Metallica's pair of mid-Nineties albums, 1996's Load and 1997's Reload, have always been controversial, both among fans and the band members themselves. Musically, they were a stark pivot from metal to hard-rock, and visually, the records had a much different flair compared to the stylized look of their 1980s output and the novel darkness of the "Black Album."
Both of the covers were designed by visual artist Andres Serrano, who made Load's by placing cow blood and his own semen between two plexiglass plates, and Reload's with a similar mixture of urine and blood. In a new interview, Serrano said that while some of the Metallica members were gung-ho about the shocking designs, guitarist-vocalist James Hetfield loathed them — and likely still does.
Speaking to Metal Hammer, Serrano was asked about the reaction that fans, critics and Metallica themselves had to his photos, which both had an orange-ish hue and incorporated a new design of the band's iconic logo. "I think the images were a hit," Serrano said. " I read a review once where the Load album was named No. 1 on a list of best album covers. We know Lars [Ulrich, drums] and Kirk [Hammett, guitar] were happy with it but James [Hetfield] was not. I think James is still fuming."
As Blabbermouth points out, Hetfield's distaste of the covers isn't a new revelation. Back in 2009, he told Classic Rock magazine that he was especially unsatisfied with Metallica's whole image revamp during the rollout of Load. "The whole 'We need to reinvent ourselves' topic was up. Image isn't an evil thing to me, but if the image isn't you, it doesn't make much sense," Hetfield said, adding that Ulrich and Hammett were "after a U2 kind of vibe, Bono doing his alter-ego."
"I couldn't get into it," he continued. "I would say at least half the pictures that were to be in the booklet, I yanked out. The cover went against what I was feeling. Lars and Kirk were very into abstract art, pretending they were gay. I think they knew it bugged me. I think the cover of Load was just a piss-take around all that. I just went along with all this crazy stupid shit."
That's Hetfield's take, but Ulrich has a much different opinion on how the Load and Reload covers came out. In a 2018 interview, the drummer said that those are in fact his favorite Metallica covers.
"The Load and Reload albums with the amazing pieces by Andres Serrano, they will always hold a special place in my heart," Ulrich said. "I love him as an artist. I love the imagery. I love the fact that we saw Serrano through as the cover art for those two records. Those are probably my two favorites."