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There's been an unusual trend in 2011 based around the idea of releasing previously unavailable material. Nile re-released their first demo and Hell completely re-recorded a collection of songs from the 80s for an overdue full-length while bands like Pentagram and Megadeth scanned their archives for a few forgotten tunes to add to their mostly new efforts. In a way similar to Halcyon Way's IndoctriNation, Metallica has put out a digital EP consisting of a series of outtakes from 2008's Death Magnetic. This release combined with the band's recent 30th anniversary shows suggest that the band is trying to do some damage control in the wake of the ill-fated Lulu, but this isn't the first time Metallica has given its fans some rare material. And there's nothing to be cynical about if the music itself is good, right?
For the most part, it is pretty clear to see why these songs didn't make it onto Death Magnetic; they’re definitely not inadequate songs but rather cut from a different cloth. While that album leaned towards thrash metal, this EP is more hard rock dominated and features a more melodic presence. But at the same time, there are still some elements of thrash on here. The introduction of the opening “Hate Train” and the verses on the closing “Rebel of Babylon” stand out in this regard though both songs are largely melodic as a whole. “Just A Bullet Away” also has a nice spring in its step though its bouncy riffs are more along the lines of Opeth’s “The Baying Of The Hounds” than anything particularly neck-breaking.
But going along with that, the EP is still identical to its parent in terms of production and band performance. The production has that dry tone, the vocals and guitars are solid, the bass gets a few spots to make itself known, and the drums may piss you off as much as ever. Of course, getting used to the production style and knowing how these songs were demos until recently can make a listener much more lenient.
But like the other Metallica albums that have recently come out, there are points where the songs feel like they are long and complex for the sake of being long and complex. Fortunately it’s not as grating as it was on St. Anger or Lulu but it does keep some songs from being as awesome as they could be. This can best be seen in “Just A Bullet Away,” originally known by its working title of “Shine.” This is definitely the EP’s best song and has some great riffs, but it may have been better if the last three minutes or so were cut off. The melodic section does sound nice but it disrupts the flow after the song has come to what could’ve been a great ending.
But with that said, the songs on here are still pretty interesting and more satisfying than about half of what was on Death Magnetic. “Hate Train” is solid though its numerous tempo changes do take some getting used to, “Hell And Back” plays out like a more brooding version of “Cyanide,” and “Rebel Of Babylon” is made unique by its slow, foreboding opening and its jump onto fast, complex ground.
At this point, it’s quite hard to tell where Metallica will be going from here. They may have returned to their roots but Lulu’s jam-oriented sound and this EP’s hard rock leanings lead one to wonder just how comfortable they are with thrash metal. They’ll probably keep building on the heavier momentum but I honestly wouldn’t be that surprised if they went back to a sound similar to that of The Black Album or the Loads. For what it’s worth, this EP is worth a download and absolutely mandatory of those who like its predecessor. Of course, I do wonder why “Vulturous” isn’t on here though; the recording I’ve heard is an awesome burst of Venom and Misfits worship. Think they’re saving it for next time?
"Just A Bullet Away"
"Hell And Back"
One thing that must be granted to Metallica, they are honest to the point of sheer brazenness. Sometimes they outright suck in the process, sometimes everyone wonders just what the hell they were thinking, but if one seeks a band that is a veritable open book, this is the gold standard. Perhaps the only exception to this brutal honesty is with themselves, as apparently James and company have been laboring under the delusion that they’ve put out decent music to any real degree in the past 15 years. Some argue the nadir was “St. Anger”, others will point to the Dadaist abortion from not too long ago in “Lulu”, but it is a foregone conclusion that the Metallica of the 80s or even the watered down one of their commercial self-titled breakthrough has been AWOL ever since.
In light of this, the read on this little slab of leftovers from 2008’s mediocre attempt at straddling the past and present “Death Magnetic” is a bit cryptic. It presents a band that seems to either be trying to kowtow to the lowest common denominator of rock radio, or utterly clueless on how to pick which songs to show and which ones to throw. The entire contents of “Beyond Magnetic” all but blow away 80% of what was on the final product of the sessions these came from, bearing a closer resemblance to a thrash sound, albeit from a modern perspective. Nothing on here resembles anything before 1992, nor does it quite fit in with the band’s subsequent eras. A few riffs here and there (particularly a fragment of “Hate Train” which sounds a lot like “Fuel”) are familiar, but analogies to anything other than this simply being leftovers from the session it came from, and they taste better than the first sitting did.
