Like any mavericks worth their salt, Metallica has never settled for the straight and narrow. The members took their brand of blistering metal to its logical conclusion with “Master of Puppets” 10 years ago, and their subsequent albums found them stretching the boundaries of their sonic terrain. Their last album ventured into ballad territory without going mushy and introduced Shakespearean English to the mosh pit. With “Load” they explore more treacherous terrain.

A Motorhead-like griminess abounds, as does a dose of Black Sabbath sludge, and the glint of twangy slide guitar graces several tracks. Even more startling are “Mama Said,” which resonates with a bittersweet country vibe, and “Hero of the Day,” which evolves from a melody as uplifting and elegant as R.E.M. at its finest. Yet underpinning it all are the muscular rhythms, biting sentiments and rock grandeur that distinguish all their work. These latest forays will certainly unsettle some, but Metallica is perfectly at home no matter where it roams.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).


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