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The return of Metallica to their thrash roots with Death Magnetic was a widely debated event. Some claimed that the album was fantastic, and the best thing they had done since their glory days. Others said that it was drab and lifeless and should have been aborted before it was even released. Criticisms listed were the stale production and the fact that the songs are far too long and that James Hetfield's vocals have lost all the edge they once had on classic releases such as Master Of Puppets. I do not really believe that either opinion is wholly correct, however, as Death Magnetic has good points and bad points about it.
This album is indeed a return to the band's thrash days but only halfway, and this is a major problem with it. Death Magnetic just feels like the band is meandering around trying to incorporate elements of both their older sound and their more commercial sound, by having choruses that are supposed to be catchy and sing-along friendly amidst a sea of thrashy riffs. The one song that is pure thrash from start to finish, My Apocalypse, is one of three that actually work on this album all the way through. It is fast paced and straight to the point, with a lot of aggression behind it and James' vocals are quite tolerable, and it even has a moderately catchy section with the words "MY A-POC-A-LYPSE" shouted by James. Many of the other songs lack this feeling of being consistently enjoyable, with tracks such as Broken Beat And Scarred in particular sticking out as being just too mixed up.
It also has a distinct lack of originality and the feeling of having been here before. The Day That Never Comes is the worst offender here, coming across as a carbon copies of songs such as One and Welcome Home (Sanitarium). It follows the same path as those two ballads from their earlier works with quite a soft opening that builds up toward an aggressive finish. This song is a great track but it feels unoriginal as any fan of the band has already heard this song twice before, just a little bit shorter on their early works and more to the point. James' vocals are an issue that needs addressing and on this song the problems with them really start to show. For the most part he attempts singing, which is clearly a bad idea as Reload and Load showed off, but it is his shouting that gets irritating. He literally sounds like a constipated bullfrog for the most part.
The instrumental work for Death Magnetic is a mixed bag. Many of the riffs are very fast and angry, such as on the opening track, but at times they dip in quality, such as on The Unforgiven III (most unnecessary sequel song ever, for gods sake, Metallica, just kill this series already). The drumming is at least aggressively played again but is completely dull and boring, and Lars can not do double-bass anymore whatsoever. His drumming is intense on tracks like the aforementioned opening song, That Was Just Your Life, but he just does not vary his drumming enough and it feels too simplistic. The one section of the instrumental performance from the band that really does shine is the soloing, which is a good thing after the solo-less St. Anger album that was released five years before. The Day That Never Comes in particular shows off how good Kirk is at soloing for those who had forgot how good he was on their earliest releases.
The production is arguably worse than that of St. Anger here. On that particular album the main problem came from the rattle effect on the drums and whilst that is missing here thankfully, everything feels too compressed. Take the guitar tones of And Justice For All and the abysmal production job of their debut and that is essentially what this sounds like. The drums are too loud in the mix and the instruments all have rough sounds to them that makes this feel more like a demo tape than an actual full length release. This is something that will irk you throughout your listen to this and will most likely make you want to snap the CD in frustration. Quite why the band can't just go back to the crisp production jobs of Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets is beyond me. Hell, I'd even take a too-glossy production such as on their self-titled over the garbage $10 production job here.
Death Magnetic is something of a shallow return to their glory days, but only glimmers of grandeur really show through. For the most part this is just an uninspired, tepid re-hash of their earliest material minus and of the ingenuity that carried those albums.
They’re trying. Every song on Metallica’s newest album, Death Magnetic, will require Hetfield and Co. to concentrate in order to perform it live…and likely break a sweat. Of course a higher degree of technical difficulty does not mean that the songs actually warrant the furrowed brows and grimaces they will elicit from the band to pull off in the live arena, but the album is undeniably dense and filled with ideas. The production is arguably the best they’ve had since the blazing guitars sound of debut Kill ‘Em All: the guitars are rich and the drums are thick and roomy with a nice amount of distortion on the snare (kind of opposite the snare sound on the last one).
Assuming that everyone (intelligent) reading this magazine prefers 80s Metallica to the “stuff” that followed, the contrary thing to point out is that Hetfield has continually improved as a vocalist. Even though the Black Album, Load, Reload and St. Anger songs are composed of riffs that sound like reheated Danzig, Kid Rock or post-makeup Kiss, Hetfield continued to develop his voice. He became a crooner with a rich voice and often excellent inflection. (He had to do something while playing one riff for five minutes...) On Death Magnetic, Hetfield’s vocals sound good, but perhaps because of the complexity of the music— or maybe just a lack of good ideas— he comes up with far fewer memorable refrains than he did on St. Anger or the Black Album. His best singing is unquestionably in the album’s two most somber tunes, “The Unforgiven III” and the album zenith “The Day that Never Comes,” and he has other nice moments (“Broken, Beat & Scarred,” the bridge of “The Judas Kiss” and the chorus of “That Was Just Your Life”), but it is clear that this singer’s best ideas are when he is Sensitive Hetfield or Melodic Hetfield, not Tough Hetfield or Forcing-the-Idea-That-Doesn’t-Work-Ah! O-Yeah-ah-ah! Pirate Hetfield.
The album features the return of Lead Guitarist Kirk Hammett (as opposed to Standing-On-Stage-Bored-As-Hell Kirk Hammett), who was very missed on the St. Anger (and very needed). He does a fine job stomping his wah-wah/bluesy shredding when given his space, and his big solo in the later part of “The Judas Kiss” (around 6:00) takes a lot of very interesting and creative turns— it’s his best lead since “Dyer’s Eve.” Drummer Lars Ulrich continues with his expressive, deep groove, surprise-accent style of playing that—whether you think he’s a douche-bag or not— helped shape the genre. Though his playing has flaws (even after digital correction), like Carcass’ Ken Owen, I prefer his performance to many more perfect players: His instincts are great and he distinctively pulses the music without getting in the way (unlike that Tool drummer everybody loves who often makes their music stagnant by omitting necessary snare hits). Good, musical and thoughtful drumming throughout the album.
Unlike the other “return to the hard” album St. Anger, Death Magnetic focuses on the guitars: This is unquestionably the first time the band has put riffs first since …And Justice For All. Unfortunately, the riffs are largely okay groove, sludge, stoner and bar rock licks played with more distortion and the errant triplet or chugs to make them seem more active/metal. There are some genuinely good riffs— “The End of the Line” has one at 4:20, “My Apocalypse” has several (1:59, 2:58, and the bridges) “Broken, Beat and Scarred” has the best riff on the album at 1:00 and “The Day that Never Comes” has several good ones in the second half— but mediocre riffs outweigh the good ones by a big margin. This is the ultimate achievement and limitation of this album: Metallica metallicly puts the guitars in spotlight, but the ideas are not quite compelling enough to hold the stage. The vocals and synergistic details, and by this I mean stop-starts and drums/riff interplay, do help buoy things and make it functional metal.
Death Magnetic is a dense and way too long album that shows the boys can still play tough music well and passionately…even if the ideas are of varying caliber. “Cyanide” and “The Judas Kiss” are duds, “My Apocalypse” is a fun stab at “Damage, Inc.” but with a weak verse section, “Broken, Beat & Scarred” is quite good, “The Day that Never Comes” is almost great and the remainder of the album is pretty good— okay riffs bolstered by interesting arrangements, good details, synergy, strong performances and great production.
They’re trying…and succeeding tp some extent.
Nobody seems to be able to approach this album without an obvious biais in favor or disfavor to Metallica's most recent work. It seems that we all need to refer to their previous work to try and analyze this. We see it in many various forms. Some say this is Metallica's comeback or not, while others say this is a failed attempt to try and go back to their roots. Generaly speaking, people disliked St.Anger. Some people however loved the album and have defended it through all the shitstorm it went through. My case is particular. I was not huge on metal music back when I first heard the album and I wasn'd displeased with what I heard. It's later that I've digged more into metal and got around to actually listening to the early albums of the band. So if St.Anger isn't one of my favorite albums, it never dropped on my head like a brick like it did to the fans who saw this un-Metallica record released.
Consequently, I didn't approach Death Magnetic thinking "Will it be a comeback or will it fail ?" or maybe "Will they be able to return to their roots ?" I picked up the album like any album I came across. Not pretending to be a hundred percent unbiased or objective here. But I approached the album without trying to find the old-Metallica in it or ways to perceive elements of St.Anger in it.
And with that approach I must say I kind of like the album. It's no thrash metal masterpiece, but it's definitely enjoyable. Sadly though, all the tracks don't share the same quality. Metallica tried with this album to experiment with longer songs, maybe somewhat like they did with ...And Justice for All but with a very forward and straight to the point feel like on Kill 'Em All or Ride the Lightning. Which is cool. But some of the tracks just come out as generic. It doesn't mean they aren't enjoyable, but kind of forgettable. I'm talking about tracks like My Apocalypse, Suicide & Redemption or The Judas Kiss. All of these have well-built riffs, cool thrashy solos, nice vocals, etc. But they do seem to come out as very standard thrash metal tracks. On the other hand tracks like All Nightmare Long, Cyanide and especially That Was Just Your Life and The Day That Never Comes have all the right hooks at the right places, solid riffs, good choruses and manage to be memorable mostly becaue of this.
In the end, the album is kind of too long, but this is because of very lenghty songs. It wouldn't seem to long if the longer tracks would have stood out more. The Judas Kiss and Suicide & Redemption for instance are the two longest tracks on Death Magnetic, and they feel like fillers to me. The good tracks however are just perfect when in the lenght department. There is also a good use of slower tracks on this record. As all the tracks except for two are straigh-forward tracks with a pretty similar formula, having two slower-paced tracks on the album kind of help to change the mood. The first one comes kind of late on the record, maybe a little too late for my state, but it's a very good track... I'm talking about the single The Day That Never Comes. Very solid track. The second track comes at the end of the album and is supposed to be the third part of The Unforgiven. I don't see much connections between this The Unforgiven III track and The Unforgiven, but whatever. The track has a slow build, reminding of One, but it's never has good as One was. The track in itself is ok. Just ok. I don't particularly like it and it will most likely not end up on my top 10 Metallica tracks list, but it's pretty cool to have a slower track on there to close the whole album and it helps keeping a little variety on the record.
Bottom line : I enjoyed the record. It's a good album if you look at it as a whole. Yes, there are too much fillers on Death Magnetic, but some tracks manage to be quite memorable and very thrashy. If Metallica had to build on something for the future, I think it would be Death Magnetic. No point in trying to recreate the early albums, and no point into digging any deeper in the kind of strange rock/heavy metal genre they attempted with Lou Reed. We have with Death Magnetic solid roots to try something new.
With “Death Magnetic”, Metallica heavily tried to satisfy many fans from the old days that were disappointed with the more experimental records the band had done before. This album goes back to the thrash roots of the band and could have been the successor of the band’s masterpiece “…And Justice For All” but it ultimately isn’t. The only comparable basis of both records is the bad sound and production but they also differ in this point. While “…And Justice For All” had a very thin production with a bad drum sound, “Death Magnetic” sounds overproduced and is a perfect example for the loudness war trend.
The band simply isn’t able to go back to the power, originality and authenticity of the early days. Most of the songs are still enjoyable but offer nothing we haven’t heard in a similar and often better way before. The riffs feel worn out, the song structures are predictable and the pieces themselves are often too long and miss the point. The second half of the record is slightly more experimental but not in a good way. “The Unforgiven III” is absolutely unneccessary and can’t catch up with the previous two parts at all and “Suicide And Redemption” might be the worst instrumental track the band has ever done and is artificially stretched to an unhealthy length of almost ten minutes. The experiments are missed but at least the band still knows how to write good thrash metal songs.
After all, there are some highlights in the first half of the record. The first single “The Day That never Comes” sounds like a modern copy of “One” but as I liked the original track, I also like the new one that mixes a very melodic first half with an energetic thrash shredding passage in the second half. I can understandthe low rating of the song as it isn’t very original but I must admit that this track is catchy and very emotional and convinces with its traditional charm.The best track immediately follows with “All Nightmare Long”, a great thrash song with a lot of energy that never gets boring in comparison to many other overlong tracks on this album. The song has some really sharp riffs, amazing guitar solos, fast and energizing drum parts and a very good vocal performance even if James Hetfield even adds more than before some “ehh’s” and “aah’s” to his words. Even if this has somewhat become a trademark I would like “James-eeh Hetfield-ahh” to stop this as it sounds quite silly on a full album. The third and last highlight of the record is the next track called “Cyanide”. It’s a slower track with a nice pumping bass line and a groovy feeling and an intensely menacing atmosphere that copuld have fit on the records of the nineties as well as on the records of the late eighties.
In the end, Metallica offer nothing new but throw in some solid and catchy thrash metal tracks where the band goes back to the roots. This record is a decent effort and surely has its moments. Most of the the songs are energizing and work very well in concert, too. The record has a great flow and clear line and might please to a larger fan basis than the previous albums. On the other side, the band though threw almost all experimentations and variations overboard and can neither surprise the fans nor catch up with their first four records while the modern loudness war sound ruins a certain charm that this record could have thanks to the overrated Rick Rubin.
For almost two decades, all was not well in the Metallica camp. I won't be kind to them, They produced some of the most mediocre, boring and unnecessarily overlong albums ever. Their only saving grace was the covers album they did. 'Garage Inc' showed some signs of life, but it wasn't even their material. Even their live performances were unconvincing, with Lars drumming like a one-handed handicap, Kirk screwing up his own solos left and right and James slowly losing his once great voice.
But enough of all that, I for one was pleasantly surprised when 'Death Magnetic' came out. The year was 2008, slowly but surely all the once great bands were showing clear signs of returning to playing fast metal again. Metallica's 9th album is not a thrash metal album, but a max of heavy, thrash, groove and rock. There are clear influences taken from Load and Reload, as well as their older stuff. Heck even the lyrics are very much in the vein of 'St. Anger' released in 2003. This could have been a really great album, and to some extent, it is, but it has it's problems.
The first song I heard was "That Was Just Your Life", and boy was I pleased. James Hetfield was once a mighty rhythm guitar player, but after '...And Justice For All', he's barely put his skills to good use. "That Was Just Your Life" is a pretty effective opener, just what they had to do kick things off, if only just for the nostalgia of hearing them play fast again. I wouldn't call it a thrash metal classic but the main riff is simplistic but aggressive and catchy, reminds me of their classic 'Battery'. The lyrics are a continuation of the themes from 'St. Anger', more or less. Hetfield's vocals are almost nothing like himself from the first five albums, but definitely the best he's sounded since the 80's.