Unfortunately, these better songs suffer from the same problem that the rest of the finished session material did, Lars Ulrich and Rick Rubin. The production on this EP is outright flat from a mixing standpoint, sounding like a band playing in a closest with no sound reverberation compressed to the point of sounding robotic. Lars’ kit is obnoxiously loud, particularly whenever there’s a crash cymbal hit, and while he isn’t missing a beat, the grating and dead sound of his tracks sound like a cheap student beginner drum set. Granted, the riff work is mostly solid, particularly during the faster sections of “Rebel Of Babylon”, and Kirk peppers all of these songs with fast and pretty substantial lead guitar work, but the lack of depth in the overall sound trips up what could almost be qualified as a respectable release.
Ironically enough, as was the case with the lackluster “Death Magnetic”, this is the best thing that Metallica has put together since “The Black Album”, which is more a testimony of how bad everything else has been aside from it that anything else. It’s passable by the standards of a modern metal album, and Hetfield’s vocals are surprisingly better than they’ve been in a long time. But it would do this band a world of good to rein in Lars’ volume knob on the mixing board (not to mention that knob personality he’s been sporting for far too long) and to find a producer that doesn’t tolerate this band trying to compete with Nickelback and Creed over who can sound the most obnoxiously loud. The verdict here is buy with reservations, or roughly translated, buy it cheap.
Metallica has a fanbase that has, for their entire existence, been pretty much all about jumping ship. Some claimed to only like Mustaine’s contributions, some claim they were lost when Metallica did their first slow song (“Fade to Black” from Ride the Lightning), some were lost with the progressiveness of Puppets, the loss of Burton, the Rawness of Justice, the commercial sound of the black album, the bluesy sound of the Loads, or the stripped back awful St. Anger sound. Regardless of what this band does, there’s going to be a group saying “Metallica is ruined forever,” as well as a group saying everything they do is gold. But I don’t think even St. Anger received as much backlash as their collaboration with Lou Reed, Lulu. A lot of people really seemed to feel that was the last straw. Metallica was pretty much over. Despite a warmer reception for Death Magnetic, it wasn’t enough for Metallica to regain the metal community, and Lulu finally burned that bridge. So, under the pretense of celebrating their 30th anniversary, but more likely as a form of damage control, Metallica released an EP of four tracks that didn’t make it to Death Magnetic. How does this apology fare…?
The album kicks off with Hate Train, which has an intro that, just as it feels like it’s going to drag, starts to thrash, and at about :50 seconds in has what I consider to be a pretty sick solo. Unfortunately, just as the track begins to thrash, albeit with a riff that sounds like the concept was “let’s take the riff from ‘Fuel’ and make it thrashy, James somewhat ruins what promised to be a small victory with the line “HATE!! IS A TRAIN!” This line signifies everything that has been wrong with Metallica for 20 years with me. See. I was ok with Load and Reload musically, probably because I listened to The Black Album before Master of Puppets, so it wasn’t really a shock to me. But my problem with every album since the Black Album has been the lyrics. From “HEY! Tie your tap shoes tightly,” to “My lifestyle determines my deathstyle,” to “LOVE Is a four letter word,” they’ve gotten progressively worse on a lyrical front. You’d think that after James’ face being photoshopped onto a table hours after premiering “The View,” they’d think these lines out a little better. Especially considering that wasn’t even the goofies line on that album (“I would cut my legs and tits off…” “I Waggle my ass like a dark prostitute…”). Sure, Lou Reed was in the driver’s seat, but Metallica was in the vehicle, and their name is on the product. And they supported that music and those words, to the point where Lars claimed he cried listening to it… And “Hate!! Is a train!” is almost wallowing in parody. How about Apathy is a Greyhound Bus? Anger is a Soccer Mom’s Minivan. Sympathy is a Tugboat. And some band needs to rerecord this as “SNAKES!! On a Plane!”
Anyway, The track slows down to a groove riff and goes back and forth between this and the thrashier riffs, though with nothing feeling too out of place, even the slowed down “You took away tomorrow” part. Another note. James’ voice. A lot of people hate how it sounds these days, and especially hate his newfound attempts to sing. I really don’t mind his singing voice though. The problem I have is somehow, when he TRIES to sing with a bark or growl, he just sounds wrong. He does need to stop accenting added –Ah’s and ooh’s, like “DESCEND-AH!”and “STAND-AH!” He really never did this until the 90’s, and even then it wasn’t like this. It’s like he’s doing it BECAUSE it’s become a trademark, not fully realizing the parody it’s becoming. Hate Train’s solo is decent, though there’s a part I refer to as the “railroad crossing” riff, which is almost so goofy in a goofy song goofily named Hate Train that it’s almost a joke. But that riff at about 5 minutes is heavy as hell.
