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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.