In 1996 an album was released that completely redirected the course of my life.
Okay, maybe that is overselling it a bit. But I was 11 years old and starting to really put a lot of my interest into music. Greenday’s Dookie turned me onto masturbation (or at least gave me a name for something I was starting to practice regularly), RATM had me quoting “rally round your family with a pocket full of shells” as an anthem, and the news of Kurt Cobain’s death was the most impactful news story of my life so far.
The first cassette I ever bought was Michael Jackson “Bad”. I bought it with my mother at a Perry Drugs on Gratiot. And just the year prior to this 96 release I had gotten a Sony Walkman skip-proof (ha) portable CD player for Christmas. And I received Better Than Ezra “Deluxe” and AC/DC “BallBreaker” on CD to go along with it. I wore these albums out, especially the AC/DC. This was the first really hard rock I had ever been exposed to.
My parents didn’t really care for heavy sounds. My dad is still big on 60’s and 70’s rock, pop, and Motown. My mother liked that stuff too, she was also a little country girl. Dolly Parton, and Garth Brooks and all that stuff was played around the house. And Sandy Patty, oh lordy lordy Sandy Patty.
But in general, I didn’t grow up in a musical household. That isn’t to say it wasn’t around, but it was mostly a car thing. The great thing about my parents is that they let me listen to whatever I wanted, and if there was something I showed interest in, they really tried to allow me to gain access to it. My parents never flinched at a Parental Advisory sticker, or some graphic cover art, or even some sounds or lyrics that probably unnerved them a little.
By the Christmas of 1996 I would have my first guitar and amp; exactly one year after receiving my first CD. And it was in large part due to this one album, and if I want to be really honest it was because of one song on that album. MTV, my favorite channel not called Nickelodeon, held a huge contest for the tour of this album. Each band member had their own tour bus and if you won the contest there was a fifth tour bus you would follow the band in for a portion of the North American leg. I never entered the contest, because I was 11, but I watched the updates religiously, hoping beyond hope I would be picked. It was the start of a super fandom that I still in some ways hold today. This was the first album I ever purchased on CD for myself.
The album, of course, was Metallica’s “Load”.
It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that knows me that Metallica is one of the most influential bands in my life. When I bought “Load” and parked myself in front of the tour updates, I wasn’t the only kid doing that. I knew tons of Metallica freaks when I was a kid. They were undeniable. But Napster, and then “St. Anger” (and let’s be honest, “Re-Load”), made it hard to be a fan when I was in high school. People nagged me about it all the time. But now, there is a resurgence. They are about to release their 10th studio full length and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
But “Load” is an interesting one to start with, right? Obviously, I knew Metallica long before 96. The Black Album was a huge success; I knew probably half a dozen songs from it. And, the day I bought “Load”, I also bought the Black Album. I was a fan of theirs before I saw the videos for “Until It Sleeps” or “King Nothing” on MTV. But the timing was just perfect. I had just gotten a CD player, I had just started buying CDs, it had just been released.
I had mentioned that one song in particular had launched this whole thing off the ground, and you might guess by the title of this essay that the song is “Bleeding Me”. It is still one of my favorite songs. But it is not a very popular Metallica song. I think it has it all. There is an interestingly clean but menacing country-style intro, and the first distorted guitar is a riffy killer lick under the chorus. The second chorus is heavy, followed by a nice melodic lead and then the song implodes into almost nothing before launching back into such a cool sounding heavy section/ chorus. And then basically a new song starts with what would become the first thing I ever taught myself on guitar, a feat I would accomplish not even a year later. And then such a masterful return to the beginning of the song that you forgot how divergent that section started.
The song is pretty typical of a lot of Metallica songs, and would really define what things I like a song to be comprised of. There is good musicianship, strong melodies, distinct sounds for each instrument in the band, distinct sounds for sections of the song, a powerful hook, and a big emotional core with lyrics I could scream at the top of my lungs with my windows down on the expressway.
Pretty much everything that really moves me (with or without lyrics, I still want the big emotional part) regardless of genre or artist, still to this day, I discovered it all in this one song. And I would later find that even Metallica worked this formula much better in many other songs in their catalog. But “Bleeding Me” still holds a special place for me because of how impactful it was.
I never got picked to win that tour contest. But by the time I got my guitar around Christmas, I had purchased all of the other Metallica albums in existence, including some live stuff, whatever I could find. I went all in on Metallica for a couple years. My guitar instructor would always ask me what I was listening to and my response was always the same. He pushed me really hard into AC/DC, Randy Rhodes, Black Sabbath, Zeppelin, even Joe Pass towards the end of my time with him. But I never stopped learning to play Metallica songs. I learned almost the entire catalog by the time I was in High School.
In 8th grade me and some guys wanted to enter the talent show with “Sweet Leaf” by Sabbath, but the principal wouldn’t let us play a song about pot. We fooled around with the “Faith” cover by Limp Bizkit that had just come out but we couldn’t do it. Eventually we landed on “Fade to Black” by Metallica. And I couldn’t have been happier. Besides a couple close friends, no one at school knew I played guitar. I have no shame in saying that the attention from girls for that performance really drove me to play and perform more.
In 9th grade I had a handful of jam sessions with a friend where we played along to Metallica CDs. We would just pop one in and play it from start to finish. The two of us went on for several months playing with other kids to hopefully form a band, which we finally did in Spring 2001. A couple years later we would release a CD of our own. And what was the first riff I played in the studio with my guitar sounding huge and professional? The heavy version of the verse section of “Bleeding Me”, the one right before the last verse, of course.
I wouldn’t anymore consider Metallica to be one of my favorite bands, probably somewhere low in my top 15 or 20. And “Load” is near the bottom of the list of best Metallica albums, and I had realized that before I even got my guitar. But something about the timing of it, how it all came together so perfectly in my life, and how it so clearly marks the beginning of a new era for me, it still resonates with me very deeply.