Delivered five years after their eponymous "black" album in 1991, Load captures Metallica settling into an uneasy period of maturation. Under the guidance of producer Bob Rock, Metallica have streamlined their sound, cutting away most of the twisting, unpredictable time signatures and the mind-numbingly fast riffs. What's left is polished -- and disappointingly straightforward -- heavy metal. Metallica's attempts at expanding their sonic palette have made them seem more conventional than they ever have before. They add in Southern boogie rock, country-rock, and power ballads to their bag of tricks, which make them sound like '70s arena rock holdovers. Metallica's idea of opening up their sound is to concentrate on relentless midtempo boogie -- over half the album is dedicated to songs that are meant to groove, but they simply don't swing. Metallica sound tight, but with the material they've written, they should sound loose. That becomes apparent as the songs drag out over the album's nearly 80-minute running time -- there are only so many times that a band can work the same tempo exactly the same way before it becomes tedious. It isn't surprising to hear Metallica get stodgier and more conservative as they get older, but it is nonetheless depressing.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine