I was going through therapy, I discovered some ugly stuff in there.”
Long before St. Anger unleashed the rest of the demons in Metallica, the Load era might actually have some of the first real problems bubbling from underneath the surface.