A History of Metallica’s Monumental ‘Black Album’

On this day in 1991, the Thrash Metal pioneers released one of the most successful albums of all time.

In the music industry, it is not uncommon for a band’s momentum to deteriorate as their discography pushes on. This was far from the case for the legendary Thrash pioneers, Metallica. Despite making waves and quickly becoming one of the most highly regarded bands of all time, by 1991, Metallica were only just beginning to scratch the surface.

More commonly known as ‘The Black Album’ by fans, their self-titled release didn’t just push Metallica further into stardom, but also broke world records and revolutionised the music industry for decades to come.

Shifting to a more commercial, accessible sound: shortening their songs and making their lyrics more introspective, Metallica became one of the most successful albums on record- bringing the metal genre to the forefront of mainstream media.

Now, nearly three decades since its release, Metallica continues to break records as its legacy lives on and serves to inspire a new generation of musicians and music-lovers.

Written predominantly by frontman, James Hetfield and drummer, Lars Ulrich, the self-titled release was the band’s fifth studio album and marked a shift, not only from political to personal, but from raw-Thrash to more accessible heavy metal.

Neglecting the longer, more politically-motivated songs such as …And Justice For All’s single, ‘One’ in exchange for a more emotion-driven sound, Hetfield’s inspiration for the album came from legendary songwriters including John Lennon, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan.

From dealing with the death of his mother in ‘The God That Failed’, discussing her refusal to accept medical treatment due to her religious beliefs, to ‘Nothing Else Matters’ in which the frontman opens up about the struggle of being separated from loved ones whilst on tour, Metallica was the first album by the Thrash band to deal with personal matters with complete unambiguity.

In spite of the clashes between the band and producer, Bob Rock, throughout the recording process, the album proved to be one of the most successful releases of all time- topping charts globally and selling exponentially around the world.

For the first time, Metallica were being played on mainstream radio, able to influence new audiences with their heavy, yet accessible sound. Spending four consecutive weeks at the number one position on the Billboard 200, Metallica remained on the chart for an exceptional 488 weeks; becoming the third longest charting album of all time.

Similarly, upon its debut, Metallica was immediately confronted with widespread critical acclaim from nearly all music publications and sold just less than 600,000 copies in the first week alone.

Still held in extremely high regard by fans as being the band’s best album, the album is continuing to break records. Never selling less than a thousand copies per week in the entire time since it’s release and with thirty-one million copies sold worldwide, Metallica is the best-selling album in the United States since Nielsen SoundScan tracking began in 1991.

Now, with Metallica continuing to tour around the globe regularly and still regarded as the most influential metal band of all time, the legacy of the self-titled album lives on, gaining more and more momentum with the passing of each decade. Inspiring new generations and bringing metal music into the otherwise impermeable charts, the album still continues to influence the music industry inexplicably in a way yet unchallenged.

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