"The End of the Line" is a disappointment, especially considering this is the 2nd track. The second position is usually reserved for their best material (Just look at their classic albums). It sounds like a St. Anger outtake updated to fit in with the more 'metal' feel of this album. The lyrics are pretty bad as well. "The End of the Line" is a good example of a song that goes nowhere, it's bearable but not worth repeated listens. "Broken, Beat and Scarred" is similar, but has some surprisingly fast grooves. If Metallica had released an album between '...And Justice for All' and 'Metallica', this song would fit right in. Think 'Holier than Thou' from the Black album with the tighter playing of '...And Justice for All'.
"The Day That Never Comes" came as no surprise, this song is basically a modern version of 'One'. The song has an extremely similar buildup. However, compared to 'One', this song is more overtly melodic and overall, less heavier, the lyrics are more sentimental. Despite the fact this is basically Metallica just re-imagining and re-writing their proven classics, "The Day That Never Comes" is pretty good, the first part of the song may drag a bit, but the second part has some memorable riffs and multiple melodic guitar solo spots, while not technically mind blowing, Kirk Hammett does redeem himself on this album, it's what you expect from him and what he does best.
"All Nightmare Long" is a personal favorite, and is about as thrashy as this album gets. Even at nearly 8 minutes long, there's barely ever a dull moment. Riff after riff after riff, all mid-paced, rock-tinted thrash metal riffs and killer grooves. Brings back memories of "Disposable Heroes". The guitar solo is also pretty cool. I really dig the old-school flavor of some of the riffs, especially the really fast picking sections. The chorus and the pre-chorus parts are really long and infectious, and hard to forget, and even harder not to sing along. "Cyanide" is a misunderstood song, It sounds like a mess at first, but if grows on you with every listen. It's not a classic Metallica song, nor one of their best ever, but it has a few great moments and at least "Cyanide" sounds least like anything they've done before.
You'll either love or hate "Unforgiven III", I think it's surprisingly decent, even though it's a song that I don't feel like listening too often. "The Judas Kiss" is another one of the faster ones and has a pretty kick-ass set of riffs. Certain parts remind me of 'Master of Puppets', mostly the long-ass chorus part and the lyrics, Bow Down!, sell your soul to me!, sounds familiar? and other sections fit right in with the 8 minute long groove/thrashers of this album like "All Nightmare Long". "Suicide And Redemption" is sadly, a waste of time, It has a bunch of good riffs that could have been used in other songs with lyrics. Hetfield's guitar solo is also pretty good, but the bad parts overshadow the good ones. Not to mention, this is their most tedious and uninspiring instrumental song ever. "My Apocalypse" is like the 'Dyer's Eve' of this album, It's not one of my favorites as it just doesn't flow together that well. The mid-section has a solid old-school thrash riff that makes this song worth listening.
"Death Magnetic" is certainly not an all time classic or even one of the better albums of it's decade. It's more like an inferior version of Metallica's first five classic albums. "Magnetic" is a really good effort, some songs are good, others aren't. The production is awful, If you're the kind who listens to music on headphones, well, this album may just hurt your ears, it's really that bad. A solid effort and a return to form, but, unfortunately other bands have 2 or 3 albums that are as good as this one. One more problem, every time I hear a song from this record, I just feel going back to their older, better albums.
Man, I can't remember the last time I got compelled to write a positive Metallica review. I'd have to think hard on that one. So Metallica released an album after St. Anger. At this point anything from them would be considered an improvement. You know, Metallica are a band that can release turd after turd and still sellout shows. Just based on their first 5 albums they will carry that name to sold out arenas around the world until they quit.
I must admit when I heard 'This Was Just Your Life' I was pleased to hear them sounding revitalized again and sounding somewhat like the band that made them great. It's weird you know? When you almost think they sound better these days as a hard rock band than a thrash metal band. But that's what Metallica have been most comfortable sounding like for the last 15 plus years. They haven't done a thrash metal album since 1988 and outside of their live shows they stay clear from it. These guys worked so hard in the 80's as a "working man's band", a "people's band" and they were like us, struggling and hungry for success. The band on this album sound something like those days. Revitalized and reinvigorated, no mental breakdowns from the St. Anger sessions lurking about.
But the songs are average to be honest. Unforgiven 3 is forgettable and can we please just kill off the Unforgiven series once and for all? As we've all progressed listening to different bands, different styles and so forth. We've all moved on and advanced. Whether your taste is Nevermore, Lamb Of God, etc. Metallica have become stagnant, derivative (creatively speaking). A band who have been passed on by time. They are not cutting edge or even current. They haven't set the bar in decades now and they aren't the "hot" band for almost as long. In a way 'The Black Album' was their pact with the devil. Millions of dollars, millions of new fairweather fans, the good life, mansions, expensive cars all at the expense of true diehard fans and creativity.
Because in a way their creativity has suffered ever since. The game has passed them by, they're the kind of band if you're over 30 you say "I used to like them in high school" or if you're 19 and under you say "my dad used to like them when they were supposedly great." Kirk Hammett finally let's loose on this album and shows off his skills again. 'All Nightmare Long' has the thrash back on it, maybe it's just me but I'm tired of James' patented "ahhh". At this point I feel he's doing it because he's known for it and he's overdoing it on purpose. The metal version of Michael Jackson's "shamoan'd" or "hee hee".
Cyanide is also a nice track. But on the whole this album feels "forced". They knew they fucked up big time on their prior album and they needed to re-trace their steps back about 20 something years and copy it. These guys ran on cruise control the entire 1990's after their "big" album that they made releases that were done with their eyes closed and cashed in regardless. I give them credit for trying to make a good album. It's possibly the first time they tried and succeeded in 20 years. On their prior album it sounds like they tried, but forgot how to make metal music again and had failed miserably. They were walking on the mainstream and hard rock bandwagon for so long that I think they didn't even recognize their younger, hungry selves.
I can listen to the album and not cringe, so in that sense this album is a victory for them. For the younger kids out there, there's so many other bands out there to be excited about that do this faster and better. For the older crew this album shows promise and perhaps the band heading into the right direction. What worries me though is that this album does not sound effortless at all. You can tell they really dug deep to sound like a shadow of their former selves. Diehards will say this is a victory against the naysayers. it's more of a small victory. While you can't say Metallica are dead, this album keeps them on life support for a bit longer. At least until the next album 5 years from now.
So, here's the second Metallica album of the decade; boy, these guys are on a roll with their productivity. Yes, despite only putting out an album once every five fucking years, Metallica are still just about the most talked about metal band everywhere, for better or for worse - but seriously, there's such a thing as coasting on reputation, and then there's Metallica. I mean, it genuinely pisses me off. This kind of thing seems to happen with a lot of really huge bands and artists - new albums only once every half-decade, or worse in the case of Guns n Roses, for example. It's lazy and it doesn't make any sense.
But that's not why we're here, is it? No, we're here to talk about how good Death Magnetic is, so let's just dive right in. For a normal band, one that, oh, I don't know, sticks to a higher level of quality material and spiritual peace, it is usually expected that an album released after five years will be of a reasonably high quality, given the amount of time the band should have had to write it under normal circumstances (Human Fortress notwithstanding). However, for Metallica, expectations were significantly lower due to reasons that you can probably guess, and for that, I think the band did a pretty admirable job at meeting-slash-surpassing them.
Death Magnetic is the sound of a band sobered up and ready to get back to business after their wild, drunken night of streaking across a populated football field in St. Anger from 2003, and it's nothing if not adamant. The basic sound is heavy, angry modern rock/metal that doesn't really swerve off its linear path at all in its hour-long duration. The songs are generally very long and drawn out, although really, the main draw behind this album lies in the manic, bashing anger and vindictive enthusiasm the band put into it. This whole album may be a cop-out for the fans after they didn't like the band's previous direction, but I'll be damned if it isn't done with some real flare. The riffs here might be a little substandard at times, and the songs tend to drag on a little - okay, a lot - but this is just so cathartically delightful in its heavy, rocky riffs and aggressive shouting, and it is a lot more listenable than St. Anger at that. No, that isn't a good reason to praise this album, just on the basis of being better than its predecessor, but come on! "That Was Just Your Life" is a snarling, gritty ball-buster that just rocks out without pretension, and I dig the unbridled rage on display here - simple, bashing payback time at its best, this one is the soundtrack you'll be using the next time you go out for revenge against your enemies. Even the lyrics follow suit, being professionally trained babbling of the highest order. It's like they just made this shit up on the spot in order to sound as menacing and angry as possible. It's like how a bully would talk to you while he's surrounded by his buddies and you're all alone cowering in the corner. It doesn't matter what he says; he's just talking shit in the heat of the moment to make you piss yourself even more than you already had. Sure, it's a jumble of incoherence, but it gets the job done and sounds cool.
The whole album is kind of like that. "The End of the Line" is along the same lines (ha-ha), with James Hetfield's dry, Southern-twinged voice belting out vocal lines that are nothing if not completely infused with this blood-red desire for vengeance. Even the stomping "Broken Beat & Scarred" and the catchy groove-fest "Cyanide" have their charms along those same lines, with infectious hooks to boot. "All Nightmare Long" is the best song on this thing, simply because it takes the elements that were good about those other songs and amplifies them tenfold, with a prowling tempo and a headstrong set of riffs that always remind me of the movie Predator for some reason - it's just the general atmosphere of the thing; it sounds like Hetfield is about to load up his gun and go down into the marsh to fight off the alien. The groove here is just sinister as hell, very cool stuff.
And yes, I don't despise "The Unforgiven III," as it is actually one of the better vocal performances I've heard out of modern Hetfield - yeah, his voice isn't so good these days, but he put some real feeling into this one, and it manages to sound quite good despite the introductory pianos sounding like something out of a soap commercial. The music isn't always interesting, but the song doesn't turn out to be anything despicable.
"The Judas Kiss" is good, but too long, and "The Day That Never Comes" is fun at first, but quickly gets old, especially for the fact that it's basically the same thing as "Fade to Black," "Welcome Home" and "One." "Suicide and Redemption" is the only truly bad song on here, an instrumental that jerks itself off for nine minutes straight and leaves no real impression. There are some strange, out of place guitar effects here that don't sound right with the primal caveman thunking of the rest of the album at all. It's like an endless prelude to a climax that never comes (or a day that never comes, ha-ha), and by the time the short thrasher "My Apocalypse" rolls by and ends the album, you just don't care anymore. Cut this shit out next time, guys, and give us an album that doesn't wear out its welcome. For that really is the biggest flaw with Death Magnetic: it's just too long, and thus some of the bruising, pathological anger is lost in the fray of the elongated song structures.
I really do like this album, though, for all its faults. It's the big, bumbling drunk brother who comes to crash at your place after running from the cops. He's mean and he's rude, and he disrupts any sense of logical flow your evening may have had, but you can't turn him loose; he's your goddamned brother, and he is a lot of fun to play Nintendo with despite the fact that he's putting you in the line of trouble, too. Death Magnetic is, yeah, pretty much like that. When you get down to brass tacks with this scruffy and unruly customer, it really is an enjoyable album. It's got catchy choruses, heavy riffs and a nice, attitude-filled groove, and that is enough for me to endorse this. Metallica, good luck to you on your future endeavours, and we will see you again in 2013. Now to go wait for the next Iron Maiden album and grey my hair some more.
PS, isn't it lovely that they released more than half of this album as singles for those of you who already bought the album and wanted more? Delightful.
If there’s one thing I hate about a new Metallica album coming out, it’s the ridiculous amount of scrutiny that it’s going to fall under. More so than other bands that have the status of “incredibly well-known,” every aspect of a Metallica album will be pored over by their legion of listeners: from the fanboys, to those that have hated everything since the 80’s, to those wavering in between. And no album more than this one, the hotly anticipated followup to the disastrous St. Anger. Entitled Death Magnetic, the album aspires to be (as did St. Anger) a well-received return to form, with several introductory claims to back it up: long-time producer Bob Rock is out, famed producer Rick Rubin is in; the defanged logo is out, the old logo is back with a vengeance; the cover art is cool as shit. Certainly a band of Metallica’s stature would be able to live up to such claims…right?
My first impression of the album prior to listening to it (based on buzz and the early singles) was of a shallow return to form. Metallica, after all, are notorious bandwagon jumpers when it comes to trends. When thrash was no longer fashionable, the band jumped ship to hard rock for Load/Reload. When nu-metal was at its peak, they released St. Anger. Now, with a modern resurgence of technical heavy metal (thrash included), Metallica claim that they’re ready to strap on their boots and kick us square in the ass like they haven’t since ’88. Anybody who wasn’t skeptical at this was surely naïve, as they’ve promised this before. And after hearing Kirk Hammett claim to have been influenced by Trivium (he sucks Matt Heafy’s dick all through an October ’06 Guitar World interview (not literally, of course)), I naturally feared for the worst.
However my fears were a bit unfounded. Truth be told, Metallica have never strayed from form; they’ve merely reshaped that form to accommodate their current needs. At times this has produced less than desired results (Reload, St. Anger, “I Disappear”), but the material produced is nonetheless distinctly Metallica. As such, the first and most important thing I can stress about Death Magnetic is that it is distinctly Metallica. Aspects developed throughout their entire career surface here, from the devastating fury of …And Justice for All, to the compositionally solid, hook-laden metal of MoP or the Black Album, to the infectious groove of the Load brothers, to the dense, abrasive spatter of St. Anger, and occasionally even to the raw energy of their earliest material.
And so, being distinctly a Metallica album, it follows what has been historically the band’s primary directive: variance of style. There are several categories of songs on Death Magnetic and just as on past releases, they sometimes conflict with one another. Of course, it is the return of the thrash songs that are of most interest. Opener “That Was Just Your Life” is total “Blackened” worship, but damn is it refreshing. It is the first taste of the album as a whole and Rick Rubin’s production job, which is pretty good. The guitars are out in front and they’re fucking lethal, with abundant, vintage Metallica harmony passages returning to good measure. Vocals are the next focus and while they aren’t ideal for James Hetfield (to get that, you’d have to travel back in time some twenty-four years), they’re tolerable. It’s kinda like the more aggressive Black Album vocals with none of that “keep searcANNNN” bullshit from St. Anger. The drums are the third significant instrument in the mix. This is also good, as it maintains the album’s energy and gives the listener plenty of opportunity to hear Lars Ulrich’s signature drumming idiosyncrasies. People bitch about how they still lack definition; I say they resemble the strict, battering drums that sounded on …And Justice. Would you prefer the trash cans from the last album?
But anyway, that first song fucking slays. Easily the best track on the album and one of several throwbacks to the …And Justice For All album. One can go online to find some forum jockey point out far more coincidences than I could mention (ignoring “The Unforgiven III,” the tracklists synch up pretty well), but the diminished bass sound is certainly among them. Though not to the degree of Justice, there are few occasions where Rob Trujillo’s bass operates independently of the guitars. A shame if you ever heard him with Suicidal Tendencies, it’s one of but a handful of complaints I have against Death Magnetic. The others? In due time.
“The End of the Line” and “Broken, Beat & Scarred” represent the mid-paced contingent and upkeep the image of the album as a return to form. Lots of riffs, harmonies, and soloing to be found. Kirk Hammett still uses his wah pedal much more often than I’d like, but it’s no more than he did on the old records, I suppose (at least he solos at all). You hardly notice the guitars are down-tuned either, so pure is the riffage.
Indeed much of the album sticks to the heavy format, with closer “My Apocalypse” being the other speedy number and most of the remaining songs at least keeping an energetic pace. Of these, “Cyanide” is the grooviest number, a sort-of throwback to the Load era. Sort-of because it’s still pretty damn heavy and littered with harmonies and shit. Of course, there are a few one-offs present; it is a Metallica album you know. Firstly is “The Day That Never Comes,” the single that probably convinced most people whether or not they wanted to get the album. One of the “Metallica ballads” also consisting of “One,” “Fade to Black,” and “Sanitarium” (start mellow, get heavier, end heaviest), it probably wasn’t the best first taste for the consumers (that intro riff is misleadingly mallcorish). Here the drum sound convinced me that the song would not suck on the whole and it doesn’t, even if Hammett’s solo is a little contrived. “Suicide & Redemption” is another throwback, this time to the super-long instrumentals of old. It’s about as good as any of them, though I’ve never been particularly fond of the past ones. Just a bit too much of the same thing (this is mere seconds under the ten minute mark).
“The Unforgiven III” is probably the most out of place here. My second thought while listening to this song was of furious stylistic bigots racing to their keyboards in order to see who could bitch about it first. My first thought was that the song fucking rules. The piano intro, the string layers, the slow Load-ish tempo: this track shows that Metallica can still write with a little bit of feeling when the need arises. Honestly, I don’t think it should have arisen here (it’s the weakest song on the album), but it’s listenable. A sort-of interlude from the heavier remainder.
Overall, the album proved to be a surprisingly rejuvenated metal album, if not exclusively thrash. The only other big flaw I can find in the album is the lyrical content. Now while Hetfield was never exactly a poetic genius, he at least managed to deliver some clever wordplay and a relatable discontent. Death Magnetic keeps away from the personal crises of St. Anger, but it’s brash, death-centric lines come across about the same way. Obtuse or spastic at best (“Scorch….kill the light, Incinerate celebrity, Reaper….butchery, Karma amputee”) and downright retarded at worst (“What don’t kill ya make ya more strong”), the listener will find Death Magnetic’s lyrics to be far less….well, cooler than those of the past. It’s also a bit long to listen to in one sitting, clocking in near the 80-minute CD limit. I guess when you take several years to arrange and record an album, you feel obligated to cram as much music into it as is physically possible.
But shit, man, it’s relativity here. It’s the best Metallica album in the last two decades and, having given myself plenty of time to listen to and digest it (despite my initial post-St. Anger pledge of never again purchasing a Metallica album, I had it the day after it was released), it stands the test of time. Those waiting for the band to sound exactly like they used to will have to keep waiting ‘cause it ain’t going to happen, this is probably as close as it’ll get. Whether or not the album is a truly honest effort will be forever debated, but fuck it, I can listen to this album and actually enjoy it. Which is something I didn’t think I’d ever be able to say about a new Metallica album.
Whether or not you will like Death Magnetic depends heavily on what kind of metal head you are. For instance, if you think Metallica has not released a good album since Ride the Lightning, this album will only reinforce that conviction. (Same applies for people who think that Master of Puppets was Metallica's last good album.)
Let me break it down: If you like everything up to and including ...And Justice For All but nothing else, you probably won't like this album very much. However, if you love everything up to and including ...And Justice For All, and think that the Black Album is OK, but nothing special (like I do), and think everything else is garbage, odds are you will kinda sorta think that Death Magnetic is OK. If you only liked Load and ReLoad, this might be OK, but it's probably too heavy for you. If you liked St. Anger...I don't really know what you were thinking. In the end, the only type of Metallica fan this album will truly please is the die-hard one, the kind that will worship whatever the band does (maybe with the exception of St. Anger) no matter what that may be. Fans who have already been alienated probably still won't be changing their minds any time soon, although this album does seem to be creating some buzz.
But let's put aside what we already think of Metallica and review the album for what it is: a piece of music. And for what it is, Death Magnetic is decent. It's definitely not thrash, as many fanboys like to claim. It is definitely NOT a return to thrash. It's heavy metal at best, hard rock at worst, and only very occasionally devolving into St. Anger-like confused riffing (I'm looking at you, My Apocalypse).
Before I get into any specifics about the music, I would like to point something out about the production. It's terrible. At least one aspect of it. At first I thought it was a lame attempt to sound raw (I had heard that they cut this album to tape like the old days, instead of using Pro Tools), but I found out that it was really a lame attempt to sound loud. Apparently there has been a war going on in the music industry to produce the "loudest" album. So, yes, all of the tracks on Death Magnetic have been brick walled to the point of distortion, occasionally getting very annoying, and it definitely reduces the audio quality a great deal. It is especially noticeable on the drums.
Now let's get to the music. Much to my relief, Hammett's solos are back, and most of them are very good. Some of them go on a bit too long, and recycle a bit too much, but for the most part they add a nice touch to the songs.
The problem with most of the songs is that they sound forced. It's obvious that Metallica wanted to make a return to their glory days, but just couldn't. Many of the riffs are reminiscent of old ones, not in a good way, but in a that sounds a little too familiar way; indeed the entire song "The Day That Never Comes" sounds as if the band tried to rewrite "One" (albeit more in structure than riffage, with only one blatantly obvious self-plagiarizing riff). The song is actually a highlight of the album, as it would turn out. The second rhythm riff sounds like it could have been the child of "Fade to Black", although the song should have ended a little sooner, with the end soloing/instrumental part dragging on too long for it's own good.
Most of the songs are good for an occasional listen, but I don't think I'll be going back to them as often as I will to Master of Puppets or ...And Justice For All. "The Unforgiven III" is strangely unsimilar to either of the previous Unforgiven songs, the only commonality being the heavy verse/clean chorus song structure.
I was excited when I learned that an instrumental track would make an appearance on Death Magnetic, something the band hadn't done since 1988. I was ultimately disappointed, however. "Suicide & Redemption" isn't a bad song, but it doesn't capture the intensity or complexity of "To Live Is to Die", "Orion", or "The Call of Ktulu". "Suicide & Redemption" sounds like more of a jam, which is nice in that it is fairly progressive in some ways, but not polished enough to live up to its predecessors.
James Hetfield's vocals leave much to be desired. His affection for a more melodic singing style remains, and just doesn't fit the musical style or lyrics. I don't think anyone ever thought Hetfield was a good singer, but he used to be a very good vocalist. The growls that can even be found on most of the tracks on the Black Album would have suited this album much more. The lyrics are even worse, often ridiculous. Too often brutal for the sake of brutal. While singing about mangled flesh and rotting corpses might have suited Slayer, the lyrical themes just don't go well with Metallica now, and never would have.
Really, though, none of that matters. Unless you are new to Metallica, you probably knew what you were going to think of this album before you bought it, didn't you? Such is the way of fans. Neither extreme of opinion is really right. It's not terrible, and it's not a return to thrash metal godliness. It's pretty good music but it's not really good metal. It's not a step in the right or wrong direction, it's just a step in a direction. And since it doesn't compare to anything else they've put out before, what it really boils down to is whether or not you like this new direction.
Metallica’s newest record, Death Magnetic, is a rip-roaring return to classic form, and re-establishes the band as the reighning kings of commercial Heavy Metal. Impressive guitar work, progressive song structures, and lyrics dealing with themes of death and redemption are elements that echo the late 80’s ‘golden’ era of Metallica. Specifically the progressive thrash classic ‘…And Justice For All”.
Since their landmark commercial smash “The Black Album” in 1991, Metallica have been caught in a creative and popular decline that has lasted over a decade. This trend reached its climax with the disastrous St. Anger in 2003 and the release of an all- too revealing documentary titled ‘Some Kind Of Monster’ in 2004.
In The years since, old school metal has experienced a major resurgence in popularity. This can be attributed to the appeal of bands such as Avenged Sevenfold and Trivium, both of whom consider Metallica to be their biggest influence. Another factor in this phenomenon are the video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band, who introduce hordes of new fans to the music of hard rock and metal bands everyday.
The public’s newfound interest in heavy metal prompted Metallica to dig themselves out of the creative grave and redeem themselves with a record that brings new life to the monster. In September 2008, they released the incredible ‘Death Magnetic’. Tracks such as ‘That Was Just Your Life’, The Judas Kiss’, and the album’s frantic closer ‘My Apocalypse’ are all evidence that Metallica still possess the thrash metal chops that made their first three albums masterpieces within the genre. ‘Cyanide’ and ‘The End Of The Line’ are a bit more mellow and rocking songs, but are just as effective and memorable, having melodic and fluid verses that flow into catchy choruses that sound larger than life.
Perhaps the greatest song on the album is the incredible ballad ‘The Day That Never Comes’. Beginning with a touching vocal line and lyrics dealing with lead singer and guitarist James Hetfield’s troubled youth, the song picks up near the end, before evolving into an all out assault complete with an impressive guitar solo from lead Guitarist Kirk Hammet. The song is similar to their grammy award winning epic ‘one’, which appeared on ”..And Justice For All”.
The album isn’t without its flaws though. ‘The Unforgiven III’, while not a terrible song, doesn’t quite live up to the power and beauty of its predecessors, ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘Unforgiven II’. ‘Suicide and Redemption’ is a ten-minute long instrumental that seems overlong and plodding in some areas, but still features marvelous guitar playing from James and Kirk.
Redemption plays an important part in the lyrical and musical themes of this record. The advertisements promised Death Magnetic to be ‘The Return Of Metallica’, the record that would rescue Metallica from the grave they dug themselves into over the years. That’s exactly what this record represents, the redemption of Metallica, the rebirth of their creativity, and the hope for new life and music to continue in the future.
Overall, Death Magnetic is an exhilarating dose of Metal that seems custom fit for the changing culture of the new millennium. It is the true return to form the fans have been waiting for, complete with thoughtful lyrics, riffs, and actual guitar solos. With a running time of 75 minutes, this record reveals new secrets with every listen, and never grows dull or old. With a North American tour planned for this winter, the future seems bright for Metallica, fans can only hope it doesn’t take another five years to produce a follow up.
Metallica's "Death Magnetic" was always going to be one of the hottest topics in metal - even in music in general - of 2008. After the roundly-criticised "St Anger", there were legitimate questions about whether a band which had once been a defining influence on the entire genre had finally succumbed to age and artistic irrelevance. Of course, it wasn't an overnight process, this fall from grace, and every man and his dog has a different theory about precisely when the band jumped the proverbial shark, theories I don't propose to discuss further here.
So what matter of album is "Death Magnetic"? Well, as a great many reviewers have pointed out, it's not a classic along the lines of the band's early great work. To expect that would be misguided in the extreme. One of the major flaws in the much-touted "thrash revival" going on around us at present is that it seeks to emulate a world in which the last decade or more of musical evolution hasn't taken place. Had Metallica attempted such a project (were it even practically possible without sounding silly), the result would have been greeted with knowing smiles from those who remember the bad old good old days and reservations would have been made for them to open for the Rolling Stones on their next "farewell tour". In short, it would have been a disaster, but a much more charming one than the last disaster.
What "Death Magnetic" is, then, is a very good album, and possibly even one of the best of the year depending on one's personal tastes. It can definitely stand up against the early classics, but only on the condition that it isn't seen as a pale copy of any of them. The album achieves its goal of salvaging Metallica's reputation, even if it disappoints those who were expecting it to burnish said reputation.
The majority of the tracks here are surprisingly strong, particularly when we consider that the songwriting genie seemed to have left the band alone on their previous outing. There are choruses which are just made for singing along to, even if the lyrics are slightly peculiar ("All Nightmare Long", for example), but of course Metallica aren't the kind of band I listen to for deep and meaningful lyrics. That said, brickbats for the rather generic chorus of "Cyanide/I've already died" in "Cyanide".
James' voice also seems a lot more present than in "St Anger". It's hard to explain it better than that, but the effect is that he seems to care more about what he's doing than he did on that album. That characteristic bark of the band's earlier glory days is back in full force, even though he occasionally seems to be getting stuck in lyrics from their mid/late 90s period. While "All Nightmare Long", as mentioned earlier, features rather odd lyrics, they're definitely given spirit by James, whose declaration that "Your luck runs OUT-AH" speaks volumes about a return to form whenever I hear it.
Musically, everyone's back on the same page as well. As others have remarked, this album sees the return of solos - which are duly inserted into every track at least once. It's also an album which is played fast for a reason, rather than being played fast because the band feels it has to. There are mellower moments, "The Unforgiven III" is one such, but in general the band finds a rattling pace and sticks to it.
One of the real highlights here, in fact, is the instrumental "Suicide & Redemption". From my perspective, this is one of the clearest indications that the band likes what it's doing again, as there are all kinds of interesting riff and solo ideas thrown out here by both guitarists and the nearly 10-minute length of the track zips by in a moment.
Yes, there are some rather generic riffs thrown into some of the songs, too. It would be foolish to think that everything here is an absolute winner, and some riffs patently are not. What matters, though, is that the good outweighs the bad with interest.
Have Metallica released another bona fide classic? Of course not. The torch has been well and truly passed, and rewinding the past decade and more is something we can't do, even if we want to. What they've done with "Death Magnetic" has been to demonstrate that there's still life in the old dog yet. In years to come, this will be an album people can look back on and recall as yet another important signpost on the road this band has travelled. I'm sure I'm not the only one hoping that it points in the direction of increased relevance, rather than being a detour.
The release of Death Magnetic is like watching a new, good sequel to 1986's Aliens. Like the band's Black Album, Load and Reload, Alien 3 was good but not without its share of faults, and Alien: Resurrection, well, my putting it as the equivalent of 2003's St. Anger speaks for itself. However, should James Cameron put out a new sequel to his sci-fi action masterpiece, it would be like Death Magnetic – nostalgic, refined and entertaining. Death Magnetic truly proves that Metallica is still a very alive metal band, ditching the sound of their albums since 1991's self-title blockbuster and creating what could have been released just between 1988's heralded …And Justice for All and 1991's aforementioned hit.
