25 Years Ago: Metallica Channel Soundgarden on ‘Until It Sleeps’
Like much of Metallica's 1996 album Load, the lead single, "Until It Sleeps," was unlike anything the band had attempted before. A contemporary inspiration, Soundgarden, may have been the reason.
An early demo version of the song, recorded in December 1995, was titled "F.O.B.D." because Metallica thought it sounded a bit like Soundgarden's "Fell on Black Days." Both songs use the same time signature at different points. On the exclusive fan-club CD Fan Can #1, Metallica can be heard saying "Fell on Black Days" before turning into the jam portion of "Until It Sleeps."
It was a transitional period for the band. After cutting their hair short, drastically changing their wardrobes and embracing a different sound with their music, it was unclear whether Metallica fans would be on board with these changes. Their record label insisted that although they may have altered their style, their success was far from over.
"We think the universe for Metallica is bigger than ever before," Marcia Edelstein, senior director of marketing for Elektra Records, told Billboard in 1996. "We're going to all of the rock formats, including active and alternative, as well as college and top 40."
It worked. "Until It Sleeps" became Metallica's first No. 1 song on the US Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
Watch Metallica's 'Until It Sleeps' Video
Load turned out to be one of Metallica's most exploratory records. Five years had passed since their last album, 1991's Metallica, and the band found itself swimming in new ideas.
"We had suitcases full of riff tapes from the last tour and from time off," frontman James Hetfield told Billboard at the time. "It was pretty tedious going through that. It was interesting here or there, and there were a few laughs at other people's expense: 'He's joking. That's not the riff.' But once we got going on the writing, the next difficult thing was to stop writing. I started freaking, thinking, 'I've got to write all these lyrics for all these songs.'"
"We've always written an album," added drummer Lars Ulrich. "This is the first time we never wrote an album, we kept just writing songs. I think what kept it going was that we felt like the quality wasn't sinking. The later songs were on par with all the ones we'd written earlier. That's the first time that's ever happened to us. We went into the studio and started, not really knowing what the end result would be, whether it would be a double or single album."
With so many songs, the album clocked in at 78 minutes and 59 seconds - one minute and one second shy of the maximum length for a CD. Working once again with producer Bob Rock, Metallica were on a roll.
"On the last record, Bob was kicking me in the ass, saying, 'Can't you try a little ad-lib here? Just try something,'" said Hetfield. "And it just didn't work, but [this time] you just couldn't fucking stop me with them. ... Two years of touring has helped, and feeling a lot more comfy in the studio doing vocals is probably the main reason. This time I had my own mike in there. I own this mike and just plug it in, and let's go."