40 years for the band, 30 years for their biggest album and a $24.95 Book that chronicles it all
‘Tis the season of Metallica on the legendary band’s 40th year in existence. The group’s game-changing self-titled album, commonly referred to as “The Black Album,” turns 30 today. The album is being remastered and reissued with an option for a hefty collector’s item box set.
There is also The Blacklist, an album of covers from 53 artists. The star power of The Blacklist is blinding, as is the scope. Some of the artists doing covers are: Juanes, St. Vincent, Moses Sumney, J Balvin, Phoebe Bridgers, Dave Gahan, Kamasi Washington, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Alessia Cara & The Warning. The proceeds from The Blacklist are earmarked for charity, including Metallica’s own All Within My Hands.
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The group has announced its newly minted The Metallica Podcast. There are many podcasts about the group, but this is the first official one. The eight episodes of Volume 1 will focus on The Black Album.
And there is Metallica: The $24.95 Book by Ben Apatoff, a comprehensive tome that covers, quite literally, everything about the perennial band. The book’s title is a reference to the band’s $5.98 EP, which is an indication just how in-depth Apatoff has gone into this thoroughly researched yet manageably presented book.
Apatoff devotes a chapter to each studio album (including Lulu, the band’s despised collaboration with Lou Reed). The album chapters put the works into the context of the time, the albums that came before and after, the individual members’ personal states, the people involved in the creation, fan, critical and commercial reaction. Apatoff tries his best to keep his objectivity, but there are moments when his opinion, which lines up with the majority, simply has to come through.
Each member also has their own chapter, which includes their origin story and particular place within the Metallica universe. These chapters put James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Cliff Burton, James Newsted and Robert Trujillo into context, and create a little space in the reader’s heart for each one.
There are thematic chapters focusing on live shows, videos, influences including books, films and other bands, fashion, spirituality and the fans with Metalli-trivia spread throughout. The book is peppered with well-placed quotes from band members as well as those in their immediate sphere, across a 40-year span, from a variety of sources. These quotes bring a personal touch and an affirmation to Apatoff’s statements. A quick count of the bibliography entries tips those at 150+, a testament to how deeply the author went into unpacking all things Metallica.
Unlike the rest of the book, the introduction and the first chapter of Metallica’s beginnings with Dave Mustaine of Megadeth are out of step with the rest of the book. These parts have the tone of trying to convince the reader why they should read this book, at times even sounding argumentative, as if the reader is already disagreeing with the author about their favorite band and is being berated in an attempt to convince them to change their mind. These bits only make up 15 of the 271 pages of Metallica: The $24.95 Book so they’re (un)forgiven.
Which brings us to The Black Album, arguably the most polarizing of Metallica’s releases. A song from that album was playing in my doctor’s waiting room last week while I was reading the chapter on Jason Newstead. Hearing Metallica, a band I loved (and love) but was too scared to see in concert in the ‘80s because I was concerned about my safety amidst their clearly unhinged (I thought) fans being played at the ENT’s office was surreal.
The accessibility of The Black Album, at least in comparison to their previous thrash metal albums, is indisputable. Making an album that was less restrictive than their first four albums was Metallica’s choice, and not that of the record company, management, or anyone else. Who would dare tell Metallica what to do anyway? Well, Bob Rock would. Rock was enlisted to produce The Black Album because Metallica was looking for the quality of sound he captured on Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood. Rock pushed them, making their playing better, elevating Hetfield’s lyrics and assisted them in becoming more than they were.
The Grammy-winning The Black Album is the first one of Metallica’s albums to go straight to Number 1 in the Billboard 200 chart—a feat they would repeat with every subsequent album. It is also one of the longest charting albums in history with over 500 weeks in the charts. With over 25 million copies shifted, it is the band’s highest-selling album.
It has been reissued three times prior, in 2008, 2010 and 2014. And 30 years later, it sounds just as revolutionary and timeless as it did in 1991. To quote Ulrich from Metallica: The $24.95 Book, “We didn’t go to the mainstream. The mainstream came to us.” Ye-ah.