mabudon, you are the only other person I know who doesn't like anything off Load or Reload besides me. I kinda gave up after Load, I was never a superfan and that one just didn't do it for me... my grandmother likes it the best of all their albums though, no lie! She likes polish though while I prefer a balance between polish and raw (I'm somewhat anti-concert and anti-live-album).
EP, that's an interesting analogy, AJFA to DSOTM, and a year ago I would have agreed with you totally, but recently I dusted off AJFA and some of it feels like they're faking complexity, instead of making one complex song with a lot of changes it's just 1 song merged with or surrounding the other. Dark Side is really just an hour-long song to me.
The black album at least reminds me of Van Halen in a way, I guess the "selling out" way. But it's still a strong album IMO simply because it does work so well as a huge change from earlier Metallica. But what do I know, I don't play any musical instrument and rarely listen to music at all.