August 12, 1991. Six weeks before Nirvana would change rock forever with Nevermind, Metallica changed metal forever with their self-titled fifth studio album.
Rockers got a taste in July of 1991 when the band released “Enter Sandman” to radio and MTV. The video went into heavy rotation instantly, and the song was the first indication that Metallica’s forthcoming album was going to be a bit of a departure from their first four.
I remember the reaction from one friend–a long-time Metallica trooper and true metalhead–being borderline disdain. The word “sellout” was bandied about, which was par for the course, as we were 14 and entering high school. When your world is small and ever-changing, having one of your favorite bands do something unexpected can be jarring.
Other hard-rock friends of mine liked what they heard, though. And when the album came out, it seemed everyone bought a copy to crank on their car stereo. If you were around and rocking in the Summer of ’91, you probably remember: The Black Album was EVERYWHERE. You couldn’t escape it. And it kinda ruled.
Revisiting the album all these years later, the shift in sound comes across as much more subtle that it did in 1991. Chock that up to having almost 40 years of Metallica music for contrast. No matter what your entry point for the band was, there’s no denying that The Black Album is the album that changed everything for Metallica. And, to an extent, rock music moving forward.
Well, at least until Guns N’ Roses dropped a double album a month later.