Today, Metallica is a household name, which, especially considering the relatively low penetration of heavy metal music into the mainstream, is no small achievement. As the best-selling metal band on Earth, their music is commonly heard in TV shows, movie soundtracks, and video games.
This wasn’t the case for the first ten years of the band’s existence. Metallica’s first four albums garnered a significant following, but nothing like the success they would meet with the Black Album. The public response to Metallica changed dramatically upon its release in 1991, and the band has continued to sell out world tours ever since. The Black Album recently celebrated 550 continuous weeks on the Billboard 200, a record surpassed only by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.1
The Black Album’s rare status as a heavy metal album that penetrated the mainstream is not the only noteworthy thing about it, however. It is, in many respects, an ode to individualist ideals. Its success in encapsulating these ideas in musical form and bringing them to a global audience is truly unique.
The first clue to the album’s philosophical leanings comes from the cover art. Although the album is officially self-titled, it’s universally referred to as the “Black Album,” a name that springs from the fact the cover is almost entirely black, save for two graphics: the band’s logo and a coiled snake. This is the snake from the Gadsden flag, a symbol with origins in the American Revolution, which often is associated with individual rights and opposition to tyrannical government. The Gadsden flag also features the motto “Don’t Tread On Me,” which is the name of the Black Album’s sixth track. . . .
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1. “Metallica are Officially the Biggest Metal Band in the World,” Kerrang Magazine, September 18, 2019, https://www.kerrang.com/the-news/metallica-are-officially-the-biggest-metal-band-in-the-world/; “Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ has been on Billboard 200 for Over 550 Weeks,” Loudwire, December 10, 2019, https://loudwire.com/metallica-black-album-billboard-200-550-weeks/.
2. To read Clark’s “The Westerner,” see “Seven Great Poems on Independence,” The Objective Standard 12, no. 2 (Summer 2017), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2017/05/seven-great-poems-on-independence/.
3. Franklin wrote in The Rattlesnake as a Symbol of America (1778): “I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?” Sourced from Naval Documents of the American Revolution (United States, Naval History Division, 1968), 267.
4. Chris Ingham, Metallica: Nothing Else Matters: The Stories behind the Biggest Songs (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003), 108
5. Guitarist Kirk Hammet, drummer Lars Ulrich, and bassist Jason Newsted all went through divorces during the production of the album; “The Most Expensive Rock and Metal Albums of All Time,” Kerrang Magazine, https://www.kerrang.com/features/the-most-expensive-rock-and-metal-albums-of-all-time/ (accessed April 29, 2020).
6. Louder Sound, Metallica: The Epic Story behind the Black Album (August 2016), https://www.loudersound.com/features/metallica-the-epic-story-behind-the-black-album.