Metallica - did they just lose their talent like an aging sports star?

I decided to listen to everything Metallica has released. Well, I mean that I decided to listen to all their studio albums in order. Here is how I would break them down and honestly, it’s striking how sudden the decline was.

Era 1:

Kill 'Em All - rookie group, neat debut. Not amazing, but wow, these kids might have a future.

Era 1:

Ride The Lightning through The Black Album - an amazing, even top-tier band. Not perfect, but this is an amazing group I would want to listen to every release from.

Era 3:

Load through St. Anger - embarrassingly bad. I cringed listening to some of these albums. I can’t believe the same basic set of guys put out these albums right after their great run. I know the Black Album is frowned upon by some, but come one. This was when it tanked.

Era 4

Death Magnetic & Hardwired to Self-Destruct - Well, they are aware enough of their faults to try to course-correct. There are some moments on these albums, I’ll give them that. I think it was worth continuing, but it is still a long way from Ride the Lightning. Still, they have improved compared to Load, which was a complete embarrassment.

So do you agree with me in general? And do you think they got lazy or they just lost what made them special? Did success ruin their ability to innovate and work hard?

I had a friend who was way into guitar and said ever since 1996 or so, all their music is much easier to play than before that. He figured they got tired of technically difficult work and had enough money and fame to just do average work…so they did.

I doubt the band would ever admit they have declined, but what do you think happened?

I had not heard Load since 1996 or so and I was stunned how much worse it was than I even remembered. I almost felt bad for them…

How are they different from any other band? They had ten good, productive years, which is more than most musicians get.

I’m not a big fan but I generally agree with your assessment. Master of Puppets and, to a slightly lesser extent, …And Justice For All were masterpieces. The Black Album was OK and then things went downhill fast. I stopped paying close attention after Load but I did recently give Hardwired… a listen and it was markedly less terrible than any of their other 21st century work I’ve heard.

I don’t know if “laziness” is the issue. I think once you’ve made a perfect record the options are to keep making that record over and over (see Ramones, The) or try to “innovate”. But most artists don’t have more than one perfect record in them.

Don’t really know, but a lack of motivation wouldn’t be surprising.

I think this is the key here. If one tries to make the same thing, it inevitable becomes worse and worse - as you are doing the same thing but making it different enough so someone will buy it. Innovation can be even more difficult - only a few musicians can really continue to innovate and still hit the highs.

And after like 10 years of being really good, the music scene may just pass you by. And you find yourself grasping to be relevant.

I’m not going to have much more than personal preference to back this up, but I’m going to disagree. I think that Load and Reload were both great albums, with some songs on them that stand up as some of the band’s best. Yes, there is a shift from intricate sprawling metal to simpler but catchier radio-friendly rock. But I will happily listen to Hero of the Day, Until it Sleeps, Mama Said, Unforgiven II, The Memory Remains, Fuel, Low Man’s Lyric, Fixxxer… there are some duds in there, but not a sharp drop off. Let’s not forget that in this era, they did S&M, which is a freaking masterpiece, IMHO. Also, there are a few greats on Garage Inc, as well as the single I Disappear, which is a lot of fun.

St. Anger is pure crap from beginning to end. I’ve tried to find something to like there, but I just can’t. Load and Reload are worlds ahead of it. (though I realize that’s not saying much.)

Death Magnetic felt like a return to form, but with lingering damage… The Day that Never Comes I think stands up with anything pre-Anger. Again, there are dud tracks, but there are enough highlights that I’m glad it exists. Hardwired is similar. I like the title track, Atlas Rise, and Spit out the Bone. I’d have to give it a relisten to remember the rest, but I’m glad they didn’t stop making music and persevered.

They lost their talent. In a bus accident. The talent was Cliff Burton. You can tell from the first few seconds of (Anesthesia)—Pulling Teeth on Kill 'Em All he was different. I think his direction was what made Ride the lightning and Master of Puppets so special and it held through And Justice for all (even with the irony of the bass being mixed out). Residual Burton kept them going through the Black album which kind of dumped the best of their type of “decent metal but not wonderful” leftover. Load was the last gasp of the B-Sides in an era when the B-sides were largely gone.

Hetfield and Ulrich were competent enough songwriters, Hetfields lyrics much better in early days, and Hammets solos, well, he just churns them out. They had no space left over for the bass role which led the band for so long once Burton went. Burton was the glue. The inspiration. The spark of difference which made them so great back then, and one of the great losses of music. It wasn’t just that they had was a great bassist, he made them different, compete, be different and still remained friends. Without that in the band, the lost spot of the new bassist, Hammett doing his little chunk, it was two decent songwriters burning out.

Yes, I would agree, very nearly fully, with your OP assessment(s). ( I rate 'Kill ‘em All’ somewhat higher than you might )

“The black album” really does seem to be the linchpin that linked ‘And Justice for All’ with the insipid ‘Load/Reload’ twins. You can hear elements of the latter in the former.

Selling out? :grinning:

Yeah, basically. I guess that Black Album was their first attempt at putting more songs, but shorter ones, on an album and releasing it. By the time Load and Reload came, they were just a rock band instead of a hyper-talented metal band.

