Written in same period as its counterpart, Metallica split the bulk of their material into two halves and recorded them in separate sessions, returning to the studio after a brief touring period to promote the first, Load. Of this era I once dismissed I do remember being significantly fonder of Reload yet today It seems like the more varied of the two, a variety that has significant peaks and valleys. The openers "Fuel" and "The Memory Remains" are the most likely of all these songs, from both records, to make a set list.
Followed by "Devil's Dance" we are treated to atmospheric brilliance as Metallica's creative juices yield stomping, crawling grooves and heat soaked shady leads from Kirk who drops in a marvelous solo, leaving his comfort zone and shredding wild screeches that revel in noise play. The vocal hooks are massive as James shows his harmonious range between monstrous "Yeah!" shouts. Laden with occasional effect drenched background vocal lines it oozes with charm from a band pushing their own boundaries. That high is followed by a low "The Unforgiven II", a sequel song that doesn't hit a mark, lurking in the shadow of the original its borrowed riffs and adjustments feel like a rearrangement rather than a second chapter, its all made unbearably worse by the "you're unforgiven too" pun, not a favorable lyric!
Too my ears this record definitely sounds like the second of a pair. If Load got all the first picks it explains its consistency and flow in comparison. Reload goes down a few different avenues, some yielding duller tracks like "Prince Charming" and "Attitude" which seem to lack a spark between sets of reasonable riffs. On the bright side it has some real wild cards like "Where The Wild Things Are", a song that narrows its metallic groove and surrounds it with sweet melodies, mostly from Hetfield who really shows a soft side of his voice. A big shout to "That's Not Metal" for noticing the similarity between this song and Ghost. You can definitely hear it as a precursor to their style.
Metallica get some stick for this era yet there's a lot about it that has contributed to the trajectory of Metal to come, especially the ditching of the strict "all black" metal-head uniform. The production, aesthetics and attitude of this record are much the same of what I said on my Load blog. I remember perhaps being critical of Kirk who felt a bit quite on that release yet here there are a fair few moments where he becomes a big focal point, especially when turning to big, steady atmospheric leads playing of reverb and slow bends like on the remarkable closer "Fixxer". Its hard to pick a favorite of the two, Load is the better album yet Reload has my favorite songs. Ultimately I'm now gasping for more of this era too many fans have dismissed! This era is a fantastic evolution for the band, unfortunately its the end of Metallica at the top of their game.
Favorite Tracks: Devil's Dance, Better Than You, Silther, Carpe Diem Baby Where The Wild Things Are, Fixxxer