Metallica Load, ReLoad, Garage Inc., S&M:

After almost three years of touring to support The Black Album, including a headlining performance at Woodstock 1994, Metallica went straight back into the studio to write and record their Sixth studio album Load. They took a break in the summer of 1995 and played 3 outdoor shows which included Metallica organizing and headlining Donington Park UK supported by Slayer, Skid Row, Slash's Snakepit, Therapy? and Corrosion of Conformity The Short Tour was entitled Escape from The studio Tour 1995. On December 13 of that year, they recorded their rehearsal for Lemmy's 50th birthday party; four Motorhead covers which was entitled 'Motorhead'achemess when it was release as part of the Hero of the Day singles collection. The band spent around a year writing and recording new songs, resulting in 1996's Load. During early production, Load was intended to be a double album. Ultimately, it was decided that it would be best to release half of the songs first, and continue to work on the remaining songs, and release them the following year. This resulted in the follow up album, ReLoad.

By 1996, with the release of Load, all band members had cut their hair (although Hammett eventually grew it back), which was ridiculed by fans,including band friends Alice in Chains, whose edition of MTV's Unplugged featured, on Mike Inez's bass, the words "friends don't let friends get Friends haircuts."

These albums represented a significant musical change for Metallica. The band's breakneck metal tempos and layered guitar compositions had largely been replaced by bluesy guitar tones and slide guitar. Several songs include the use of new instruments including the use of the hurdy-gurdy and violin in "Low Man's Lyric". The changes on Load and ReLoad had been anticipated by earlier experiments (especially on The Black Album).

Sales of these albums were lower than sales of the previous three albums. Hetfield noted later in the documentary film Some Kind of Monster that the songs on these two albums were initially thought by the band to be of only average quality, and polished and reworked repeatedly until judged to be releasable.

In 1998, Metallica compiled a double CD called Garage Inc.. The first CD contained newly recorded covers ranging from Killing Joke, The Misfits, Thin Lizzy, Mercyful Fate, and Black Sabbath to more unexpected choices like Nick Cave and Bob Seger (the band's cover of Seger's "Turn the Page" garnered extensive radio airplay). The second CD gathered together previously released covers, including the original The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited, which had become a scarce collector's item. The CD also included B-side covers going as far back as 1984.

On March 7, 1999, Metallica was inducted into the San Francisco Walk of Fame. The mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown, proclaimed the day "Official Metallica Day" in San Francisco. A month later, on April 21-22, 1999, Metallica recorded two performances with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, then conducted by Michael Kamen. Kamen, who had previously worked with Bob Rock on "Nothing Else Matters", approached the band with the idea of pairing Metallica's music with a symphony orchestra. Kamen and his staff composed additional orchestral material for a number of Metallica songs and the concerts featured broad selection of songs dating as far back as Ride the Lightning. Metallica also wrote two brand new Kamen-scored songs for the event, "No Leaf Clover" and "Minus Human." The audio recording and concert footage were released later that year as the album/concert film S&M, in November 1999, on CD, VHS, VCD, and DVD.