Just as told by Dr. Phil Towle, who accompanied the band's recording process of 2003's trashy St. Anger, their newfound appreciation of life and each other comes forth on display on this next release. And, although it's been five years since we've heard any new material, this one was well worth the wait. It's a more mature, very hungry addition to the band's "four masterpieces", taking elements from both their 80's stunning achievements, blending them with a bit of Load-ish elements right here and there and creating an all-together half-fresh, half-nostalgic sound that's more pleasurable than anything they've put out in twenty years.
Some of this can be attributed to James Hetfield feeling that, what he's learned from the recording of Load and Reload, is that he'd rather create an album with nine or ten excellent song than two albums with thirty songs, putting all of his expression and creativity into a denser, more concentrated album with absolutely no filler material. Speaking of Hetfield, the riffs on this album are incredible. The E-chug might be back with a vengeance, but that's the signature Metallica sound and that's a sound that hasn't been released as new material for twenty years. His playing is tight and intense, and the riffs themselves heavy and enjoyable.
Another part of Death Magnetic's success can be attributed to long-time sleeper Kirk Hammett finally hitting the metal notes again on every song on this album. Gone are 2003's solo-empty snorefests – on every song on this album Hammett plays a solo, and he's all over it. His fast style is back, for better or worse – those who have never liked his style won't be turned over by his work here, yet those who do appreciate his emotional playing will be caught with a grin from ear to ear smeared all across their face.
The most predictable thing on this album is Lars Ulrich's drumming. I've never been a fan of Ulrich's playing and, just as with Hammett's solos, Death Magentic doesn't change a thing. Besides some interesting tempo changes and crazy beats on songs like The Judas Kiss and Cyanide, Ulrich's playing is almost wholly monotonous and uninteresting. Unfortunately, the presence of Robert Trujillo on bass is only rarely felt, to no fault of the band's. The gang was in Europe when Death Magnetic was mixed and mastered, and the result is a bit painful. Everything is very loud and epic, but the loudness war has been lost here – everything is so loud that at times the album sounds a bit fuzzy and the bass is sometimes inaudible. However, most times the album sounds just fine and huge, and the music is so good that moments of bad production can be overlooked, just as with the band's very own Justice album.
Death Magnetic features ten tracks, sharing a structural similarity to Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …And Justice for all, starting and ending with fast songs fun to bang your head to, a ballady track as track #4, an instrumental right before the end, and this time, another ballad thrown in somewhere in the mix. The opening That Was Just Your Life would probably be the most grin-inducing moment for a fan since Blackened. Hetfield's rapping, aggressive vocals sound more like they did in the 80's (as well as the guitars, which are tuned back to E standard) and the chorus is violent, melodic and explosive, just as you'd expect from a Metallica song. The vocal hooks, excellent riffs and Hammett's solo set the stage for the solid, consistent experience that is Death Magnetic. The beauty of it is that this opening track is the perfect representative of the experience that you're about to have when you pop that white CD in. if you like it – you're in for a rush. If you don't – stop right here.
From this point onwards, the album keeps its momentum and has so many moments where it shines, the mind of a Metallica fan might boggle. It could be the Fade-to-Black-meet-One feel of the intense The Day That Never Comes, the surprisingly middle-eastern All Nightmare Long (featuring one of Metallica's best choruses thus far) or the odd rhythms of The Judas Kiss. It may just as well be the incredible, subtle orchestration of The Unforgiven III or Hetfiel'd amazing lead guitar through the mid-section of new instrumental Suicide and Redemption. – every song has something to it that sets it apart from its album brethren and even from the entire Metallica back catalog, whose inspiration on these song is clearer than the sun on a summer day.
There are elements throughout the entire album that are so in place here, like the middle-eastern influences, Hetfield's combination of melodic and angry singing, amazing harmonizing guitars, fucking with structure and just experimenting with the old and the new, that simply make Death Magnetic a new, instant classic. Admittedly, the album is at times so sophisticated that you can't take all 75 minutes of it in just one listen. You'll have to give it time to grow on you, and grow on you it will if you just let it.
It's also cheap and has very fancy, interesting packaging, and the lyrics have the name James Hetfield written all over them, talking about death, betrayal, different inner struggles, confusion and suicide and featuring some of his lame puns that we've all come to expect ("the son will shine"). Just as anything else on this album, if you've never been a fan of Metallica's discography, Death Magnetic won't do anything to change that.
At the end of the day, Death Magnetic is a rousing success. Everything that Metallica tries to do here, they nail it. They go back to the E tuning, the dirty vocals, the fast guitar solos, the sophisticated structures and mix them all with what was good about the Load era (I'm one of the believers that Load and Reload had some excellent moments) to create the sound we've all been waiting for. It's a new metal album from the biggest metal band in the world, and their hunger seems just as it does upon listening to Master of Puppets. Mix melody with heaviness, pour a handful of amazing guitar work and add a grain of bad production and you get Death Magnetic – an instant, if slightly flawed, masterpiece. Two thumbs up for Metallica for this incredible release. Way up.
Metallica - Death Magnetic hit the stores in 12.09.2008 which I had waited for a long time already. I knew I'd like the album so of course I went right away to buy it. I have followed this new 'Tallica CD session very carefully for several months, so carefully that only the people on these forums would know more about this situation than me. Yeah I'm kind of a Metallica fanboy because they were one of the first metal bands I heard and anyway their albums have always had at least some good stuff on them. Even Load & Reload had a few good songs and St.Anger, while really weird and different, was still actually pretty good for what it was meant to be (I'll review it some day if I feel like it). So it's no surprise I was expecting Death Magnetic to be good, especially when there was all that comeback hype around it.
However, then the first songs leaked. "The Day That Never Comes", "My Apocalypse" and "Cyanide" in said order. And let me tell you, after I heard the 2 first ones from those I was completely convinced that Metallica has actually returned to their roots. "The Day That Never Comes" being exactly like "Fade To Black", "Sanitarium" and "One" and "My Apocalypse" having the real "Damage, Inc." thrash esque in it. More songs were leaked through radio and at the end Metallica put the whole album on their website for free listening. All this happened before the actual release date.
But damn I love this album! These songs are long, the riffs sound cool, the choruses are catchy and solos brilliant (not always though). Death Magnetic has been called "a mix between Master Of Puppets and St.Anger", "the missing link between And Justice For All and Black Album" as it has also been hailed to be Metallica's return to thrash. Well, what's sure is that this album is actual METAL, not mainstream hard rock like Load & Reload nor is it nu metal influenced like St.Anger. Death Magnetic is fucking metal. And very good metal too. There's quite a few songs that are clearly thrash fucking metal like the first 2, All Nightmare Long and My Apocalypse and there's also some half-way thrash songs like Broken, Beat & Scarred, The Judas Kiss and even Cyanide. Then we have an instrumental and the 2 ballads which are The Day That Never Comes ("One" worship) and The Unforgiven III (guess what this one worships). Some of the song names and lyrics are pretty random but no one really listens to music solely for good song titles and "meaningful" lyrics....fuck that shit.
One thing different to St.Anger is that Metallica has finally allowed Kirk Hammett to play some solos! And he proves very clearly that even after Metallica's hard rock years he still has it. He still likes to use that wah-pedal but surprisingly he has reduced it a bit, like some solos on this album (The Day That Never Comes) are completely void of any wah-pedal use. Very catchy solos can be heard on the album, especially in the instrumental song "Suicide & Redemption".
Oh and the riffs. Fast paced tremolo picking and palm mutes can be heard as well as quite many cool power chord riffs too. Some are complete headbanger stuff (the first track, when that fucking riff kicks in....definitely one of the coolest single noted thrash riffs in history) and some are more melodic. There's clear choruses in every song and they're made catchy as hell, my favorite would be the one in All Nightmare Long...this one's straight out of the fucking 80's man!
Oh yes and like I said, there's also an instrumental track on this album (their old records had one so of course they had to do it here too). This song ”Suicide & Redemption” is an almost 10 minutes long mid-tempo song and includes lots of enjoyable guitar solos as well as good bass solos too. It gets pretty boring after some time especially when the whole album is so damn long too, but it's still pretty good for occasional listening (although I'd recommend you to play Call Of Ktulu, Orion or To Live Is To Die instead of this one any day).
It's not all the way trying to be like this band's old stuff though, some moments on this album sound a lot like the Black Album and even Load. For example, the song ”Cyanide” is the closest thing to Load since....uh...Load. But unlike Load, this song is still metal and not complete hard rock. It's all well put together though and makes this album very enjoyable. There's so much the old 'Tallica to it, yet there's still new. It's like they revisited their entire discography and then threw in some completely new ideas as well. For example the song "The Unforgiven III", there is piano and some symphony in it. Only time I can think of Metallica using this stuff before is Nothing Else Matters (and of course S&M but that wasn't a studio album) and that's why this song really surprised me. Starting with a piano intro then adding some violins into it and violins can be heard in the chorus too. And then before the solo kicks in you can hear how the heavy symphonic part kicks in. I definitely haven't heard them doing anything like this before and it's great that there's something like this on the album. The symphonic part gives this song a heavy as hell atmosphere and reminds me of the keyboard moments Iron Maiden has been using in their latest albums. Hell yeah, I enjoy this album so much.
Now let's move on to James Hetfield and his singing. He certainly sounds different here than before. Yeah, we know Hetfield got his puberty a bit later (lol) but there's more to it on Death Magnetic. James' singing is now more shout-like and similar to Tom Araya (from Slayer) and that makes him sound way more angry than ever before. On St.Anger he was mostly yelling and grunting angry as hell but there was also those off-key parts (like on The Invisible Kid "oooooh what a good boy you are") which sounded just ridiculous and stupid (and even I can't excuse them). But now there's none of that here, it's all just straight forward aggression non-stop. The clean vocal parts (like the whole intro to The Day That Never Comes) are still mellow and soft but when he gets really going...
Yes and then we have Lars Ulrich and his drumming. Drum sound isn't bad although it's not the best either. There's no klonk klonk snare like St.Anger but it's still pretty damn loud. As for the playing itself...now we all know he's not technically very talented, but he has actually improved a lot over the past few albums. He got really sloppy in Metallica's huge infaous sell-out era for some weird reason but on ”Death Magnetic” Lars surprisingly sounds pretty much as good as he did in his old 80's days. Good fills here and there, decent speed held up and some nice double bass parts can be heard (check out All Nightmare Long for some serious metal drumming). Seriously it's like everyone in this band has now improved and pushed themselves just to sound good on this record.
I also need to point out these "new songs" Metallica played live in 2006. These were two punkish untitled songs which actually never found their way onto a studio release, except the intro from the first "new song" used in "The End Of The Line" (because The End Of The Line is definitely BETTER than that weirdo song).
Then one thing we gotta talk about is the production. It's not as garage like as St.Anger and the haunting SNARE is now gone but instead Rick Rubin did something else to this record that can get to some people's nerves. Death Magnetic is mixed REALLY LOUD, everything is mixed high as if they tried to put EVERY instrument on the top of the mix. The amps run at full power and the gain is turned to maximum. There's so fucking much clipping on this record that some parts sound so distorted and clipped that you'd almost think there's something wrong with your speakers. Take the ending of the first track it sounds like everyone in the band is just trying to be fucking louder than hell. Lars beating the fuck out of his snare with crazy double bass all over the place, guitars strumming power chords and James Hetfield yelling on the top. Yeah Metallica won the loudness war....now what?
The production can get annoying when listening to this whole record but it's still not the end of the world or anything. You can still get past the mixing like I did because the music itself kicks so much ass. Besides the production here isn't weak like Justice and doesn't reduce the power of the music at all, if anything it actually enhances the force. Even if it goes quite a bit over the top. The loudness factor also makes this record sound pretty garage-like but I like it that way. Raw and uncompromising sound is always better to me than that sterile and stupid crystal clear Roadrunner production that every modern band (even some old ones like Cradle Of Filth, Megadeth and Testament) loves so hard to use these days.
All in all, Metallica is back. Death Magnetic is easily the strongest Metallica album since "Justice" and it succeeded to restore my faith towards these guys. Not that I had lost my hope for them completely but to know that Metallica can still do what they did in the past 80's makes me feel really good. It also makes me very glad that I bought this album the exact day it was released.
Ran out of words here...I think I'll just go listen to some Metallica again.
For almost twenty years, Metallica experimented with their sound, dividing their fanbase and shattering the outstanding reputation they built for themselves in the 1980s in the process. First, they tried to write standard-fare heavy metal with a twist; The Black Album. Then, they abandoned heavy metal to explore different sub-genres of rock; Load and Reload. Finally, they tested the waters of modern metal; St. Anger. Whether or not they failed to craft good music has rarely been a concern of their consumers; all that mattered was that they were deviating from their core sound and a sizeable chunk of their compositions were becoming overwhelmingly radio-friendly.
But, no matter what was being said about them, Metallica always pushed forward. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, in particular, enjoyed exploring different styles of music, and never hesitated to incorporate them into the band’s writing. Although their forays into blues rock, classic rock and progressive rock weren’t always successful, there’s no doubting the willingness on the part of the group to make financially incorrect choices in order to make artistically satisfying ones. Sometimes, money swayed them, but most times, I believe their music changed because their interests were changing, and they wanted their compositions to reflect that.
So, when they released Death Magnetic in 2008, equipped with both a new bassist in the form of Robert Trujillo and a new producer in the form of Rick Rubin, it came as a surprise to the heavy metal community that, for the first time since 1988, Metallica was playing thrash metal again. The songs were fast, long and shreddy, and there was no experimentation to be found. At first glance, the record gave reason to be ecstatic.
However, after the initial period of discovery fades, the album starts to sound hollow. Each track, especially the trademarked ballad “The Day That Never Comes”, sounds as if it was written with a formula in mind so it could sound like something the band would’ve written during their glory days. The riffs don’t build upon eachother to the point they instigate skull-crushing; instead, they appear one after the other, never sounding cohesive. I’ve heard it said that each of the album’s songs sound as if they were written with “Disposable Heroes” in mind, which isn’t always true in terms of heaviness, but is certainly true in the way they’re all eight minutes long and exchange riffs like a day trader.
Departing from ideology, there’s no doubt there’s some solid material scattered throughout the disc. James Hetfield can still churn out riffs like no other, and on the rare occasions they’re placed alongside worthwhile choruses, they take their respective compositions to high levels. The best examples of this can be found on “That Was Just Your Life” and “The End of Line”, which happen to open the record side-by-side. It’s also nice to hear Kirk Hammet soloing again, especially since he’s lessened his use of the whammy pedal. His unison work with Hetfield towards the end of “Cyanide” is tremendous.
The most disconcerting facet of Death Magnetic is its production. Each song sounds like an impenetrable wall of dirt speeding towards you, none of the instruments being given their own niche to explore and instead being compressed together to the point they suffocate you. Ted Jensen, a Grammy award-winner who was hired to master the album, went on record shortly after its release as saying he was so embarrassed by its initial mix that he demanded his name be stripped from its credits. Considering it went on to sell millions of copies and win numerous album of the year awards, you can imagine just how bad the thing would have to sound for someone to jump ship like that.
