Rewinding the Charts: In 1991, Metallica Brought Metal to the Masses

Elektra/PhotoFest
Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Jason Newsted and Lars Ulrich of Metallica photographed in 1986. 

The heavy-metal foursome's self-titled LP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and still reigns as the Nielsen Music era's top seller.

HEAVY METAL'S REPUTATION as a niche music genre does not apply to Metallica.

Twenty-five years ago, the Bay Area band's self-titled fifth album (often called "The Black Album" because of its cover) debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 dated Aug. 31, 1991, and went on to become the biggest-selling album — 16.4 million copies to date — since Nielsen Music (originally called SoundScan) began tracking point-of-sale purchases in 1991.

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"I think you file that one under 'mind f—,' " says drummer Lars Ulrich of the achievement. "There are so many inherently bizarre things about that fact, I don't know where to begin."

By the time Metallica was released, the group — comprising Ulrich, then 27; guitarist Kirk Hammett, lead vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield and then-bassist Jason Newsted, all 28 — was already a hard-rock titan, but the album, in addition to being the band's first No. 1 LP, made the foursome global superstars thanks to such hit singles as the thunderous "Enter Sandman."

"We knew when we were making the record that there was an alignment of the planets," says Ulrich, now 52, of Metallica, which sold 598,000 copies in its first week. "We were No. 1 for four weeks, which was pretty crazy for a bunch of snot-nosed, weirdly disenfranchised kids that never felt like they belonged to anything."

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The band has released four more No. 1-charting studio albums since, including its most recent effort, 2008's Death Magnetic, and starred in a revealing 2004 documentary, Some Kind of Monster, that depicted the quartet's internal power struggles.

Metallica is currently prepping the release of its long-awaited new album, Hardwired... to Self-Destruct, due Nov. 18.