BY MATT TUCK
Metallica’s Black Album tribute, The Blacklist, is essentially a build-your-own-playlist concept album that will make old school thrash metal fans cringe...and that is precisely the point.
The concept is ordinary enough. After all, there are probably thousands of various tribute albums that have been recorded over the years. In the 1990s, virtually every classic rock or country act got a tribute album.
What sets The Blacklist apart from those other albums is that it is not an homage to Metallica, per se, but specifically the Black Album. Released in August, 1991, this was the record that forever changed metal and took the thrashers into the mainstream. Thirty years later, the band helped orchestrate an arrangement of covers for each song on the track list. The majority of the artists on the album are not the ones who would normally come to mind for a Metallica homage. There’s everything from top-40 pop, rap, country, and Latin dance mixes for every track on the original Black Album. The idea is that there is something for everyone here...except Metallica fans. Hardcore ‘Tallica fans will hardly recognize many of the covers and remixes, and that is the idea.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have found myself listening to “Enter Sandman” and thought, “You know what this song needs? A bass-thumping, dance club remix.” And I think I speak for every longtime Metallica fan in saying that I have always wanted to know what every single song from the Black Album would sound like in every single Billboard Top 100 music category. From Miley Cyrus doing a raspy Stevie Nicks impression on “Nothing Else Matters” to the Mexican Institute of Sound’s take on “Sad But True,” there’s a wide range of samplings on one album. For those wanting a more traditional take on the Black Album, there’s Mac DeMarco’s “Enter Sandman” and Corey Taylor’s “Holier Than Thou.” If you are a fan of sad piano Metallica covers, The Blacklist is the album for you because there is ample sad piano playing on this one.
The album has a little something for fans of practically every major genre of music. With more than four dozen tracks, there certainly should be.
Whether you love the music or not, getting through the entire four-hour odyssey that spans 53 tracks is grueling. It took me three days. Naturally, when there are 50+ covers of 11 songs, things get repetitive. I found myself needing ample mental breaks because this was an ordeal.
By the time I heard all twelve versions of “Nothing Else Matters,” I needed to cleanse the pallet. Before I made it to those dozen covers, I endured: six renditions of “Enter Sandman,” seven performances of “Sad But True,” five for “Holier Than Thou,” “The Unforgiven” had another seven covers, “Wherever I May Roam” sported four, and “Don’t Tread On Me” and “My Friend of Misery” were covered three times apiece. Then there was “Through the Never” and “The God That Failed” each with two renditions. After 51 tracks, it was an act of mercy that “Of Wolf and Man” and “The Struggle Within” had only one cover each.
Think of The Blacklist like a reference book. You’re not expected to read every page of a dictionary or an encyclopedia; you skip to the portions that you need. In essence, that’s what Blacklist is - a large collection of songs that is meant to be cherry picked for different playlists. That is why there is such an eclectic array of musical genres for most of the songs; the intent is for listeners to mix and match the songs to build their very own Black Album. In that regard, it was a success.
The other piece to this puzzle is that the wide array of inventive covers gets Metallica’s songs played in virtually every popular musical genre imaginable. It opens the band to fans that never would have listened to Metallica songs before. Where the original versions would be limited to rock fans, the covers crossover into Top-40 pop, hip-hop, R&B, dance, electronica, rap, Latin, country, etc. It covertly expands the Metallica audience into places the band has never gone before. Call it what you will, but that makes the final product a success.
The problem is that Metallica may have further alienated their core fan base, which they are prone to doing, but we have to look at this from a business perspective. At this point in the band’s career, they are a multi-million dollar corporation, and The Blacklist was intended to expand the brand, which it did. While hardcore fans will protest, there is no denying that the new album serves its purpose.
Just remember that we can always listen to the old recordings, and there's a Black Album anniversary box set for that purpose.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an avid Metallica fan. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.