Just a Bullet Away isn’t nearly as thrashy, but is decently heavy, with Lars attacking the drums almost as though he cared. He needs to kill the Kick-Snare-Kick-Snare formula though. The lyrics remain silly “Suck on the barrel, suck until it’s gone dry, for all reflections look the same in the shine of the midnight revolver.” At 4 minutes it ends abruptly and you think, “well that was a decent song,” and then after a quick pause, it goes “Master of Puppets” and gives us a pointless slow part, except where I liked the slow part in Puppets, this feels pointless, and just to pad the song out, since every thrash band from the 80’s seems to think they can’t write a 4 minute song anymore, cause long songs are the shiznit. It goes back up to midpace and kind of half-asses its way across the finish line. Similar sentiments can be said for “Hell and Back,” however it’s a generally better song, and so far, has the best lyrics on the EP: “And when the sun goes hellbound, And the moon does resurrect the night, I'll hide within her, Not much good has come out the light…” overall it’s not poetry, but a lot better than some of the crap lyrics they’ve put out recently.
Then comes ‘Rebel of Babylon.’ Just When you thought this album was going to wallow in mediocrity, comes a track that should have probably been on Death Magnetic instead of say, Suicide and Redemption or even Cyanide or Judas Kiss. This song almost captures, during the verses, the fact that Metallica were once a thrash band. And during the verses, has a decent groove riff with a catchy enough chorus to keep you until the thrash comes back. The song remains interesting through the instrumental section with various riff changes eventually going back the thrash riff it began with. This is defiantly beats out some of the weaker tracks from Death Magnetic.
Overall, the EP drags in some places, the two middle sounds could have been shorted, and the lyrics to Hate Train re-written, but this sounds similar to Death Magnetic, making it decent outtakes to a decent album, serving less as a 30 year anniversary celebration or a new release and more as a reminder that even though they experimented with Lou Reed, they still, presumably, plan to once again get in touch with their heavier side when they next return to the studio. I guess. Or they plan to record Load 3: Unload, and this is just to fuck with their already volatile fan base.
After the disaster piece "Lulu" and the overall very negative reactions, Metallica try to beg for pardon with this release and want to underline their thirtieth anniversary at the same time. During their four anniversary concerts in San Francisco, the band presented a brand new track each night and released this EP with the four tracks exclusively a few days later. What we have here are four tracks that didn't make it on Death Magnetic. They exactly sound like the overall sound of this record and have a quite mediocre production by the overrated Rick Rubin.
When we listen to the songs, it gets quite clear why they didn’t make it on the record back at the time. The tracks sound too alike to many solid tracks on Death Magnetic and desperately try to sound like the band's early thrash albums, but horribly fail. The tracks have more or less memorable riffs, always the same vocal ranges, quiet inaudible bass lines, and a mediocre drumming that sounds too loud and present once again. After a few minutes, everything is said in the songs but Metallica need to stretch them too artificially epic lengths. In fact, many old metal bands seem to think that long tracks are epic tracks but they're all wrong. I miss the band's ability to write short and sweet killer tracks like "Fight Fire With Fire", "Battery", or "Dyers Eve".
"Hate Train" is an overall solid track, but sounds like a stretched version of "Fuel". What really annoys me about the track is the pronunciation of James Hetfield. He always sings in a very artificially aggressive way and adds the letter "a" to many of his words like "stand-a", "you-a", "send-a" and so on. He always had this tendency, but it just sound too ridiculous on this one. Maybe he should take some lessons in speech and language pathology and correct this strange trademark.
"Just A Bullet Away" should have ended after four minutes, but has an unnecessary melodic break that destroys the dynamics of the tracks and leads than back to the original style. This is as predictable as it is boring.
"Hell And Back" starts promisingly, but turns around worn out riffs again after awhile. The whole tracks sounds as if the band had recorded two minutes of music and aligned the same bit two times for a length of four minutes before another predictable bridge with a guitar solo kicks off as in any other standard Metallica track from Death Magnetic or the early days. The chorus is repeated as often as in some tracks on Lulu.
"Angel Of Babylon" starts off slow, then kicks off as another fast-paced thrash track, but when I start to get bored the song has some interesting breaks and variations without losing its energizing spirit. The vocals especially show some great efforts and are quite catchy. We even have a little bass solo line in this track, but once again the band could have shortened this track about two minutes or so. Nevertheless, this song is without a doubt the best one on here and is the only one that should have made it on Death Magnetic instead of, for example, "The Judas Kiss". It's not an excellent classic, but surely a pretty good song.
In the end, this is a rather mediocre attempt to beg for pardon, but for most of the fans this strategy worked surprisingly well. People easily change their minds. After "Lulu", many never ever wanted to listen to this band and now everybody says they are back in strength. I can't agree on this. We have three mediocre and one quite good song. The tracks suffer from their useless length, their bad production, and their similarity to Death Magnetic. In the end, I would only recommend this release to diehard fans as anybody else might skip this and listen to the better tracks on Death Magnetic instead. There are too many flaws on here to say that this is a worthy release.