Metallica: Death Magnetic Review

(Editor's Note: Hey guys, Drew is a good friend of mine who will be writing about all things Heavy Metal here at BGH. He should be along later today to set up his profile/avatar, but I wanted to get this review up this morning so here you go. In the meantime, please welcome him in the comments!)

So there’s been a new Metallica album out for a couple weeks now, and odds are that if you had any interest in it at all, you’ve already heard it/bought it/ripped it. So in essence, I suppose I’m a little late finally putting my official review of Death Magnetic into words.

The truth is, it took me almost this long just to figure out how to process this album, map out the parallels I could draw, and come up with a comprehensive review that made any coherent sense.

Right before this album was released on the street (and early on the internet,) I found myself running a quick gamut through the Metallica back catalogue. (For the purposes of this review, the back catalogue refers to Kill ‘em All through The Black Album.) I grant you metal has moved and evolved over the years, but the first five Metallica albums stand up pretty well, especially given the unexpected stagnation of American heavy metal in the past decade. When I reach out to my CD rack (I prefer my music recorded in a physical medium, thank you,) there’s always a fair chance that I’ll reach for four of those first five albums. I know that it’s sacrilege to say this in certain circles, but I think …And Justice For All is terribly overrated.

A quick sidebar. Kill ‘em All was released twenty-five years ago. Did anyone think there would be a thrash metal band that would remain mainstream viable for that long? I don’t want to overstate anything, but Metallica is slowly crossing into that Rolling Stones/Led Zeppelin/AC/DC pantheon.

I had a lot of mixed emotion regarding Death Magnetic. I knew that Metallica had promised a return to their roots, and I knew that Bob Rock had thankfully been dismissed. In his place stood Rick Rubin, who I firmly believe is the single best music producer since Phil Spector. The man has produced Johnny Cash, Slayer, and everyone in between. The history of Rubin’s success has always been his ability to make an artist sound like themselves, if that makes any sense. The idea has always been to create a back-to-basics sound; in short, do what got you here. If the wild rumors that Rubin more or less threw Rock out of the recording studio are true, then I’m even happier about it.

As much as I’m a fan of the Black Album, it was a definite departure from the Metallica that had come before. Following the release of the wildly unpopular and sonically confused St. Anger, the last thing Metallica needed was to get farther away from their roots.

So, with a lot of cautious optimism, I placed Death Magnetic into my car stereo (where I do most of my quality listening,) and braced myself for impact.

After the first four songs, I said to myself “Everything so far sounds like a different version of ‘No Remorse.’” Then I sat back, and thought about what I had said. Of all the possible things I could have said about the new album, was saying that it reminded me of any part of Kill ‘em All such a bad thing?

Then it happened. I hit the fifth song, “All Nightmare Long,” and it changed how I heard the rest of the album. This was what fans had been waiting for. Yes, it has a silly title and a sort of hokey chorus, but out of a song that’s about eight minutes long, most of it is old school thrash metal gold. Gone was Lars’ trash can lid he had played on the last album, replaced with a legit snare drum. This song is “Creeping Death” or “Disposable Heroes,” come back to get us again. Filled with quick distorted riffing, powerful drums and a return of solid vocals, this song made me go back to the beginning and start the album over.

It was then that I began the value of this album for what it is, which is Metallica delivering on a promise to get back to what made them great. The first two cuts, “That Was Just Your Life” and “The End of the Line,” come out hammering. No longer did I hear them for being new versions of “No Remorse,” but instead heard classic speed metal being reinvented while a band reintroduced themselves.

Kirk Hammett is all over this album. His style is undeniable, and he’s still one of the greatest shredders metal has had the pleasure of hearing. Evidently, he won the “no more solos” argument, because his fingers fly at least once in every track. I can’t stress this enough; Death Magnetic is old Metallica. They return to the heady days of Master of Puppets, with just a tiny twist of The Black Album to give it some hook.

There’s been a lot made (mostly by Target) about the song “The Day That Never Comes” being a premier single. Honestly, it’s a good song, but there’re other songs which get to the point faster. Speaking of getting to the point, punk fans beware: there is only one song on this album less than six minutes long. Don’t be put off, though. This is not the meandering metal you heard on …And Justice For All. The last song is the short one, the well constructed thrash throwback “My Apocalypse.” How do you like that, they even close out with a “Damage, Inc”/”Metal Militia” closing opus. It’s nice to have you back, Metallica.

The first half of this album is stronger than the B-side, but the first six tracks are dynamite, and the last one is a thundering finish. I’m not a big fan of “The Unforgiven III,” but then I didn’t like “The Unforgiven” or “The Unforgiven II.” “The Judas Kiss” is good but not great, and “Suicide and Redemption” is so long an instrumental as to become generic.

The only thing with this album is Suicidal Tendencies/Infectious Grooves fans might be disappointed with how little spotlight Robert Trujillo gets here. His opportunities to showcase his talent are limited, and with the exception of “Cyanide,” his musical influence can be difficult to detect.

Still, there’s way more to like here than to pick at. Fans that have grown weary of Metallica’s antics over the years should give this one a shot. It’s a promising sign that maybe you can go home again. Rick Rubin put together another classic. Now go dust off your bullet belts and rock on.

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