I feel like bands like Sepultura and Slayer kept more true to what they were. And, yes, they sold less albums for it.

I think a lot of rock music creativity comes from being young, hungry, angry, and horny. Once you get rich and famous and satisfy your urges on a daily basis, life gets old and your creative edge is dulled.

This image sums that up pretty well.

Or maybe your tastes changed?

I’m a HUGE Rush fan, but without hesitation, I prefer everything pre Vapor Trails. That’s not a knock on those records (there’s some good stuff there), or the bands talent, I just like the older stuff more.

Really? I did not listen to them almost at all before. I mean, not zero, but not much. I wasn’t a fan who thought they went downhill. I was listening to experience them and the downturn is very noticeable.

I think has a lot to do with it.

Most of the bands I like, I like their earlier stuff. When you’re young you have opinions and stuff you want the world to know that you want to say. I was like that.

Then bands get old and play about old shit. Or they don’t and then I think “Why are you, married, kids having, 50 year olds playing about getting laid and fighting the world?”

You’re 50. Calm down Beavis.

Never been fan, but I have to agree. That type of music is a young man’s game and Christ, Hetfield’s older than me. And I’m OLD. If you want to still be relevant, who have to change.

They will continue to tour based on old hits, and put out albums that no one really listens to. Maybe they can have a festival of over the hill and won’t quit bands. The Stones, Alice Cooper, Metallica…

Well, the Black Album was really the start of a more… melodic(?) era, with a fairly serious, if not quite lethal move toward rock, rather than staying squarely in the thrash metal arena like they had for the previous four albums.

This made them much more mainstream with songs like “Unforgiven”, “Enter Sandman”, etc… However, I think they might have put too much stock in that; from what I recall at the time there was a general move of other genres into popular music- rap also started seriously crossing over at about the same time.

So they kept going in the same direction with the next several albums which stank terribly because they’d strayed from their roots because of the success of the Black Album.

It’s not really comparable with Metallica on changing tastes, Rush turned out sixteen albums before Vapor Trails, and with three arguably four genre shifts (old prog, new prog, electronica, post electronica) which divided their fanbase, but Vapor Trails onwards is pretty much horrible. I have read people claiming “back to their origins”, however, as a Rush fan of 40 odd years, and they are my number one band, Vapor Trails onward is Load/Reload/St Anger. A definite drop in quality, not helped by Geddys voice being gone in Clockwork Angels. I’ve tried, I’ve tried a lot, to like a single song off of any of those albums (and it did take a while with some pre Vapor Trails, but I got there) and not one. I think I’ve listened to Clockwork Angels about 20 times now.

I don’t think anyone would be saying “tastes changes” with Rush and VT onwards. Nobody is saying that with Load onwards. It’s not even “a matter of taste”, like the wrong Van Halen (I can see why you might like that), those are visibly worse albums. It can’t be helped. But with sixteen onwards Rush had a hell of a spendid run. Metallica a far shorter one. But they faded.

Hmm. I’d be the first to say that art isn’t like sports or physics, you can’t measure it’s worth. So, I can’t say whether they lost their talent, or that Burton was the genius behind the band, but I broke with them at …And Justice For All.

“Master of Puppets” is a masterpiece, and the album is too. I saw them with Burton on the Master of Puppets tour when they opened for Ozzy. They fucking ruled, were almost terrifying. The next time I saw them after that was on the Monsters of Rock tour, where they debuted some of the upcoming record. It sounded pretty good mixed in with the rest of their set, but the whole thing seemed more, I dunno “rock band” rather than scary. On top of that, the studio record on the whole didn’t sound great, and it seemed sterile. In retrospect, this was due to it being very heavily produced (and somewhat sabotaged), but there were also other bands showing up that made Metallica look silly in respect to being heavy or complex, and that didn’t change as time went on.

So, Metallica continued on what was a pretty predictable arc into being a heavy rock band. They’re not bad at it, but they aren’t anything close to what they were to the music scene in 1986, and even if they had remained that band, the rest of the world was a-changin’. So, I can’t blame them for making the obvious choice. But, I don’t have to listen, and I still wish that the local rock stations would play Thin Lizzy’s version of “Whiskey in the Jar” once in awhile, because I far prefer it, and think they were a better heavy rock band.

I don’t think this is accurate (although Lars, specifically, did go through a “couldn’t give a fuck to rehearse” stage it seems). I think it’s specifically the songwriting that they now suck at. But they can still do the old songs justice live.

And shit! Master of Puppets was 35 years ago!

This. It is the rare band that doesn’t decline, even if they stay together. In fact offhand I can’t think of any who didn’t. Some have brief flashes of glory, some have very extended runs of high quality, some even successfully reinvent themselves for a bit. But all musical artists begin to lose steam eventually.

control-z probably has part of the answer, but I think it is just the nature of age and creativity in general - I think even starving artists will generally decline. And not just in the realm of music.

In fact 10 years seems a very common length of an artistically succesful career even among the bigger names, after which lies either disbanding or re-inventing.