In May 1995, Metallica entered The Plant Studios in Sausalito, Calif., to record a double album as the follow-up to 1991’s Metallica (aka The Black Album), which catapulted the band from thrash heroes to mainstream rock stars. But by February 1996, Metallica had only finished about half the songs, so they scrapped the double-album plan and opted, instead, to release two records one year apart.
The first, Load, came out June 4, 1996. Then in July 1997, Metallica returned to the studio to continue working on the 13 songs they didn’t finish the first time. On Nov. 18, 1997, they released the finished batch as Reload.
“The two records belong together and they should have come out at the same time, but they just weren’t done,” guitarist and vocalist James Hetfield told me in 1997. “We want these albums to be twins.” “Basically, we just didn’t feel like being in the studio long enough to finish all the songs,” guitarist Kirk Hammett said. “We decided it would be wiser if we did two albums and staggered the releases. That way, we’d get more mileage out of them. We’d have a nice break in the middle of the touring cycle to work on Reload, then once it was out, we’d go back out on tour. That made more sense than just putting out a double album. Also, if we did a double album, it would have been a lot more material for people to digest, and some of the songs might have gotten lost in the shuffle.”
While the songs for Reload and Load were originally meant to be viewed under the same microscope, there are differences between the two albums. Load was brash and bluesy, but unapologetically straightforward. Reload, by contrast, was more experimental, blending biker metal, southern rock and unconventional arrangements into a bracing batch of songs that were familiar, but refreshingly adventurous.