The 25 Most Important Metal Bands of the ’90s: #6, Metallica
The ’90s: they were the bomb! That’s why MetalSucks will spend the month of March giving snaps to the decade that was all that and a bag of chips by counting down The 25 Most Important Metal Bands of the ’90s. These aren’t bands that necessarily formed in the ’90s, nor are they bands that would turn out to be influential somewhere down the road; these are bands that a) were doing their best work in the ’90s, and b) amassed a devout following during the ’90s. These are the bands that we feel truly defined the decade for extreme music. These are the bands that we feel truly defined the decade for yo mama.
Ah, Metallica. What other band could possibly have had such a bittersweet decade and still ended up this high on the list?
Sorry, did I say “bittersweet”? I meant “mediocre.” Metallica were disappointing for much more of the ’90s than they weren’t, and if the St. Anger years felt worse, that’s only because us fans were no longer in denial.
They certainly started the decade on the right foot. The Black Album was huge, and deservedly so. There were some people who didn’t like it, who couldn’t accept that it shared a producer with Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood. And sure, in hindsight, those guys had reason to be concerned about the direction Metallica were taking. But as far as the watered-down version of Metallica goes, The Black Album was, is, and always will be AWESOME. History will decide for sure when most of us are long dead, but given its incredible popularity a quarter of a century after its release, it seems to stand a serious chance of someday being considered One of THE Great Rock Records. “Enter Sandman” is a riff played poorly by every kid learning to play guitar across the world, alongside “Smoke on the Water” and “Iron Man” and “Back in Black.” It’s as iconic as iconic gets.
But if “Enter Sandman” was the only good song on The Black Album, its popularity would not have endured. The truth is, The Black Album is wall-to-wall perfectly written pop metal songs. You can hate what it represents, but only a real yutz would claim to hate its contents.
Unfortunately, Metallica followed up The Black Album with this shit:
My memory of Load is that it was basically The Phantom Menace three years before The Phantom Menace. Fandom’s reactions to the two were similar: a lot of us just could not initially accept that it was as bad as it seemed. Black Album-ish songs like “Ain’t My Bitch” and “King Nothing” were Metallica’s Jedi/Darth Maul lightsaber fight: “Hey, that part was pretty cool, right?”
And then, like George Lucas, they went and pulled the same trick with the sequel. Reload sucked. Some tried to defend it by citing The Ultimate Energy Drink Anthem, “Fuel,” which was like trying to stop a rampaging rhino with a banana peel.
Metallica capped the decade in the spring of 2000 with what may very well be their blandest, most middle of the road radio rawk song ever, with lyrics apparently written by Fat Albert, no less. The music video probably cost more than the entire discography of Napalm Death.
So why are Metallica on here if their ’90s output was such a mixed bag?
Well, 1) not all of you agree with everything I’ve written thus far, and 2) regardless, WE WERE ALL TALKING ABOUT THEM THE ENTIRE TIME.
I don’t mean that as a backhanded compliment. Plenty of previously-great bands made huge creative missteps while chasing trends in the ’90s. But most of those albums never really entered metal’s cultural lexicon. Generation Swine and Volume 8: The Threat is Real did not inspire a million arguments about the nature of creative evolution and what it means to sell out. No one tried to defend Risk; everyone just immediately admitted that it wasn’t good. And no one really debated Slayer’s output (at least not in my circle); you either liked those albums or you didn’t, probably because even without Dave Lombardo, they still sounded like Slayer.
But you know how much controversy there was around the Loads? WE ARE STILL FUCKING ARGUING ABOUT IT TO THIS DAY. And I’d wager there’s a ton of you under age thirty who don’t even know what the crap Generation Swine and Volume 8: The Threat is Real were until three seconds ago.
And that’s why Metallica are do high on this list, even if they quite literally only released one great album the entire decade. Their significance has never, ever been in question. Whether you loved or hated what they did in the ’90s, you thought about it, probably an unhealthy amount. If you were of a certain age, that thought influenced the way you approached all art moving forward, consciously or otherwise. Even in their failures, Metallica were game changers.
Also they sold gajillions of records. Like, possibly more than all the other bands on this list combined. So there’s that, too.
THE LIST SO FAR
#25: Morbid Angel
#21: Cave In
#19: Cradle of Filth
#17: Napalm Death
#16: Rage Against the Machine
#15: Type O Negative
#14: Dream Theater
#13: Alice in Chains
#12: Nine Inch Nails
#8: Cannibal Corpse
#7: Fear Factory