The strongest element the album has working for it is the nostalgia factor. Countless metalheads around the globe have wanted Metallica to go back to playing thrash metal for decades, so for them to finally do it was liberating for many. However, just because it’s thrash metal doesn’t mean it’s automatically good music. For all its heaviness and speed, it’s lacking consistently great vocal melodies and enough strong riffs to fill its remarkably long song lengths adequately. It’s a lazy effort, one that took years to complete because the band was so busy taking breaks to tour, and one that sees Metallica, for the first time in their career, go backwards to tread old ground instead of going forwards to tread new ground.
I’m going to open this review up with the usual Metallica apologist line- Metallica have (almost) never pandered to anyone. Black Album aside, there’s been a series of albums that have been somewhat adventurous and annoying to many a fan.-Whether they were getting bigger and bigger prog-thrash boners, or going down a strange, experimental mix of shitty hard rock and awesome balladry, or dropping the particularly irregular shaped turd that was St.Anger, Metallica haven’t tried to please anyone. Well, except for the black album (which is really messing this intro up, oh well).
But see, said integrity was starting to grate pretty hard. I loved the Loads, but St. isn’t something I look back on with a good deal of fondness. Luckily for us, then, Metallica have decided to take a bit of a left turn with this release. They’ve sold out, they’ve pandered to the market, they’ve whored themselves to their fans. And damn, it’s about time.
Yeah, this album is the “hey we’re really sorry about the last few albums guys, have a blowjob” sort of thing that I would’ve considered a bad idea if it just didn’t sound so good. There’s a bit of every Metallica album here- these guys have tried to cater to every different fan, and I think they’ve done a pretty good job. Whether it’s the groovy, hard-rocking and Load-ripping Cyanide (far better then any of the lame rock tunes on that album), the dyers/damage clone of My Apocalypse, or the balladry scattered around here, it’s all completely unoriginal and it sounds totally terrific. Hell, their’s even the occasional bit of St.Anger here, particularly in End of the Line. Move over Trivium, there’s a new (and remarkably accurate) Metallica rip-off band in town!
Seriously though, this stuff is pretty damn cool. It’s not very original, with the possible exception of the new Unforgiven (bit of piano and strings; first time since NEM if I recall right), but fact remains is that this has James Hetfield writing heavy riffs and Kirk Hammett soloing his ass off, so it’s going to be good. “Broken, Beat and Scarred” is a decent enough summary of this album- it will probably get a lot of hate as it’s groovy and has a lot of stupid lyrics, but regardless it’s still a sickeningly anthemic song, with some excellent black-album-esque riffing and a fairly complex, AJFA-ish arrangement. “What don’t kill you will make you more strong” isn’t some sort of Shakespearian refrain, but I haven’t heard Hetfield this pumped up in a very, very long time, and the pre-chorus/”Show Your Scars” bit is crushing- in terms of “riffs that make me go absolutely nuts” this is a hard one to beat.
The catchy Black/AJFA/Load thing continues throughout and for most of the time it sounds great. I’ve mentioned “My Apocalypse” already but it’s worth mentioning again; a fairly weak verse and chorus is made bearable by an epic mid section that any thrash band would love to have. Fast, catchy and super heavy - and with a sizeable debt to Slayer, not something you’d normally hear from Metallica but welcome nonetheless. The first track is also excellent in all of it’s AJFA-ish epic scope and mid paced thrash/heavy perfection. No one likes a track by track review, so I guess a simple “tl;dr” summary of most of the tunes are that there’s almost always a horrible intro and terrible lyrics (less “metal” style lyrics, James, you’re heading down the self-parody road) but that’s made up for by killer riffs everywhere else, a catchy chorus/refrain/shouted word, and an overall inspired, energetic feel. (“Yay, we’re finally writing songs that people will let us play live!”)
Indeed, the whole band sounds tight and like they‘re having fun. Lars’ drumming has gotten more and more simple but it’s fast, straight forward, enthusiastic and fairly on-time. Generally those requirements are enough to suggest that Lars is an adequate drummer, so why knock him any more? No awkward fills, just straight ahead drumming with a bit of extra snare abuse. Trujillo’s somewhere in the mix adding a bit of rumble, but (as with basically any Metallica album) the real joy to be found is in the two guitarists. Kirk- possibly the best wah-abusing guitarist with philippino ancestry ever- is in good form, whipping out some fairly shredding moments and not overstaying his welcome.
But it’s James that makes this album as boner-inducing as it is. Granted that’s a bit of a given; St.Anger excepted old Hetfield’s been fighting it out with Goku from DragonBallZ and Jesus for the top spot on my “Most awesome dudes ever” list, and this record may just put him on top. He’s spoofing riffs all over your face (and in your ass? Maybe?), he sounds angry and passionate again (despite my early claims about this being an obvious sell out, it’s hard to say that when you hear him sing) and overall he just reminds everyone that there’s a damn good reason why he’s one of the most recognisable frontmen ever. Again, most of his lyrics (Unforgiven III being the main exception, I guess) will likely get you cringing, but it’s just good to hear the James we all love and know back- not really singing, just shouting quite tunefully and with that awesome burly-man tone that he does so well.
It’s not all perfect, James-lead awesomeness, though. The Judas Kiss has a killer chorus but will likely be remembered as the tune with the most awkward intro ever; Unforgiven III is probably a little bit too much of a confessional, and could use a few better riffs here and there - but it‘s got some decent lyrics and James sounds pretty soulful, so I can‘t really dislike it. However, Suicide and Redemption is a real turd of a song; no memorable riffs, and the first four minutes (some seriously uninspired riffery, here) was probably the longest four minutes of my life. Uninspired mid paced stoner trash, it really screams “Hey, the fans demand an instrumental, let’s put one on!”
And the fucking production! I’m not a big fan of cussing in my reviews, but who the fuck mastered this? Merzbow called, he wants his square waves back! Constant clipping every time a snare hits, no dynamics whatsoever; this makes ‘Californication’ sound like an old classical recording by comparison. (Those not sure what I’m talking about would be advised to wiki “Loudness War”). It’s fatiguing, headache inducing and makes the whole album (which is not a short listen) a real struggle to get through- it’s a shame as the mix and recording, while a bit dry, is quite acceptable.
But hey, perhaps the stupidly overloud mix was the one part of the album where Metallica did not want to take your load in their/it’s (no idea if you refer to a band as singular or as a collective) mouth(s). Referring back to my introductory spiel- this is a huge sell out, but if the band wants to bend over for me then that’s fine; ‘tis better to give then to receive like we all did with St.Anger. It’s a career-spanning retrospective with not a lot of real daring or innovation; but despite that (or perhaps because of it) it’s a killer, super entertaining thrash/heavy/hard rock album that pretty much anyone will enjoy.
Just as anyone expecting a second 'Painkiller' by Judas Priest this year, people crossing their fingers in hope for anything remotely sounding like Metallica's four earlier 80's works in 'Death Magnetic' will be disappointed to say the least, even more so after all the hype that was built around this release.
'Death Magnetic' sounds like a cross between 'And Justice For All' and 'The Black Album', with some good pinches of all the crap they released since then thrown in and stirred. Rick Rubin has done miracles and improved the band's sound - no trash can lid snare, as it has been mentioned - but some things can't change or come back. Hetfield still seems to believe he can really sing and annoys everyone with his post-1990 vocal style. Lars never ceases to surprise us by showing what an actually poor drummer he is, especially when compared to other drummers in the genre, in a performance that inspires pity and not awe. Hammet is soloing again, which is a relief, but he just doesn't seem to have the genius or creativity of older days, with very few truly memorable moments. Trujillo plays the role of bringing us a Metallica album in which the bass can be heard, which is a feat in itself, but doesn't do anything special, which brings the word 'waste of talent' to mind.
What about the songs? With repetitive and 'groovy' riffs, although heavier than anything the band has released in the past 20 years, and long songs surpassing the 7-minute barrier neeedlessly, it is impossible to call 'Death Magnetic' a thrash metal album, save very rare and brief moments. The first three or four songs follow this formula, without forgetting long introductions in an attempt to build up momentum. The lyrics are poor and with some political content here and there, and the attempt to do something in the vein of 'Damage Inc.' with 'My Apocalypse' is valid, despite not coming even close and the horrendous chorus, just as instrumental 'Suicide and Redemption' doesn't come even close to anything like 'Orion', sounding more like a riff they had no use for and thus decided to turn into this song. 'The Day That Never Comes' tries to be 2008's 'One', despite Lar's incompetence. 'All Nightmare Long' has the best intro, taking us back to the 80's for the first time - and sounding a bit like Slayer in the process - but the riff soon breaks down and turns into more of the same, not helped by Hetfield's voice, which comes in and ruins everything with no aggression or balls. 'Cyanide' is the total garbage track on this album, since nothing can be saved on this one, unless you're into halfassed quasi-pop riffs and vocals, while 'The Unforgiven III' comes as a surprise, since it is actually better in many ways than its predecessors. 'The Judas Kiss' is just heavy rock with more lame vocals and no appeal, pretty tiring overall.
Compared to 'St Anger' this is a magnificent CD, but that really doesn't mean much for anyone truly into thrash and who's been listening to these guys since the early days. One can't blame it on their age, for many bands from that era are still around and making great music. The bottom line for me is I still do not like post-1990 Metallica, and you're lucky if you do, although this album is superior to the previous ones and to 80% of what has been glorified in the media lately... In terms of thrash, better stick to Slayer, Exodus and Kreator, or one of the new bands, for Metallica's millionaire uncles just can't pull it off anymore.
Usually ‘great’ bands are automatically subjected to more rigorous analysis from critics than their mere mortal peers. Metallica, the usual (mainstream) critic’s choice for ‘metal band I’ve allowed myself to like, so stop bothering me about that genre please,’ has basically been the exception to this rule since (approximately) the 1997 release of Reload. Prior to that record, and the band’s subsequent vacation from actually composing new material, Metallica were the subject of credible criticism that demonstrated the potential to really dig into where the band were as artists, and where they might go. Some of the most interesting metal criticism I’ve read dates from this period, when it seemed Metallica might finally drag heavy music back to legitimacy. Since then, mainstream critics have simply lost interest in actually interacting with this music. Each new Metallica album is greeted positively and then forgotten, forgotten so thoroughly that by the time the next Metallica album arrives these same critics describe it as a comeback and significant improvement over the previous one, and then proceed to give it virtually the same grade the last received. Where then, does one go for legitimate Metallica criticism? Embittered metal fanzines? O’ poor babe in arms, for there be the realm of the depressingly literal-minded, the lunkheaded punter wolf in an academic’s woollen smoking jacket. Hardcore Metallica fans? An unbiased view, nowhere in sight.
And somewhere, twixt the reviews-by-rote and the riff-counts-in-review-form, arises the new Metallica album, Death Magnetic. One might assume from the first paragraph that I’m planning on doing some kind of self-important master-class lecture to show how criticism of Metallica ‘ought to be done.’ Not so! For this album is the first since the self-titled to be exactly as it appears. There is none of the intriguing collision of personality that made Load and St. Anger so fascinating, no experimentation that reveals itself gradually over many listens, no question as to what the intentions of this seventy-four minute marathon are. Metallica have simply been kicked in the teeth so many times that, finally, they have acquiesced to the begging of their fans and gone somewhere they’ve already been before. Your bitching has finally broken them and, at times, it does almost seems like a good thing to have a new Metallica album to pop into the player and just listen to without feeling challenged to find reason (or even justification). It’s familiar ground, with that Metallica smell you’ve known since puberty, something like cummy sweatsocks, incense and vodka. But alas, such familiarity is a breeding ground for the blackest of contempt.
Metallica have waxed and waned in ways both subtle and profound since they last cut a thrash record, and with Death Magnetic they’re playing to strengths that have atrophied significantly in the past twenty years. It was unfair to compare Load to Master of Puppets because in every respect they were meant to be different records; Death Magnetic so adamantly slots itself in next to their original masterpieces that it’s impossible to judge the album in vacuum. Where classic Metallica songs were often long, it was because each track was stuffed to the brim with ideas, ideas paced to perfection, seldom overstaying their welcome and each inspiring headbanging satisfaction like few other bands ever could. Death Magnetic songs are long because old Metallica songs were long, and people really like old Metallica songs. Songs as swollen as Ulrich’s prostate are the order of the day here, the chugging amelodic “Disposable Heroes” seemingly being the primary template for interminable bores like “The End of the Line” and “Broken, Beat & Scarred”. I’ve heard it said that every song here feels two minutes too long, and while that’s not always true, on an album this long that’s probably accurate as a rough average. And God… look away from “The Day That Never Comes”, one of the most baffling choices for a single 2008 has yet seen.
It’s easy enough to draw further analogues to the length issue in every aspect of this record. There were instrumentals on old Metallica albums because the band had compositional ideas that were ill-suited to conventional song formats, so they wrote pieces that were almost classical in scope and construction. The new one has an instrumental because they always used to do instrumentals, and as a result the battery-drained “Suicide & Redemption” winds up a bigger waste of ten minutes than anything they've previously coughed up, in spite of some Hammettian heroics. At least “All Within My Hands” and “Invisible Kid” were fascinating car wrecks. Hetfield’s lyrics used to be angry because his life was in turmoil, a turmoil caused in part by the grating falseness of ‘80s popular culture. By now, you can guess why the lyrics are angry on Death Magnetic. This piffle isn’t the work of the lyricist who so memorably blossomed on Load; it’s that same lyricist twelve years later, denied artistic relevance and reduced to lines like “Searched the seas of gold/How come it’s got so cold?”. Hell, even the overly loud, bass-less production might be some kind of perverse throwback to their earlier work.
There are bright spots, however, and virtually all of them can be found on the second half of the record. Kirk Hammett absolutely lights it up every time he steps up to the plate, blistering highlight coming midway through the otherwise uneven “The Unforgiven III” (which, as an aside, sounds at times like what the original might’ve been, had it been on Countdown to Extinction instead of the Black Album) and generally reinstating himself as the king of shredders with limited chops. “All Nightmare Long” sports a truly infectious chorus and some monster truck rally riffing and “The Judas Kiss” borders on the tech-thrash mania of old, while unfairly maligned advance single “Cyanide” is a masterpiece of late game hurry-up offence, a decent groover that tightens up into a righteous Egypto-thrash rave-up. Most remarkable of all is “My Apocalypse”, not because it’s the best song on the album (though it’s close) but because it’s really the closest Metallica come to sounding like they used to. It’s not significantly worse than, say, “Damage Inc.”, and it’s also more pointedly traditional thrash than anything that has come out of the big four this past decade.
