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27 years in 10 songs? Maybe...and still relevant - 75%

TheKidSolano, November 10th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2008, 2CD + DVD, Vertigo (Limited edition)

Two kind of people find it difficult to understand Metallica's position in the history of metal: haters and casual listeners. This opinion is not for you both. Knowing the historical importance of Metallica is, in my opinion, an essential assumption to understand Death Magnetic.

This is not an honest album. Actually, I found it quite surgical, though that does not mean it's a bad album. Nonetheless, choosing 11 songs to make the final cut with the intention of boil down a 27-year career (to date) seems to me a very ambitious, unnatural and, in a way, overbearing task. It's also for this reason that I think some songs or parts of songs here and there sound misplaced, as if they did not fit the album.

As a whole, the songs are good and even for the most skeptical, there are some truly brilliant moments. This is a good sign with regard to the health of the band and also the proof that they still have a small spark able to remind reminiscences of ancient times.

Individually speaking, everyone is sick and tired of knowing that Hetfield had to take singing lessons at some point in his life and that, after all, it sounded better when he could not sing, but just barked. Anyway I love his vocal performance on songs like "That Was Just Your Life", "The Unforgiven III" or "The Judas Kiss". He did a good job throughout the album. The riffs? Well ... he's a hell of a guitarist and has written, over the years, some of the fastest / most complex / addictive riffs I have ever known. Here was no exception.

As for the variety, songs like "That Was Just Your Life", "The End of The Line" or "The Judas Kiss" feature a palette of many tonalities, not in the "progressive" meaning of the term, but in a way avoid repetition, almost as in the fashion of Megadeth's "Holy Wars" (but not so good, HAHAHA! Chill out!).

I think Kirk has good taste. This is not cooking, but good taste is also very important in music. Often more easily I praise a not-so-gifted guitarist compared to some virtuoso, if he has the ability to tailor his solos to the music he's playing, if you know what I mean (Jerry Cantrell, anyone?). Kirk plays some solos that, although they are not the most complex, they manage to fit perfectly in the songs. I assume he's comfortable playing a kind of blues scale all the time, hastening it to gain the taste of metal. Skilled? No. Clever? Certainly! Unfortunately, he was unable to maintain this ability on the next album, but that's another story (and I'm not talking about lost smartphones ...). But Kirk seems to be a good guy, so if you never really cared, here are a few highlights of him: "The Unforgiven III" and "Cyanide" leads / solos.

Still speaking of the band's performance, I do not think Lars deserves to be bashed, since he keeps up the pace, doing a good job, especially, I think, in "The End of the Line." Trujillo can be heard, but I do not find his bass lines in any way extraordinary. Recalling again that idea of being "Death Magnetic" a summary of Metallica's career, this idea rests on two pillars: the build-up of some songs and the addition, on the same album, of elements that were given importance in different moments of their career, I imagine.

As for the first (and clearly I am not the first to note ...), the affinity between "Blackened" and "That Was Just Your Life" or "Fade to Black" and "The Day That Never Comes" is obvious, as well as I think the groove of the self-titled album can be found all over "Cyanide" or "Broken Beat and Scarred," which is tempered with some bits of a "modernized" type of sound (not to be confused with mallcore) and splashes of St. Anger's roughness in the crude approach to the structure of songs. Even "The Judas Kiss" can be described in my eyes as the bastard son of "Kill 'Em All" and "Load"! Can you imagine both together? Apparently, Metallica thinks so.

There are some confusing moments, though and I really do not know if the final result would be better or worse without them. For instance, "The Unforgiven III": a silly title for a good, but somewhat misplaced song. This is the kind of music that belongs to the mid-90's Metallica, but probably not here. This is a standout track with an almost irresistible atmosphere, taking the "Load" / "ReLoad" heritage and blending it with a great vocal performance and great lead guitars (plus another reviewer, am I the only one who considers this song an Ennio Morricone kind of tribute here?). However, the final impression is that Death Magnetic does not try to tell stories, it's not about creating moods or blinking for epics (by Metallica standards). Sometimes I feel like "The Unforgiven III" should exist (as great song as it is), but change its place with one of the "Beyond Magnetic" four songs.

Continuing with the same idea, they even have an instrumental ("Suicide and Redemption") - not memorable, not boring, just okay - but Metallica should not be content for just being ok. With great power comes great responsibility (WOW! That sounds good!) And as a driving force, they should know to protect themselves a little more.

This leads me to refer to their skills as composers. Oh my... don't you learn? Shorter songs and shorter albums will save you work, time, patience, money and keep your fans happier and more interested in your work. Not all the songs have to take 5 minutes or more! And if so, you have to have "juice" to fill them! This is, in my opinion, the main fault of Metallica since a long time. Apart from production, the restriction on composition could have been a kind of saving grace for St. Anger. The same here. Sometimes you are prompted to advance to the next song or to fast-forward some parts. Even being masters of hooks (and that's a big credit to Metallica), you need to know when to stop. The length of some songs ranges from "unbearable" ("The End of the Line", "All Nightmare Long", "The Judas Kiss") to "ridicule" ("Broken, Beat & Scarred", "Suicide & Redemption"). Even so, we should praise and welcome thrashers involved in a (kind of) "progressive" structure like "My Apocalypse" and "All Nightmare Long"

Death Magnetic will never be anyone's favorite album. It will never be "the" return to form (or whatever you want to call it). It will never suck entirely. It's a great bridge to the next record, where Metallica would have to face (again) one of the biggest challenges of their life: where to go when you've achieved both excellence and mediocrity in the eyes of people and still not thinking about retirement?

Highlights (but not flawless): "That Was Just Your life", "All Nightmare Long", "The Judas Kiss", "The Unforgiven III".