Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich has a new goal: "I want to put out a record every year left in the '90s," he says. The band is two for two with the Nov. 18 release of "Re-Load," which arrives in stores roughly 18 months after 1996's triple-platinum "Load."
While Ulrich is cagey about future releases, especially given the generally long wait fans have between Metallica albums, he is completely candid about the role "Re-Load" plays in the Elektra act's canon of work. "It's the second half of 'Load,' " he says. "It's just coming out a year-and-a-half later."
Explaining further, he adds, "We wrote 27 songs for 'Load' and were developing it as a double album. We then got the offer [in January 1996] to play Lollapalooza [that summer] and [decided] we [would] put one record out now with most of the songs that are done and then we [would] come back after a year and finish the rest of them. As far as I'm concerned, you can take any of these songs and interchange them on the two albums. The only fear we had was getting to it quick. We didn't want to leave it lying around for three years and worry about what it would sound like when we came back to it."
The band, which also includes vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Jason Newsted, needn't have worried. "Re-Load," while heavier than "Load," shares its predecessor's mix of gravelly, feral metal and lighter, more melodic rock'n'roll. Highlights include high-octane album opener "Fuel," the ominous "Fixxxer," and "The Unforgiven II," a sequel to the monster hit "The Unforgiven," featured on the group's 1991 self- titled album (referred to as the "Black Album" because of its black cover).
The idea to write a sequel was based upon Ulrich and Hetfield's decision to do something they'd never done before. "We thought, 'Let's continue a story and make a part two of a song we've done before.' The whole aura of the music felt like this could really be a nice way to continue the story on 'The Unforgiven.' It wasn't like I thought I was going to be an unfulfilled person until I continued the song."
"Re-Load" features another first--including an outside performer on the group's album. Marianne Faithfull lends haunting vocalizations to the set's first single, "The Memory Remains." "James thought it would be cool to have a female voice, and we were like, 'Whose voice is charismatic and has a sense of having lived life and weathered something?' " says Ulrich.
Among the names bandied about were Carly Simon, Patti Smith, and Joni Mitchell, but Ulrich and Hetfield kept coming back to Faithfull, who said she'd be glad to help. "So, me and James jumped on a plane--no babysitters, no producers, no bullshit. We just hung out with her all day, drank wine in Dublin, and had a good time." "The Memory Remains" goes to a number of formats, including active rock and top 40, in mid-November.
Programmers have already received "Mandatory Metallica," a two-CD sampler of songs from the band's back catalog that have performed well at radio.
Ulrich knows that critics of the band will protest that Metallica is throwing the remainders of "Load" to its fans with "Re-Load"--songs that weren't good enough to make the grade the first time. But he feels that's not the case. "I think a lot of people think it's just the scraps, but it's not. I have to sit there and convince myself that I've written 27 songs that are all equally good. If No. 17 wasn't good enough, I'd throw it away. I wouldn't go in and record it. I believed from minute one. That's why we kept writing these fucking songs. We normally stop at 12 when we write albums, but we knew that we wanted to develop all 27 of these songs, that they were all good enough."
"We're just trying to emphasize the fact that these are new songs," says Brian Cohen, Elektra's VP of marketing. "The message is not so much that these are leftovers as it's just the part that they didn't finish yet. The inspiration happened at the same time as 'Load'; they just didn't get them completed" before going on the road.
Despite the amount of recording that had already been done on the project at the time "Load" was recorded (basic tracks had been cut for most of the songs), the band went into overdrive completing "Re-Load," under what they refer to as "Metallica Crunch Time." "This was the worst, definitely the worst," says Ulrich, who was still figuring out sequencing for the album with producer Bob Rock as it was being mastered. "We had two rooms mixing and one or two other rooms where we were tracking at the same time as they were mixing. The last two weeks have been the stupidest. This makes the [notoriously difficult] 'Black Album' look like a fucking walk in the park."
In a marketing plan befitting the label's top-selling act, Elektra has a multi-pronged approach designed to appeal not only to the Metallica faithful, but to new converts as well.
First and foremost are plans to stage a free concert Nov. 11. After a number of cities turned down the group, Metallica and the label decided to solicit fans who might be able to help. Potential prospects can contact the band through a World Wide Web address or a toll-free phone number.
"The idea for the free concert came from Garth Brooks," says Ulrich. "We sat down after [his] Central Park show and said, 'That is so cool--what a cool thing to do.' We thought it would a good way for us to shake some of the dust off and celebrate the release of the new record. We've been trying for the last two months to set up a free concert in Chicago, and we can't find a fucking place to play. We went and looked at Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, so on, and basically no one will have us."
Despite the initial difficulties, Elektra is confident the show will go on. "Absolutely it will happen," says Cohen. "It's so in the spirit of Metallica. Despite the well-crafted nature of their music, there's always been a handmade quality to their relationship with their fans--this common, everyday vibe." Indeed, in the past the band gave a free listening party at New York's Madison Square Garden. For "Load," it played around San Francisco for free on a flatbed truck and did an extensive promotion with MTV.
At retail, Elektra is making a dump bin that will hold up to 190 pieces of Metallica product. "We're making 3,000 bins," says Cohen. "Musicland is taking one for every store." Elektra has already supplied stores with "coming soon" banners as well as a countdown calendar alerting patrons how many days until the arrival of "Re-Load."
Retailers have high hopes for the release, which they believe can match "Load's" staggering first-week sales of 680,000 (Billboard, June 22, 1996).
"I think this one will do as well," says Eric Keil, buyer for the New Jersey-based Compact Disc World chain. "The setup has been going on forever; the Internet has been buzzing about it." Keil notes that "Re-Load" comes out the same day as Celine Dion's new effort. "I can't think of two more divergent styles of music--it could be a very interesting cocktail party in our stores. Metallica is the crowning release of the fourth quarter; it's our bread and butter."
"I think it will do great," agrees John Artale, buyer for the Carnegie, Pa.-based chain National Record Mart. "They just came off a really good tour that got good reviews and satisfied a lot of people that showed even though they did cut their hair, they're still very dedicated." However, Artale says he's concerned that people might not understand the title. " 'Re-Load' smacks of remixes, which is not what it is," he says. "But a new Metallica record is very welcome at this stage. I can't even think of anything else that would satisfy that market as well, even though they're still kings of that market."
"That market" is the young males who compose Metallica's core audience. To reach them, Elektra plans to run an ad campaign on Comedy Central's often puerile animated series "South Park." "It couldn't be more straight-on in terms of Metallica demographics," says Cohen. "We're doing a promotion on 'South Park's' Web site as well."
In addition to initial plans for the launch of the record, Elektra will continue to push the album long after its release. "We're holding a lot of ammo until the first quarter of next year," says Cohen. "We have to work this record without a band on tour until next year sometime; we have an eight- to 12-month plan."
Metallica will return to the road in March, when it tours the Pacific Rim. It will hit the States in the summer.
However, Ulrich warns that the band that once seemed to live on the road is trying to slow the pace a little. "I love playing the shows and the energy and the vibe, but the other 22 hours of the day I'm starting to fucking hate," he says. "Touring is becoming something where we're going to be a little more selective. It doesn't mean we're going to stop touring. We'll still be one of the most live playing acts, we're just going to cut it down a little bit."