But if the most remarkable moment on a Metallica album is the fact that it happens to be thrash, the experience (for me at least) becomes rather hollow. Is this better than St. Anger? Probably, but I won’t listen to Death Magnetic half as often as I did that record. Bereft of the adventure Metallica’s previous modern-era efforts have promised, the potential that even the most disastrous of songs could grow and appreciate, we’re left with a record that is all style and no substance. And so, maybe this will unite the mainstream critics and those fans just looking for a record that isn't hiding any nasty surprises. For me though, I’m struck by the feeling that, for the first time ever, Metallica don’t care if they’re advancing. Excellent though it was, …And Justice for All found the band beginning to hint that everything was becoming thrash-by-numbers, and to their credit they decided to make a change. Twenty years ago they knew they didn’t want to make this record. And now they have.
Stand-Out Tracks: “All Nightmare Long”, “My Apocalypse”, “The Judas Kiss”
We finally have the new Metallica record that will supposedly show the world that they are back and on top of the metal heap, which is what I'm sure the fanboys and clueless music media will proclaim. Well Death Magnetic is more metal than they have been since the Black album, and it’s not terrible, but it’s not great either.
There are some good riffs here and there, some good solos, you can hear the bass well enough, and the drums are better than on St. Anger at least. Songs like That Was Just Your Life try to channel the old Metallica power but come up just a bit short in the end. Lars drums a bit better than he has since the Metallica album, but that still isn't saying much if one has gotten used to listening to real masters behind the kit. The drums are a bit high in the mix but not enough to make one annoyed. Thankfully the snare does not sound like a trash can lid being hit as on St. Anger, kicking Bob Rock to the curb was the best move the band has made in 20 years, Rick Rubin at least got them to play some decent metal again, avoiding the mainstream rock of the Loads and the nu-metal styling of St. Anger. On the guitar front Kirk shreds on some solos but his tone and wah heavy sound are still the same so if you don't like that you probably won't think he does much good here. Hetfield’s rhythm playing is pretty tight for most of the album, giving the riffs good weight but they just aren't the very satisfying to listen to. None of the riffs have anything to make one think there is that much staying power to these songs. Listening to the vocals James tries to get a bit of the classic Hetfield growling bark back but still slips into his terrible clean voice of the past few albums too much.
The main highlight is the final track, My Apocalypse. It’s fairly thrashy, with some good riffage and pretty strong lyrics. This song opens strong with a cool riff and then the drums kick in the song doesn’t let up. If the whole album had been this good it would have been a higher rating, probably in the high 70’s but I don’t think they have enough left in the tank to write a whole album like this. A third Unforgiven track makes an appearance here but like the others is totally forgettable. The first single, The Day that Never Comes, is just a rip of their prior ballads, Fade to Black and One, but unlike those songs it is very mediocre with no real hooks to draw the listener in, I found it a bit jarring in places.
Ultimately this sounds like a band trying to be Metallica again but just coming up short since they just aren't that band anymore. Musically it is probably a mix of the long Justice songs with the mostly thrashless playing of the Metallica album. And while it’s good enough technically it’s just lacking the riffs to make it memorable. It opens strong, and finishes strong; too bad the middle section mostly goes nowhere.
Standout tracks. This Was Just Your Life, My Apocalypse.
There is a surreal aspect to experiencing a Metallica album, perhaps because of the absolute difficulty involved in trying to hear what is put forth with an iota of objectivity. Who can honestly talk about this band with another person without having to take into account the media factor, their incredible popularity, and all of the other nonsense that hasn’t shit to do with the music? It could be said that the experience of listening to “Death Magnetic” is a test of sorts. And the trial set forth being can one actually ignore the rest of the world and hear the album for what it is.
Surprisingly enough, after hearing this album I’m going to have to disagree in part with the sentiments of the bulk of the online community. “Death Magnetic” is fairly similar to “Master Of Puppets”, in the sense that it seeks to try and merge a lot of differing elements together and comes out extremely uneven and stylistically all over the place. If you consider each song individually, it’s easy to find yourself utilizing the skip and repeat buttons fairly often, as I’m sure many people would use the former for “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “Leper Messiah”, while also employing the latter for “Battery” and “Disposable Heroes”. And like the largely hailed 1986 release, most of these songs tend to be a little too long for their own good.
Naturally due to what I believe is an undeserved legendary status being given to that album, I’ll instead recommend you compare this to Machine Head’s recent alleged thrash album “The Blackening” or maybe Pantera’s “Reinventing The Steel”. Although like “Master Of Puppets” those albums had a better production than this dead, hollow, half-assed modern mixing job; they both contain this misguided desire of trying to incorporate groove, yet keep the songs stretched to near epic time length, despite the obvious monotony or meandering that will result. Even for an all out progressive metal outfit, having an album where only one song is less than 6 minutes long can be a big red flag waving so close to your face that the pole it’s on knocks you upside the head.
Now some might be inclined to ask what could be wrong with the production, since this obviously can’t be the mess that “St. Anger” was. I couldn’t really figure it out myself at first, but for some reason this album sounded extremely hostile to my ears, so I dug back into Metallica’s history to understand what was causing this. Throughout the 80s up until 1991 there was this practice that was likely due to the analog technology of the time where reverb was used to augment the sound of every instrument, resulting in something fairly similar to what is heard when you see a band live, but without the crowd noise. To an extent, this atmosphere survived in the 90s material through the drum and vocal production, though it was canned when it came to the guitars, as everyone was going for this so called organic rock sound at the time, which I personally found revolting.
By contrast, what has happened here, in the aftermath of a botched attempt at sounding raw on “St. Anger”, is a reversal of the 90s tendency. The guitars have regained the thickness and aggression that they have lacked for 15 years, although the lead guitars have taken on a slightly mellower flow than the high end thinness of Kirk’s soloing heyday in the 80s. The drums, in turn, have taken on this extremely dead sounding, cardboard meets a plastic bucket sound common to many rock outfits today where there is basically no center or sustain to the sound. This is entirely due to going for this horrid concept of an organic drum sound, which is also the approach taken with the vocals, resulting in every flaw in Hetfield’s aging and tortured voice being front in center. Most people don’t notice this because they’ve been conditioned to accept this as a normal recording practice in the past 10 years, but if you listen to anything up until 1992 by this band, you can tell that the disconnect production wise is pretty fucking massive. Some people might be okay with this so-called organic and sonically perfect sound, but the results I hear is fairly decent metal music that has had all of its soul and atmosphere gutted and mummified into a dry heap of bones instead of what could otherwise have been a full body of sound.
But when you step closer into the forest and begin to examine the individual trees, some of the music on here does suggest a return to form of sorts. In terms of speed and implied aggression, this album doesn’t fall too far from having similarities to “And Justice For All”, though production wise the resemblance is non-existent. Elements of earlier works are also present to a lesser degree, while a lot of elements of the slowed down style of “The Black Album” take form. Sometimes it results in a fairly solid song that can push past the production issues, even morphing into an all out thrash fest, while at others things either come off as disjointed and confused or even bring out the production flaws to the point that any merit to the song is lost.
The songs that really shine are the ones that seem to go for the latter half of Metallica’s better days. The obvious winner is the album’s opener “That Was Just Your Life”, which contains this great atmospheric, almost doom-like guitar intro that misleads the listener into thinking that might actually be a genuine reform to form happening here. Although when the drums come in the production problems loom and the vocal job that follows has some issues, the song just continually kicks ass and throws out solid riff after solid riff in the typical Bay Area thrash approach. “Broken, Beat And Scarred” and “The Judas Kiss” have elements of better days mixed in with some occasional modern rock elements, mostly resembling a faster version of “The Black Album” in overall style, though sounding closer to a heavier version of “Load” in terms of production. The closing song “My Apocalypse” is a straight up thrasher mostly in the “Battery” fashion, but without the acoustic nonsense at the beginning. If it weren’t for James’ lackluster yells and Lars’ horrible drum sound, both of which are extremely exposed due to the production of the album, this song would have solidified a true return to form.
Much of the rest of the album doesn’t really deliver what most are probably looking for in this album. “The Day That Never Comes” and “Unforgiven III” are two rather poor attempts at revisiting two rather similar sounding ballads from Metallica’s past, namely “Fade To Black” and “The Unforgiven”. The former comes off partially like a “Load” ballad mixed with some quasi-thrash ideas towards the end and featuring an opening riff sounding a little too similar to a U2 song, while the latter can’t help but remind me heavily of a boring as hell “Stone Temple Pilots” song with a piano in it. Both of these bring out the worst elements of the drum production issues and are practically un-listenable. “The End Of The Line” and “Cyanide” are annoying as hell mishmashes of groove and modern metal, both offering very little enjoyment for someone looking for 80s Metallica.
When you tally up the ratio of good music to bad music, this is the best thing that Metallica has put forth in 17 years. However, when you compare the garbage that was put out during that time, this is hardly a major accomplishment. This is not a thrash metal album, nor does having 2 or 3 mostly thrash songs and a couple solid heavy metal songs even give the appearance of it being that. As a groove metal album it’s a hell of a lot better than 85% of what the genre has put forth, but again the comparison does not equal something that can be called great or exceptional. But if you wish to delude yourself into thinking that this is the return of the old Metallica, there just might be enough good ideas spread out in here to keep the illusion somewhat sustainable.
I guess the media acceptance of this band and the false comfort that some take in it is the ultimate reason that people continually hold out hope for Metallica to bring back thrash metal, because this album’s thrash credentials amount to an over-hyped lie, and one that is even more egregious than the one Robb Flynn tried to perpetuate last year. If you take this for what it actually is, it’s not terrible or without any merit, but the way this has been stuffed down people’s throats by the entertainment media is downright offensive and I’m not playing into it. If you want to blow $17 or more buying a poorly produced, overlong, half-hearted, half-thrash album then go right ahead, but wiser men would wait a few weeks for the bargain bins to start filling up.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on September 12, 2008.
When I first heard that Metallica was going to be releasing a new album, I had my doubts about it. Especially consider the amount of shitty albums they have released in the last 15 years. From the alternative/bluesy borefest of Load/Reload to the nu-metalish pseudo-heavy sounding St. Agony (as Mr. Boris referred to it as) which featured the *bong bong* noises of Lars banging on a trash can and Hetfield's god-awful "oooooohhhhh!!!" singing complete with down-tuned guitars and no soloing, many thought that this band was finished. Hell, I was even convinced that this band was never going to release a decent, more to less good album ever again.
Then, recently I heard The Day that Never Comes on the radio, and I thought, "Damn! This song is actually pretty good." Since then, my hopes for the band had become more optimistic. I thought that Metallica might actually make a decent album after all. Hell, they even went back to their old classic logo which was a sign.
Then, just last night actually, Metallica were generous enough to leak the new album on their website before it's release (Kind of ironic considering the whole Napster thing.) So I gave the album a listen, and I was to say the least, impressed. Metallica, for the most part anyway, are back. This album proves that they still know how to thrash. Not only that, but Kirk Hammet's guitar playing is pretty awesome, and is the saving grace of this album. Plus, his and Hetfield's riffs are pretty good as well. It's mainly the guitars that make this album, considering that the vocals or the druming obviously, isn't really that good.
Production wise, this album reminds me of Judas Priest's Jugulator minus the drums. It has the heavy yet crunchy tone of that album without sounding too groovy. The guitars were produced nicely. Though, the drums as mentioned before are too loud in the mix. Eh, at least we don't have that trash can sound anymore.
The highlights of the album would have to be This Was Just Your Life, The Day That Never Comes, The Judas Kiss, the instrumental Suicide & Redemption, and especially My Apocalypse. The Day That Never Comes starts off mellow, but towards the end speeds up and thrashes just in time for an awesome solo from Kirk. I'll say again that Kirk's soloing is nothing short of amazing. His solos here are very memorable despite what the last reviewer said. He doesn't even resort to using the wah pedal either unlike in the past. This song reminds me of Sanitarium with a bit of One mixed in as well. A lot of metal fans didn't like this song, but I'm proud to say that I enjoyed it.
The Judas Kiss and My Apocalypse are the thrashiest songs on here. My Apocalypse especially is the highlight of the album, showing that Metallica hasn't forgotten how to thrash, and those who thought otherwise are wrong. It's similar to Battery and Dyers Eve, as it's fast, angry, and aggressive. Suicide & Redemption is an amazing 10 minute long instrumental that doesn't get boring. Once again, Kirk's soloing is amazing to say the least, and even the riffs are pretty good. I say it's up there with Orion and To Live Is to Die.
All Nightmare Long would kick ass if it weren't for Hetfield's annoying "yeeeaahhh!!! "ooouuutah!!! singing. The rest of the song displays a very song sense of thrash. The guitar and drumming sounds very thrashy, almost like something out of Overkill's early 90s material.
However, there are some lackluster songs on this album as well. Cyanide and The Unforgiven III are easily the worst songs on the album. Cyanide sounds like something out of the Load/Reload era except a bit more tolerable. It's a pretty mediocre metal song to say the least. The Unforgiven III is yet another half-assed ballad. It proves that Metallica should not be writing ballads. They don't have the emotion nessacary to make memorable and enjoyable ballads. However, those are the only two really mediocre songs on the whole album. Everything else on here is pretty damn good.
For the most part, this album proves that Metallica are back. It's a major step up from Load/Reload, and even The Black Album and the overrated And Justice For All. I'd say it's their best album since Master of Puppets. It's not the most consistent album, and there are better albums out there from other thrash bands, but it's still a pretty solid album considering that the band that made it hasn't made a decent more to less good album since The Black Album. I just bought this album today at my local Best Buy for $10, and I'd say it was well worth the money.
If you only like Metallica's first four albums, then they're may be a few songs that you'll dig, but if you liked The Black Album as well, you might find this album very enjoyable since it's pretty much a mix between The Black Album-era Metallica and their classic thrash era. If you're a Metallica fan, then what are you waiting for? Get this album now!
Right from the start of 2008 one would know that September would be the month to look out for. Not only because of Metallica’s first release in five years but also because there were a hundred other releases to look out for. Here have a look at the possible releases this month: - “Iced Earth”, The pioneers of powerthrash metal coming forth for the last release of the trilogy of the ever so famous “Something Wicked This Way Comes” series will be releasing “The Crucible Of Man”. Amon Amarth, the band whose popularity with respect to Viking Metal is almost unchallenged (except by “Bathory”) will be releasing “Twilight Of The Thunder God”, which will be interesting too after the attention they so successfully achieved after their last album. Apart from this you have thrash giants “Metal Church” and new comers “Psychotic Terror” coming up with new LP’s in the same month, and it doesn’t stop here. Evergrey, All Shall Perish, Omnium Gatherum, Batllelore, Haggard, Falconer, Enslaved, Trivium, The Haunted, Poisonblack and Andromeda will all be releasing new stuff this month.
