Death Magnetic has been hailed as the second coming of Metallica. After the offensively bad St. Anger, Metallica seemed keen on recapturing their former glory, this time their pre-Black album thrash/speed metal roots. Out went the baloney known as Bob Rock of Bon Jovi fame and in came Rick Rubin of Slayer fame. More importantly the return of the old classic Metallica logo advertises a clear intent by the Bay Area band that they mean business. But can even Rubin reconnect the band to its roots it so desperately seeks, or will Metallica be as stubborn as ever?
For a band that for almost two decades kept alienating more and more of its fans (music wise, I couldn't give a damn where they shop from - besides Armani Collezioni is a fantastic clothes brand - fact), it is very admirable that they kept the wishy washy hard rock sound inherited by Bob Rock for so long. But with the failure of St. Anger, it was probably wise that Metallica finally got rid of Bob. Truthfully, they probably didn't need to make this album, as even I doubt that they still have the same passion in music making as they did a decade ago. But enough speculating, how does Death Magnetic sound?
Well, it sounds a bit like what you will get if you have a clash between the Black album and ...Justice for All, and other stuff in between. Death Magnetic is both heavy and fast (well faster than anything has ever put out the past 17 years), but is it any good? While St. Anger sounded confusingly ugly, Death Magentic is almost instantly recognisable as a thrash metal album. It does not sound like anything Metallica has ever put out, and despite the mishmash identity crisis (more on this later) sounds rather like a live Metallica album, without the teenage fans. The Rick Rubin influence is very evident, for example at times South of Heaven-like heaviness. The following is a track by track review.
That Was Just Your Life - Starts with a heartbeat, that slowly progressing into the first new thrash metal song by Metallica we've heard 18 years. Basically, for the first four minutes after you wonder why was the past two decades wasted on shit when they can still write power chords like this. Five minutes in, and ladies and gentlemen, we have Kirk soloing! This is a serious thrash song, that while isn't as memorable as anything on their first four albums, is pretty damn fast. The riffs are intense as well, kinda like 'Blackened' but overall a rather average if still heavy song.
The End Of The Line - Kirk's shredding the guitar powerfully here and is one of his best efforts of late. There are hints of Masters of Puppets here and there with catchy shreds, though Sir Cliff's influence is clearly somewhat missing. The solo here is ridiculously pacy, but isn't particularly pleasant to listen to. By the fifth minute mark of this eight minute track, it starts to get tired and you wonder when will it end. Still about the one of the more memorable tracks here, and is one of the heaviest.
Broken, Beat & Scarred - A very Right the Lightning song, but with clear influence from their later more groovy catchy later albums, that turns a potentially good track into a very mediocre track with an identity crisis me thinks. One of the weakest tracks in my opinion that will likely be skipped in future listening. Despite that contains some bad ass riffage and a fine solo by Kirk near the end, and Lars actually played here.
The Day That Never Comes - With the military theme, 'The Day That Never Comes' is a throwback to Metallica's first Grammy winner. Both tracks has very similar structures. Starts clean and slowly distorting itself over James's rather bizarre vocals. James does seem to struggle with the vocals here. An overdue "machine gun"duo solo reminiscent to 'One' clearly takes advantage of old timers, then another intense Kirk masterpiece before it ends abruptly. Overall, a heavier speedier version of 'One', one that is closer to their later influence than 'One' was. And Lars with his snares... gah!
All Nightmare Long - Bizarre first half minute intro aside, the riffing here is rather frantic. In fact, the riffing here reminds me a hell a lot of Carcass's fourth album Heartwork. Catchy riffing as hell. Despite the speedy riffs, the direction of the track is somewhat a mess and James's vocals seriously ruins it. Wasted opportunity as I rather like Kirk's insane shredding and solo here.
Cyanide - By far the weakest tracks on the album, with James screaming nonsensical stuff about suicide and cyanide in rhythm. Metallica can't pay hardcore punk and having a former Suicidal Tendencies bassist won't change that. The solo was pretty good though, though nowhere near the quality of the rest of the album. And I think Lars went off to play tennis while recording this track.
The Unforgiven III - One look at the title and I cringed. Why? The first two 'Unforgiven' weren't that amazing (with 'The Unforgiven II' being a load of crap), and 'The Unforgiven III' doesn't do anything to change that. You can never get bored of 'The Ecstasy of Gold', but it sounds bizarrely out of place here considering how mediocre the track is. The heaviest of 'The Unforgiven' trilogy, but despite a brilliant solo, overstayed its welcome. It could easily have been a leftover material from their Load era...
The Judas Kiss - Surely by now people would have suspected that Lars is playing a set of tin cans? Speedy riffing is rife here and the savage heftiness of Slayer-influence makes a shows. While isn't as heavy as I would have preferred, the track was almost too good. Almost like 'Creeping Death'. Almost. But after two weak tracks, you can be forgiven for thinking so. A fairly standard Hammet solo with overuse of his favourite wah-wah pedal...
Suicide and Redemption - Ah, an instrumental epic. The first for such a long time. Will this be another 'Orion' or 'The Call of Ktulu'? Uhm, no. It is repetitve for one, and the tempo is slower. The lack of classical influence is another. The first couple of minutes sounds like very raw jamming with good bassline. Then a playful but cool Kirk solo kicks in and another faster one on the sixth minute mark. Lars drummings are okay here. I can't see this being a classic, but it is still a serviceable song that went overboard. Personally I think a minute or two should have been shaven off.
My Apocalypse - The final track of the song. If it is anything like their Master of Puppets or ...And Justice for All's counterparts, 'My Apocalypse' would be a Death Magentic's version of 'Damage Inc.' and 'Dyers Eve'. Basically a ferocious thrash metal song to seal the session up. The track more or less lives up to its final track honours. It isn't the heaviest nor the fastest track of the album though.
Overall, Death Magnetic sounds like what Metallica should have put out after ...And Justice For All. But this is 2008 and the attempt here is a little tired with very little lasting impression. Tempo changes and shredding leads makes a welcome return, but in attempting to emulate their old sound all the while retaining a little bit of the Black album and Load, the album has a serious identity crisis. It kinda sounds like Testament, at times Slayer and at times both awful and majestic Metallica. Tracks are a bit too long, and felt like they were stretched for the sake of stretching. Old Metallica epics were always long, but they were also multi-layered with progressive and dynamic changes - almost medley-like, but here they sound tedious.
On its own merit, Death Magnetic isn't too bad, if a bit too accessible. The lack of any memorable tracks is rather off putting. James doesn't sing, or rather scream as he used to. His lyrics are also embarrassingly emo-ish and downright crap. And Lars - well Lars being Lars he just need to play his drums. Despite that I quite enjoyed Death Magnetic. Either way, it is likely my opinion may change with more listens. Discerning fans may found out that it isn't fair to compare it to their old classics, which I grew up with and of which each I probably listened to at least a hundred times. So don't blame me if in a couple of years I rate it differently. Honestly, I've had to re-write this post a couple of times because I kept finding stuff I like and didn't like.
Metallica will never do another Kill 'em All, Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets, nor will they recapture their former glory - that much is clear. Fortunately for the current Metallica, Death Magnetic is a step in the right direction, even though it's more a gross over hyped but decent product than a excellent musical direction. It isn't what I was hoping for, but Death Magnetic is still easily their best album since ...And Justice For All.
Death Magnetic is out now, and is available as a limited edition box-set, plain CD, vinyl box-set or the Death Magnetic deluxe coffin box with goodies. Your pick.
Death Magnetic not heavy enough? Check out Testament's Formation of Damnation, Slayer's Christ Illusion and Megadeth's United Abonomination.