August 1991: Metallica Debuts at #1 on the Billboard 200 with METALLICA

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

It was the last week of August 1991--the week of August 31, 1991, to be exact--when Metallica set a new standard in metal: the band debuted at #1 with its self-titled fifth studio album, METALLICA, more commonly known as The Black Album. Released on August 12, 1991, anticipation for the record was already at a fever pitch. On July 29, 1991, the group unleashed lead single "Enter Sandman," which stormed the radio, charts and MTV. The track stormed the Hot 100, peaking at #16 for the week of October 12, 1991. So when Metallica officially hit the streets, it immediately grabbed the top spot on the Billboard 200, maintaining the #1 position for four weeks straight. The LP was certified platinum in just two weeks.

All of that success did not come easy; the album was the result of nine grueling months spent hunkered down in Los Angeles recording studio with producer Bob Rock. At the time, Rock was fresh from working with Motley Crue's Dr. Feelgood album. "We really put him through the wringer," James Hetfield admitted in 2016. "And he survived. We were testing each other and shit, making sure that this guy can drive the Metallica train."

"I couldn't have worked with a better band. It was difficult, but when you're in a place that's not comfortable, you do your best work," the producer told Loudwire. "Clearly it's some of my best work. It was all of us that made that record. No compromise. Culturally, in the music business, that's when Metallica got on the radio. It was the biggest cultural record I made. It changed what went on the radio. I'm very proud of that. I look back on it fondly."

Hetfield and company supported the monster release with the Wherever We May Roam tour, which kicked off with a pair of special shows at the tiny Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, CA, before jumping over to Europe for the Monsters of Rock run. That first leg of the tour ended at the legendary show in Moscow at what was billed as "the first free outdoor Western rock concert in Soviet history," attracting somewhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million Russian rockers. 

The massive jaunt eventually morphed into the infamous Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour, where Metallica's James Hetfield suffered severe burns in a horrific onstage pyrotechnics accident on August 8, 1992, in Montreal.

"We were distraught, Kirk and I were tripping," bassist Jason Newsted told Loudwire in 2022, saying that the moment actually saved the band. "Lars wasn't even in the dressing room [after it happened]. He just had a towel over his head. Kirk and I were trying to still be upright. We were wondering, wondering, wondering."

Hours later, the band's manager informed them that Hetfield would be okay: "We regrouped behind him, in support of him, through brotherly love," Newsted said. "Absolute brotherly love. It was more important that he was well than anything else, but he already came out, 'Let's fucking go.' He was already there. There was no 'poor fucking me.' Because of that—because our leader showed that kind of fire—we were more than happy to get behind him like never before...I knew I was going to have to step up and do a couple more things. We all knew that and we stepped right into it."