Of all the months this year this month also has maximum diversity in the releases with releases in every possible genre and sub-genre in metal. There are releases in melodic death, folk, power, thrash, black, orchestral/symphonic, metalcore and gothic metal. Thus not only is a band competing with the quantity and diversity of bands they are also competing with quality because most of the bands are very well known in their respective genres. So be it any band, even Metallica with the largest fan base in metal history, even they had to put out a strong release to stand up high amongst all these bands. Hell, if you consider all spheres you also have the duo of Robert Di Nero and Al Pacino acting in a movie together for the first time since 1995, whose release date is this month too… but I guess I’ll stick to the music here. Big month, huh? Sure Is.
The expectations and speculations about Metallica’s began way back in the June of 2006, which is more than 2 years back when they played two tracks (The New Song and The Other New Song) live for the very first time. This was followed by the band creating so much hype in every possible and unimaginable way to make this release single-handedly one of the most awaited albums of all times. The band opened a new site (Mission Metallica) to keep fans up to date with every minute update related to the new album. The band released the album title ALPHABET BY ALPHABET, which took over a month and yet another month to release the album artwork. Such was the hype that they managed to create that everyday millions of people would log on to this site just to get a glimpse of the new alphabet. This created so much traffic on the site that even crashed a couple of times. Metallica were once again in control of the entire music world but this time they had not even released the album yet!
Being an avid fan of the band since God knows when I too was part of this huge mass of hype-blinded people but after a while this concerned me. It occurred to me that not only were the bands creating hype but also increasing the expectations ten-fold. So that meant if Metallica released a bad album, the fan’s expectations would turn to anger and this would result not only in disappointment but also both the media as well as fans crushing them with a lot more force than they would have had the band not created the amount of the hype they did. Creating hype can be a double-edged sword and was the sharper side pointing towards them? Was the band making a mistake this time by creating too much of hype, a little for them to handle?
We started hearing stuff from the new album in August when the band started releasing ten to fifteen second instrumental samples from each song of the album. Even though one couldn’t reach a conclusion after just hearing material that lasted a few seconds a few things were made loud and clear. The guitar work though was pretty good and so was the bass. The stuff was pretty heavy, the heaviest they had done in the last 20 years and they had certainly returned to their roots, and not those roots they said they’d return to when they did St. Anger. But still all this still did not answer one very major question. How did James sound now 5 years after his dismal performance on the band’s last LP?
The first track we heard was “Cyanide”, when it was played live in Texas in August itself. I personally was expecting quite a lot more than what the track had offered to me. James sounded bad, Lars was trying a little too hard to sound as good as he did on”… And Justice For All” which resulted in a mess, Kirk was still using the wah-wah a lot and well he didn’t play it well. The saving grace for me was Trujillo and his bass. His bass lines and riffs were pretty damn good and catchy. Yet, I was very disappointed and gave myself hope that it would sound much better on a properly and professionally recorded CD and decided not to jump to conclusions though I felt that if the album sounded like this then the sharper edge of the sword actually pointing towards the band and this time more menacingly.
The first official track we heard off of the album was “The Day That Never Comes” and like expected it had mixed reviews. I personally loved it and it was the best work they had done since their self-titled work. The bass was good, James’ riffs were great as ever and if not the entire album Kirk was sure as hell back in the 80’s blasting out solos like there was no tomorrow. As for the negatives, Lars’ performance and his drum work. He almost ruined it for me. The thing I was looking out for was James’ voice and as expected he sounded different. He sounded way better than what he sounded on the last album and there were some moments on the song where he sounded really, really great. The next official release were the singles “My Apocalypse” and “Cyanide” respectively. My Apocalypse, it seemed that the band had taken a leaf out of the book which they named as “Kill ‘Em All” and once again the pros and cons were the same. Great guitar work, awesome thrashy solo by Kirk, good bass and mediocre work by Lars are what can describe the track. Even though he sounded good for some time like during the first 30 seconds he sounds really bad after that. The second last official single was “Cyanide” and I was over whelmed. This sounded so much better than the live version. Everyone, yes everyone including James (with respect to the vocals) and for a change even Lars did a great job on the drums. Now for the very first time I felt that the band actually come out with a release that would be up to the expectations of the millions of the fans. The last official single off this album was “Judas Kiss” which features 2 epic soloing and possibly the best, most catchy chorus the band has done since a long long time.
Well as for the album as a whole, it honestly surprised me, as I wasn’t expecting something this good. “Death Magnetic” was called the missing link between “…And Justice For All” and the album, “Metallica” by the band. This best describes the album because it the perfect blend of the technicality and guitar solo driven sound of the former album and the radio-friendly, catchiness of the Black Album. Tracks like “All Nightmare Long”, “Broken, Beat & Scarred”, “That Was Just Your Life” and “The Judas Kiss” though embrace the technicality and complex song structures of the “Justice Era” infuse in the catchiness of the “Black Album Era” be it in the form of riffs but mostly it is depicted in the form of the vocals and mostly during the chorus.
The album starts off with the track “That Was Just Your Life” with a sound of a heart pumping, possibly the heartbeat of the millions of fans worldwide waiting for the most awaited album in recent history or maybe the band itself, who this time do not want to make a sequel to their last album. What follows this is mind-blowing, skull crushing, adrenaline pumping, ear splitting, signature Metallica, the Metallica we love. As one crushing riff follows another and the dual intricate soloing of Kirk and James hits the listener one can only try to sit down and not jump with joy to the fact that the band indeed have returned and not to the roots which they said when they made “St. Anger” but the real old roots, to the “Master Of Puppets” and “…And Justice For All” roots. Trujillo’s bass is audible and awesome. Lars too plays extremely quick and fast, managing to keep with the speed picking of James, the love of which he has regained once more. This speed and aggression doesn’t end here. With the same power and momentum starts the extremely heavy and catchy riff of “The End Of The Line”. This too boasts of catchy riffs, intricate mixtures of solos and Rob’s monster of a bass line. This multiplied by Lars’ drum-work only makes the listener even more anxious for the track, which follows, “Broke, Beat & Scarred”. The evil track name is not let down by the track itself like its previous tracks is quite lengthy clocking in at near 7 minutes of pure unadulterated thrashiness. As James screams out the lyrics (Rise/ Fall Down/ Rise Again), it only brings to mind the possibility that this about the band itself aiming at their monumental rise and fall in the music industry, and as James says the words “Rise Again” authoritatively you cannot but accept the fact that the band has like a phoenix from the ashes risen and is flying up high in the sky.
This is followed by the first single off of the album “The Day That Never Comes” which is total worship of the heavy metal anthem “One” right from the song structure, to the machine gun riffs as well as the music video which like “One” is based on war. The track “All Nightmare Long” is one of my favorite tracks on the release. The band described this album as something like “… And Justice For All” and this is the reason why. This song has a lot of transitions and I mean a lot of them including four different transitions in the first two minutes alone. Also there is this part on the track near the 5-minute mark where the band suddenly ups the already fast tempo and goes into another gear altogether. There is this crazy, insanely fast riff backed with Lars’s double bass (yeah the old horse still has speed in those legs of his!) and this makes this memorable track even more memorable. “Cyanide” starts off with a bang and ends with one too. The star of that track you ask? Rob Trujillo with the catchiest bass riff I’ve heard in a long time. The track, which I was waiting for the most, was “Unforgiven III” and as expected it’s the ballad on the album. This song is NOT anything like the previous two songs of its kind (Unforgiven and Unforgiven II). Why? Well, firstly, because it’s way longer than any one and them and secondly and way more importantly the band uses pianos and violins on this track! Can you imagine that? The track starts off with a piano intro and also features violins at times during the track. It also features the longest solo on the album with Kirk playing it once using the wah-wah pedal and once without it. The instrumental “Suicide & Redemption” is pretty heavy for the first few minutes but the highlight of this track, which once again features Trujillo’s meaty bass lines and Kirk and James dual solos is when the band suddenly takes it a bit slow and melodic. The track, which lasts almost ten whole minutes, ends with the solos of Kirk and the riffs of mass destruction by James. The last track is “My Apocalypse” and is the thrashiest track here with the band taking a leaf out of the book which we all know as “Kill ‘Em All”. The solo in the track there once again by Kirk is the highlight there.
Now I will briefly describe the positives and negatives of the album. As for the negatives, Lars’ inconsistency in drumming and his drum set. Yeah he does dish out some pretty wicked drumming on the first three tracks of the album and “The Judas Kiss” but this is pretty much it. The remainder of the time he just sounds crappy and out of sync with the whole band. Also, the drum kit of his even though doesn’t have that “trash can” sound isn’t that great and it seems as if he is playing with is broken. The most important thing for a great album is that it always starts of with a bang and sure as hell ends with one. This album starts with an explosion but surely doesn’t end with one. The last 35 seconds of the last track ruin the track and my opinion of the album. Had those final few seconds been edited or removed as a whole the track, the album would be better. So, is this the best album the band has done in twenty years? Yes. Is it the worst production the band has encountered in 20 years? Yes. The production is downright bad and something not expected of a man of caliber like Rick Ruben who has worked with the biggest names in the industry like Slayer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Danzig and AC/DC. It would have so much better if the production would be better.
As for the positives, there are many. James’ voice even though isn’t great there are some moments and some tracks where he sounds really great. What he has lacked in vocals he has made up for while playing the guitar. He has regained his love for speed picking and has come up with crazy, in your face riffs. The band this time kept their word and unlike the last album really gone back to their roots. The true stars of this album though are Kirk and Rob. Kirk, it seems has been in hibernation since the last two decades and like a snake suddenly jumped on the prey with all its force and more. His has shredded his heart out and compiled brilliant solos be it using the wah-wah pedal or not. Rob and his bass is another thing, which is worth a mention. He has played his bass like a monster, come up with catchy, technical bass riffs and lines.
These drawbacks make what could have been a great album, into a good album. Despite all the precautions that were taken the album managed to leak in Paris when a shopkeeper there sold it before the scheduled date and as expected it spread like a fire in the forest on the net. I’ll be honest and I confess that I downloaded the leak and heard it. Hell, I started the review on the 5th of September and the final draft ended on 7th, still five days before the scheduled release. I was really impressed by the album and even though I have the leaked version, I am now waiting for the 12th when I actually will be standing the queue waiting for a copy of this LP, as I sure will be buying it.
So what does Metallica have in store for us in 2008? The biggest heavy metal and of all time, loved unconditionally by some, furiously hated by others, has finally released another album. All of the hype, the news, the rumors, none of it matters anymore; the album can finally speak for itself. After months of teasing with short clips, the band unleashes Death Magnetic, its 9th album of original material.
The album starts out with a heart beat, possibly to parallel the heart thumping that any diehard Metallica fan feels when he/she takes that first listen. This is the beginning of the song “That Was Just Your Life.” It quickly opens into a haunting ominous melody. A distorted intro follows before it rips into a groovy thrash style riff. The first track is a fast paced chugger, much like the old days, when classic Metallica albums always opened with a high tempo thrasher. About two-thirds of the way into the intro song, Metallica rolls into something that wasn’t heard, to much disappointment, on St. Anger, a guitar solo. It’s a short, speedy, solo, but it’s only a precursor of what is to come.
The next track “End of the Line,” is a version of the song Metallica unveiled live in Berlin on 6/6/06. It is possibly the strongest track on the album. This song features a driving, chugging main riff, and is littered with single-note runs and thrashy sliding riffs with some groovy numbers as well.
The track “Broken, Beat and Scarred” begins with some power chords and an eerie Middle Eastern style melody. It then breaks into a main riff reminiscent of the verse riff of “Harvester of Sorrow” only at a faster tempo. The song is an anthem to staying strong and surviving through everything that life throws at you, possibly a response to all of Metallica’s critics.
“The Day that Never Comes” is a ballad in the vein of “Fade to Black” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” It features a haunting clean riff, and a driving chorus, moves into an extended solo section followed by some solid riffing before moving back into the chorus. It’s a very well structured song, and possibly the most powerful track on the album.
“All Nightmare Long” is a thrasher with an ominous beginning. The song features a wah drenched solo that opens and builds up steam into all-out whammy bay abuse. “Cyanide” showcases what may be the best drumming of the album along with a catchy groovy chorus. “The Unforgiven III,” isn’t as reminiscent of the previous versions as one might think, although it does seem to have the same type of theme. It opens with a strings section before moving into a ghostly clean section into a whirling verse riff. This is probably the most introspective and vocally sound track of the album.
The intro of “The Judas Kiss” immediately brings to mind the track “Frayed Ends of Sanity” from “…and Justice for All.” The solo on this track is a vintage Metallica face-melting wah wah drenched flashy blues style ripper.
The following track, “Suicide and Redemption” is an instrumental, one of which hasn’t been seen on a Metallica album since 1988. It begins with a steady chugging riff before going into a section of thrash-style start stop riffage. The song slows down into a low tempo clean solo section before building back into a distorted section and gradually increasing tempo, all the while a foreboding lead harmony is playing. That chugging riff returns to lead into a much faster but still melodic solo, the best on the album. The last track “My Apocalypse,” is a jarring thrash track, but isn’t as strong as the rest of the album.
James Hetfield’s vocals on this album are more akin to “Load” and “ReLoad” than any other Metallica albums, but more aggressive than that albums. Hetfield turns in very strong performances on “The Day that Never Comes” and “The Unforgiven III.” His signature throaty style of singing is as much of a mainstay as ever. Fans of his past work will like this album and those who don’t like it, probably still won’t.
The lyrics on “Death Magnetic” are Hetfield’s best to date. They are just brilliant. They are darker than they are light, as usual and expected. Some main themes seem to be suicide, forgiveness, betrayal, and empowerment. Of course, this is just the opinion of the writer here. The meaning of an artist’s lyrics should never be stated as fact. The lyrics on this album are very strong. Hetfield has a talent for putting words together and they usually come across in a vague manner, making them very open to interpretation, such is the case here.
The guitar-work on this album as a culmination of everything this band has ever done. There’s thrash style riffs such as the verses of “My Apocalypse.” There are groovy runs throughout the album and complex single note licks can be found holding every riff together. This is an aggressive, groove-thrash album at its core. The two major styles of Metallica’s past compliment each other on this album and it works. It works very well. A riff made up of 16th note runs quickly moves into a slower groove. This seems to be the case through much of the album. An aggressive thrashy riff is held together by a groovy run. Metallica have found a formula it hasn’t tried before and it paid off.
