Here it is! The biggest event in Metal this year: a new album from the band that's the reason for most of us even knowing what Metal is; such a colossal Major Event that I nearly asked Chris to design a brand new skeleton just for it! Of course, the sad fact is that many of us are approaching Death Magnetic with a fair amount of cynicism after the last album from Metallica back in 2003. Yet for all its faults – and there are many – there was a raw, almost Industrial attitude about St Anger that resonated with enough people to enable it to hit number one on the album charts and even to win a Grammy in 2004. Assuming that you hated it from the first second you heard it, you must admit that the album is as much a part of Metal history as Master Of Puppets; whenever a Metal band releases a particularly poor album now, it’s referred to as their St Anger – a kind of reverse benchmark.
Well, five years down the line, older, wiser and considerably less drunk, the band that nearly tore itself apart is now functioning again, replacing alcohol and cocaine with yoga and art galleries, even having their own masseur for live events. It’s different though; now, there’s no Jason Newsted to describe what Metallica have become as ‘really fucking lame and weak’, and new member Robert Trujillo is hardly going to complain about a band that gave him $1 million when he joined, and regularly brings in more than that a night for live shows. There’s something more relaxed and fluid about Death Magnetic than St. Anger, however – Metallica have clearly accepted their advancing years and are at peace with their less chaotic lifestyles.
Where St Anger was mindless, Death Magnetic is carefully considered; where the former was the sound of a raging midlife crisis, the latter is a strong-minded look back over what the band has achieved in their nearly thirty-year existence. Contained within you’ll find reflections of more or less all of Metallica’s releases to date, rolled into a single album. I could describe it as …And Justice For All meets Load, but that would be simplifying things too much, and simplicity is hardly what you’ll find here. The sheer amount of riffs coming at you is surprising – trust me, you will not be able to absorb everything that Death Magnetic has to offer in a single listen, or even three or four; this is an album that takes time and patience, not least because the average length of the songs is around seven minutes.
There’s plenty to notice on a first listen, however. Opening salvo That Was Just Your Life charges at you like Blackened all over again, a sampled heartbeat pumping away before the slow and nearly epic build-up starts, exploding as the deep riffing and Hetfield’s voice make themselves welcome in your ears again. It’s amazingly catchy, and the mid-track solo will have you weeping with joy because it’s that damn awesome! it soon becoming obvious that Metallica are back, baby, and they haven’t sounded this good for the last twenty years. Sure, I personally think that Metallica and Load are great albums, but they’re nowhere near the pinnacles of the old days.
The End Of The Line follows, and despite a rather suspect groovy riff it’s just as good, adding influence from the Fuel era to create a crossbreed that’ll have the most crusty of old-school fans headbanging and singing along. There’s a wonderful piece of guitarwork in the middle, and a breakdown towards the end that proves Metallica haven’t lost their songwriting skills. Broken, Beat & Scarred, with its slick riffing and ‘what don’t kill ya make ya more strong’ refrain is a decent song, but it’s here that the length first becomes a problem as the track is a good minute and a half too long, despite a great solo section.
A rather average track follows in the form of first single The Day That Never Comes, being typically balladic and slightly dull despite the attempts at grandeur, and that ‘this ah swear!’ section serves only to reveal Hetfield’s shortcomings as a vocalist, however pleasing the manic Thrash section at the end is. All Nightmare Long makes up for it, however, full of meaty, almost galloping riffs and strong vocal parts, quite 80s in style. Sadly, the second half of the album isn’t as good, three distinctly poor songs sandwiched by two excellent ones. Cyanide kicks off in style, the first time you’ve been able to hear the bass properly, and a great song it is, (relatively) short and snappy with a kickass central riff and a fine performance from Hetfield vocally. The Unforgiven III, on the other hand, is dreadful, the opening piano setting your teeth on edge and the lengthy sub-Reload meandering afterwards going exactly nowhere, even with yet another great solo to save it from being complete and utter rubbish.
The Judas Kiss has a decent mini-chorus but drags rather on the rest of the song, being all in all Master Of Puppets part two and much poorer than the original, if fitting in well on this album. It’s far from a bad song, but feels a little like Metallica-by-numbers – which was actually my reaction to Death Magnetic when I first heard it, the sound of a group of middle-aged men trying to recapture their youth. The main argument for this is Suicide & Redemption, an instrumental little short of ten minutes long: instrumentals should never be the longest track on an album, and they should damn well have more to say than this. It mostly sounds like a song with the vocals removed, and might well be; but Metallica would have done far better to leave it off the album and kick straight into My Apocalypse, a great, Thrashy song that is slightly spoilt by the simplistic drumming. Of course, Lars is hardly a good drummer and on Death Magnetic he’s the weakest link, for the most part ignorable if you concentrate on the (excellent) guitar playing, but sometimes stepping over the line and making you wonder why the other members couldn’t have abandoned him at an art gallery somewhere.
It’s worth noting that directly after Death Magnetic in my playlist whilst writing this was Testament’s The Formation Of Damnation album, a few minutes of which immediately put paid to all the ‘the new Metallica is the best Thrash Metal album of the decade’ hype that the mainstream end of the music media loves to toss around to impress the youthful. Whilst this is indeed the best Metallica album to come out this millennium, it’s not a patch on the band’s classics, and so should be approached with caution if your interest in Metallica ended before the eighties did. However, if you’ve stuck with the band through thick and thin only to fall off in disgust after St Anger, then Death Magnetic is a good attempt at returning to past glories; not enough to match them, but enough to make owning it respectable. Ultimately this is Metallica, as old-school fans know them, complete with overbearing rhythm guitar, basic drumming and wonderfully crap lyrics; most people will have made their minds up before reading this, but if you’re wavering there’s enough on Death Magnetic’s side to make it worth listening to.MySpace
Killing Songs :
That Was Just Your Life, The End Of The Line, Broken Beat & Scarred, All Nightmare Long, Cyanide, My Apocalypse
73 / 100
James quoted 69 / 100
Marty quoted 84 / 100
Adam quoted 70 / 100
Jeff quoted 80 / 100
Danny quoted 95 / 100 !!!
Storm quoted 85 / 100
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