Tonight (September 12th) on the world famous Classic Album at Midnight on Radio Nova we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of Metallica’s 1991 The Black Album.
We’ll be playing the album in full on vinyl with no commercials or interruptions.
By the early 1990s, the metal boom of the ’80s had passed, with hard rock fans turning their attention to grunge. Metallica’s first four albums had seen them engage in the rapid fire riffs of trash metal, but their fifth, eponymously titled album – which would come to be known as “The Black Album” due to its cover – saw the band adopt a slower, more classical metal approach.
Canadian producer Bob Rock helped expand Metallica’s new sound with the addition of an orchestra on Nothing else Matters and a cellist on The Unforgiven. The treble-heavy sound of Metallica’s previous albums was replaced by a richer sound with deeper bass.
The Black Album was fuelled by the band’s artistic insecurities.
“We felt inadequate as musicians and as songwriters,” drummer Lars Ulrich said.
Feeling that they were out to prove themselves on previous albums, the band focused on a more accessible, less pretentious sound with shorter track runtimes. This would prove helpful in receiving radio airplay and saw the album’s singles get heavy rotation on MTV.
In his lyrics, James Hetfield mined personal trauma like recurring nightmares on Enter Sandman and the death of his devout Christian mother from untreated cancer on The God That Failed. Nothing else Matters is essentially a love ballad that sees Hetfield pining for his girlfriend while on tour.
The original release of The Black Album contains 12 tracks – Enter Sandman; Sad But True; Holier Than Thou; The Unforgiven; Wherever I May Roam; Don’t Tread On Me; Through the Never; Nothing Else Matters; Of Wolf and Man; The God That Failed; My Friend of Misery; and The Struggle Within.
Metallica’s line-up at the time consisted of vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield; lead guitarist Kirk Hammett; bassist Jason Newsted; and drummer Lars Ulrich. Orchestration on Nothing Else Matters was conducted by Michael Kamen, who would later collaborate with the band on their live S&M concert album.
The Black Album was released on August 12th, 1991. It topped the album charts in several countries including the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and Germany, though here in Ireland it could only reach number 27. In the US alone it sold almost 600,000 copies in its first week of release. The album spent 488 weeks on the US Billboard 200, a feat topped only by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Carole King’s Tapestry. Since its release no other album has sold as many physical copies.
Both metal and mainstream music critics praised the album on its release, with many hailing it as a return to the simplicity of the golden era of the genre. It would be awarded with a Grammy in 1992 for Best Metal Performance.
Testament to The Black Album’s enduring power is the recent release of a tribute album that sees artists as diverse as Miley Cyrus, Phoebe Bridgers, St. Vincent and Weezer contribute cover versions of its tracks.
Tonight we’re all about the original though. Nothing else matters.