The first noticeable thing about the drumming of the album is the fact that it has a more conventional sound than the previous album. This is Lars’ best drum album to this point with “Cyanide” probably being the crowning moment. The drumming is intricate but not overly complicated, that has always been a staple of Lars Ulrich’s style. The drumming lays a foundation to build the song upon, but doesn’t get carried away. Ulrich has never been known as a great drummer, but he does a solid job here.
Robert Trujillo makes a nice debut on his first recorded album with the band. His groove oriented style is evident from the beginning. He is the most influential bass player for Metallica since Cliff Burton. His input is evident on tracks such as “Cyanide” and the groovy sections of “End of the Line.”
The songs are structured much like a classic Metallica record. The tracks are long and drawn out, complete with solo sections and riff after riff, clean passages, and more riffs. The tracks range from just over five minutes to nearly ten minutes long. The average length is about seven minutes.
In conclusion, this is easily the best Metallica album since the self-titled album and possibly “…and Justice for All.” This is close to James best vocal performance ever, the guitar-work is unrelenting, crunchy, and heavy, with thrash and groove mixed in. Lars Ulrich put up a solid performance on this album and shows great improvement over “St. Anger.” Rob Trujillo’s contributions are evident throughout the album and work very well with the thrash-groove combination that is so dominant on this album. The production is good, but what else could be expected of one such as Rick Rubin? This is an excellent Metallica album and falls short to only the Holy Trinity of “Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and “…and Justice for All.”
Before I even start talking about this album I think I need to address the way many people have been thinking about it. The attitude I noticed all over the internet was that this album was going to somehow be the be all and end all of heavy metal… please! Since when are Metallica that important to heavy metal? No, seriously! They were the biggest heavy metal band in the world back in the 80’s and early 90’s… and pardon me but all record sales aside (since I think we can all agree that record sale numbers don’t prove that a band is any good!) I think bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden were still beating the living fucking shit out of Metallica in those years. Fast forward and since The Black Album we’ve got almost two decades of shit and inactivity… you decide which was better in that time. But now we have people saying all this shit about how “The Kings of Metal” are back! Fuck off! Kings of Metal my ass! I already mentioned two bands that completely blow Metallica out of the water in this paragraph alone and I won’t bother listing the thousands more that do too. On the other hand we’ve had people bashing this album from the get go, saying this album will suck and Metallica is dead… but hey, can you blame people for thinking that? Let me be the first to tell you all that what we have here is simply a half decent album… but that’s it.
Now, I say the album is decent but you need to remember that it has Kirk Hammet playing guitar, Lars Ulrich playing drums and James Hetfield singing. That combination is enough to kill almost any album. But hey, let’s be fair. James Hetfield manages to make his vocals on at least some of the songs passable. Kirk Hammet manages not to make a complete fool of himself on parts of this album. Lars Ulrich, however, has not learnt how to play drums any better since Kill ‘Em All and his shitty drumming makes a couple of the songs on this album unbearable.
Now, what do we call this album? Well, it sure the fuck ain’t thrash metal! There are maybe a few elements of thrash metal here and there but not nearly enough to call this a thrash metal album. For a refresher course on thrash metal I’d ask that you all please listen to For Whose Advantage by Xentrix. I’d say whatever you want to call The Black Album is what we’d call this album too. I’ve been hearing a lot of shit about how this album closely resembles Master of Puppets and …And Justice For All. Not exactly. If this album resembles any Metallica album it’s The Black Album. Just because several of the songs have brief harmony sections doesn’t mean the whole album sounds like Puppets or Justice. Overall I would say that this album sounds heavier and more aggressive than The Black Album.
Okay, so why isn’t this album the grand masterpiece return to being the so called Kings of Metal that some people expected? Well, think about it! You’ve got three washed up musicians, plus Robert Trujillo, whose last release was a film showing them crying for two hours… not to mention that their last album was the worst album ever made. And people expected these guys to come back with some sort of a perfect album? Look, let’s not bullshit. It’s clear that these guys can write alright music, they’ve got four (maybe five albums to prove it). But face it; they’re a bunch of washed up has-beens. They were lucky to release an album this good.
Let’s talk about the songs now. The album starts quite strong with That Was Just Your Life, The End of the Line and Broken Beat & Scarred. Not fantastic but a welcome change from Sergeant Anger. The second song mentioned even sees Hetfield returning to some thrash style down stroking riffing… wonders never cease. Hammet’s solos are tolerable… I know it’s redundant to say so but Ulrich’s drumming is sub-standard.
Now the album gets shitty with The Day That Never Comes, All Nightmare Long, Cyanide and The Unforgiven III. Well, I’ve got a two word review for the first of those four songs… shit sandwich. For the full reasoning please read my review on that song also available on this site. All Nightmare Long… what a fucking annoying song. Must Hetfield give us a bunch of fucking vocal adlibbing? The number of times he sings “yeah!”, “out-taaaah!” and the way he pronounces the word “long” on the chorus makes this song an instant fail. Cyanide… shit. This is just another completely fucking annoying song. Much like my reasoning for The Day That Never Comes, this song is simply a big mess and therefore a shit sandwich. The Unforgiven III… big fucking deal. It’s less annoying than its two predecessors but that doesn’t make it any less shit. Metallica going for softer sentimental emotion just doesn’t work. They are simply not a band that can handle that.
Thankfully, the album picks up towards the end. We finish with The Judas Kiss, Suicide & Redemption and My Apocalypse. I really don’t have much of a problem with The Judas Kiss. Hammet’s solo blows for a while but progressively gets better and Hetfield manages not to sound like a complete idiot on this one. Suicide & Redemption is a bit of a waste of time. It’s not really bad or anything but it’s not that great either. As far as Metallica instrumentals go it’s not anywhere near as good as Orion or To Live is to Die. I get the impression that Metallica simply thought “Hey, we have to make this album look like our first few so we’d better put a ten minute long instrumental on there”… come on, you know that’s exactly what Ulrich would say. And the album ends with a rather enjoyable fast song… wait, can Metallica still play fast? Apparently! My Apocalypse brings an enjoyable end to a very so-so album.
What’s so bad about Hammet’s solos? Well, if Hammet isn’t totally butchering a solo by playing a bunch of blues scales where they just don’t fit (like in One) or by over using a fucking wah-wah pedal to death then chances are that he has simply written a half decent solo which really isn’t memorable at all. I don’t think I can remember a single Kirk Hammet solo note for note… amazing since some of them are so bad they become tattooed on your brain. On the other hand, I can remember dozens upon dozens of Iron Maiden guitar solos note for note. That’s Hammet’s problem on this album. He’s simply throwing whatever he’s got at you and it’s all over the place. Many people would disagree with me when I say Hammet is shit, but hey, there’s not a solo on this album which really stands out.
Hetfield’s vocals… ugh, as I mentioned before, his singing on All Nightmare Long is vomit inducing. There are brief moments on this album where Hetfield sounds like his old self (by which I mean his young self) but overall his vocals have still become quite annoying to listen too. It wouldn’t be too bad if he cut all the fucking “Yeah, baby”, “yeah-yah!”, “Out-taaaaah!” and “oooooooh” shit out! Who the fuck does he think he is?
Ulrich… I have to admit, it was pretty goddamn funny listening to Ulrich trying to play as fast as he did on this album… which is very slow. It hurts me to think about how much better the good songs on this album could have been if someone else played the drums and did them about 30bpm faster… well, it’s clear that Hetfield and Ulrich are gay for each other so I don’t think Hetfield’s ever going to have the chance to play truly fast again.
So, this album deserves no more then the 55% I’ve given it. The alright stuff ranges from about 65% to 85% at best but isn’t enough to balance out the really shitty annoying stuff which ranges from a big fat 0% to maybe about 35% at best. This one is for old school Metallica fans who want to have every album only… otherwise go and enjoy a classic first.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: This isn’t “The return of Metallica!”. Some may well proclaim it as such, but no, it isn’t. This isn’t their 80s material again, though there are parts of it, as I shall come to. However, the more important mistake in the above proclamation is that they never left, and many need to remember that: Metallica have always been an ever-changing band, and continue to be such. Death Magnetic is, all told, a solid addition to their catalogue. It has some meh tracks that don’t do much, it has some that are fantastic, and it has a lot of reliable, fun metal songs. Yes, metal, because that’s one way in which you could say “They’re back”, in that this is the most “metal” album they’ve done in a long time. That doesn’t mean it’s inherently the best, because “metal” doesn’t automatically equal “good”, but as it happens I do personally think this is their best work since Black Album.
Straight comparison with their 80s work is ridiculous, the band has long since moved on from that, and if anyone really expected a return to Lightning or Puppets, well more fool them. No one’s really got an excuse to bash the band for not making “Puppets II” anymore. What they have done is very nicely put together all their past styles. There are elements of the thrashy Metallica, elements of the accessibility of Black Album, the southern-rocking of Load/Reload, and the rawness of St. Anger. I can see what they mean about a mid-point between Justice and Black Album too.
A more valid comparison would be to the likes of Corrosion of Conformity or later Overkill, rock-tinted metal with emphasis on post-thrash groove riffs and smatterings of thrash in a less aggressive form. Also, if we are going to compare it to previous albums to give an idea of what it’s like, the song structure is firmly between Justice and Black Album: it’s got catchy choruses aplenty and a general verse-chorus structure, but in the style and riff-play feels more like Justice. The sound is closer to modern Metallica, with the rough edge of Load and St. Anger, but it doesn’t have the bluesy meandering feel of Load and Reload, instead it feels more focused and set down in structure. It varies in pace, sometimes thrashing (yes, thrashing), sometimes working at a more mid-pace groove. The songs work well as a whole, because they feel much less jam-session than St. Anger, more planned and well produced (thanks I’m sure in no small part to Rick Rubin, who’s also done a smashing job with the mix, Rob is very much there and it all sounds clear). To call it a “thrash metal” album would be stretching it: there are some thrashers and plenty of faster riffs, but in all it doesn’t fit that. But it’s certainly a lot more so than Load or Reload. It’s thrash-esque, done in the modern rock style, not quite as rock/accessible as Black Album, as the song lengths should tell you, but not with as much filler either.
Enough general chatter though, a few specifics I think. The best bits: All Nightmare Long is great and thrashy, easily the best track on the album simply because it never stops working. It comes with a truly irresistible chorus (I don’t care if the lyrics aren’t great, it just fucking slays), solos that flow beautifully into it, and a simple yet effective pause before the final chorus that tops it all off nicely. Oh and bonus points for spotting the inserted section that many had already heard in the preview “New Songs”. The other “thrasher” is My Apocalypse, although it’s not as thrashy nor as effective as Nightmare, but it still delivers. In particular the mid-section is good, and between them Apocalypse and Nightmare add some much appreciated pace.
That Was Your Life is fun, the fast vocal delivery works well with the core riff, and James does great work in this song in particular. The guitar tone is excellent too, works very well at setting the album up. Judas Kiss is a mixed bag, with a good mid-section, great chorus and build, but it lags in between, with some of the riffing feeling somewhat wishy-washy. It feels a tad overly long, though not as much as the one that follows. The Unforgiven III will no doubt draw a lot of early pre-emptive criticism just for being called what it is. In truth, it actually doesn’t sound anything like the previous two Unforgiven songs (as opposed to how similar those two sounded to one another), and it makes me wonder why they called it what they did. It’s very much the soft piece of the album. James is good for it, his voice carries plenty of emotion, and uses the right inflections without sounding like he’s crooning, and in all the song builds a lot better than Day That Never Comes, becoming progressively more powerful until Kirk lets rip with a gorgeous solo. In all, it’s a good one, adding softer variety to the album without feeling crowbar-ed in.
Obviously the album is not without criticism or bad points though: at times the songs do feel like they go on a bit, the opening three tracks do drag to an extent: Broken, Beat & Scarred continues in the same manner as the two tracks before it, but while it has a good beat the lyrics just don’t work; frankly, they’re cringe-worthy. End of the Line is just fairly average, a groove-based rocker with an intro many should recognise from “The New Song”. A few of the riffs are uninspired, it must be said: Cyanide, for example, is just plain boring, as many have already concluded from early youtube videos. Also, while Day That Never Comes is good, it doesn’t work that well as an epic builder (a la One, Sanitarium, etc) because the flow from soft to heavy doesn’t work so well, although it also feels like what they were aiming for and is less of a problem for the album as a whole when the other songs are taken into account (Unforgiven III provides more of the gradual building power).
Suicide & Redemption is an odd one. In it’s own right, there’s nothing wrong with it, but as the instrumental of the album it just doesn’t work. It feels like just one of the other songs, with the vocals taken out. Instrumentals like Orion and Ktulu really FELT like instrumentals. They were great, meandering beasts that strode along confidently and immersed you, you couldn’t add vocals to them, they worked in an inherently different way. S&R just doesn’t have that, although there’s nothing actually bad about the music, and around the 5 minute mark and the end, it does start to feel a bit better. It kind of illustrates that while the playing style on Death Magnetic is fine on it’s own, it really doesn’t work so well for a 10-minute instrumental.
All told, Death Magnetic delivers the goods, with the only really bad track being Cyanide, and plenty of goodness elsewhere. If nothing else, I don’t think anyone could argue it’s worse than St. Anger (and, as my review of that album suggests, I didn’t even mind it much). It certainly suffers a few hiccups along the way, and is far from perfect. It’s true James’ vocals aren’t as good as when he was young, but nor are most peoples’, and like the more modern sound of the album, it shouldn’t come as a surprise nor be worthy of criticism (using the same criticisms for album after album really doesn’t work, sorry). As some have already noted, Kirk is not only very much back, but is making up for his lack of presence in St. Anger, with solos aplenty and most of them pretty good too.
To sum up: if you’re expecting a return to 80s Metallica don’t look here...actually, don’t look anywhere, because it’s not going to happen and you’re a fool to expect it. If you haven’t liked anything Metallica have done since then, this shouldn’t come as any surprise to you and you’ve no reason to act disappointed, indeed it's a puzzle why such folks still listen at all. If you didn’t mind (or maybe even liked) Black Album and (Re)Load, then give it a whirl. Death Magnetic represents the next step in a band that is always evolving, and is a good solid blending of older style and influences with new, feeling much more refined and well laid-out than its predecessor. It still retains its aggression, but without the repetition, lack of variation between and weak flow of songs, and low production. A very good addition to their history, which sounds like a band just having fun naturally and doing what they do best.
Is it one of the best metal albums of modern times? No. Is it one of Metallica’s best overall? No. Is it one of their best of the past two decades, and the latter half of their discography? Why, yes. Drop preconceived notions about “what Metallica is”, and enjoy this album in it’s own right, because there’s plenty to enjoy. It’s a fun ride, even if there isn’t any lightning involved.