Heavy metal’s reputation as a niche music genre does not apply to Metallica.
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 in the U.S. — 17.2 million copies to date — since MRC Data (originally called SoundScan) began tracking point-of-sale purchases in 1991. (Shania Twain’s Come on Over ranks second with 15.7 million sold, followed by Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill at 15.2 million.)
“I think you file that one under ‘mind f—,’ ” drummer Lars Ulrich marveled on Billboard‘s Pop Shop Podcast in 2016 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,” said Ulrich 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.”
The band has released five more No. 1-charting studio albums since, including its most recent effort, 2016’s Hardwired…To Self-Destruct, and starred in a revealing 2004 documentary, Some Kind of Monster, that depicted the quartet’s internal power struggles.
In June, Metallica announced the reissue of its landmark 1991 album, as well as a companion star-studded covers set, The Metallica Blacklist, both due Sept. 10.
Meanwhile this October, Metallica marks its 40th anniversary as a band, dating to its formation in Los Angeles in 1981. Teased by a playful “MTF!!? Metallica Turns 40” post in July, the band is set to celebrate with shows Dec. 17 and 19 at San Francisco’s Chase Center. Wrote the group on its official website, “It feels like just yesterday that we were hitting the stage playing our first show at Radio City in Anaheim, Calif., in the spring of 1982. So many things have happened since … almost 2,000 live shows across seven continents, mind-blowing successes and crazy off-road adventures. It’s been a nutty ride and most of the time it feels like we’re just getting started.”