What if Metallica’s Load & Reload Were One Album (Part I): Why Do We Care?

Covers for Load (1996) and Reload (1997) (credit: Andres Serrano/Blackened Records)
Metallica as kings of the underground thrash movement in 1984 (unknown fan pic, creative commons)

The History of Load and Reload

After a three year tour supporting their self-titled, globally successful, 1991 album Metallica (AKA the Black Album, AKA 16x platinum in the U.S.), and an appearance at Woodstock ’94, Metallica were ready to begin work on a follow-up. Having amassed a considerable amount of rough material, the band entered the studio in February ‘95 to record what they thought could become a double album.

Metallica at the peak of their Black Album ‘kings of metal’ popularity, playing in front of an estimated 500,000 fans in Moscow (credit: Dublin, A. 1992 via Kerrang)
The “new” Metallica of 1996 from the inside booklet of Load (Credits: Anton Corbijn/EM Ventures/Blackened Records)
Anton Corbijn/EM Ventures/Blackened Records
Inside art for Reload (Credits: Anton Corbijn/EM Ventures/Blackened Records)

Why Is This A Common Discussion Among Metallica Fans?

I am not the first Metallica fan to consider the hypothetical singular CD made up from the Load/Reload material. As mentioned, the topic has been well-trodden in forums and threads across the internet. This also isn’t unique to Metallica, it happens anytime a band releases two albums close together or even just a standard double album. But beyond their proximity, are there maybe other driving forces behind these “What if?” questions and revisionist track listings? Why do we fans get obsessed with hypothetical re-workings of a band’s past catalogue.

Credits: Anton Corbijn/EM Ventures/Blackened Records

Filller?

First, and not specific to Metallica, is the notion of “filler”. Rooted mostly in the history of vinyl and 1970s ‘album-oriented rock’ (AOR), filler, as a concept, emerged in the 60s when the music industry shifted from singles to full albums as the primary means of releasing music. “Filler” was the term adopted for all the seemingly mediocre, or downright bad, songs recorded in order to fill out a full album that may have only had one or two hits the label/radio/fans were actually interested in (even the artist could sometimes feel they had produced junk for the sake of filling the record). Today, the idea of filler thrives on those of us who grew up on physical media and memories of the ‘perfect album’ that required no skipping.

Credits: Anton Corbijn/EM Ventures/Blackened Records
Credits: Anton Corbijn/EM Ventures/Blackened Records

When is a Record Done?

The second reason I will propose for this phenomena, and related to the previous, is the very long and very awkward length of both Load and Reload. Also rooted in the vinyl and AOR eras is the idea that a the perfect rock/pop record should be a brisk 45 or so minutes. However, Load and Reload, each, and depending on the medium, stray pretty damn close to double-album length. With so much material, fans are bound to consider ideas of ‘fatigue’ when trying to take in and connect to so many songs. Looking at the jewel cases on our shelves, we inevitably consider, ‘what would I think of this era of the band’s catalogue if it was only the 12 songs I love most?’

Credits: Anton Corbijn/EM Ventures/Blackened Records
Credits: Anton Corbijn/EM Ventures/Blackened Records

“It Felt Right At the Time”

The third reason proposed as to why fans take on this alterative album narrative so often is the first to be somewhat specific to Metallica. It is the reluctance of the band themselves to ever really reimagine, or hypothesize about, things that are already done.

Credits: Anton Corbijn/EM Ventures/Blackened Records

The “Perfect Album” as Alternate History and Self-Defense

The final reason, and second specific to Metallica, is the place of Load and Reload in the band’s historical timeline. Load and Reload aren’t just two albums released close together. They are two massive shifts in direction released close together. They are also two critical jumping-on points for 90s kids and jumping off points for some 80s kids. With these factors comes a battle for the soul of the material that makes up these two albums.

Credits: Anton Corbijn/EM Ventures/Blackened Records

Why Do We Care?

I do hope we are at least open to the idea that there be more behind our pop-culture revisionist desires, whether its Metallica or anything else. Analysis aside though, I think many of us enjoy pop-culture revisionism as a genuine form of intra-community entertainment and fandom sharing. Whether we make ‘best of’ playlists or enjoy the full Load and Reload albums in all their gloomy glory, at the end of the day, its all in good fun. Filler, fatigue, revisionism, or sensitivity, 1996 or 2021, loving these albums, and embracing everything on them, just feels right.

Sources:

Beck, A. (2008). Metallica’s James Hetfield Talks 25 Years After his Band’s First Record. Columbus Dispatch Online. Oct 30, 2008.

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Danny Bednar

Danny Bednar

Your Friendly Neighborhood Space Agency Worker, Geography PhD, Part-Time Professor, and Author. Writing about Movies, Music, Comics, & Hockey.