Will Rick Rubin Save Metallica’s ‘Death Magnetic’?
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It’s been five years since Metallica‘s last studio album, St. Anger, and nearly two decades since the band’s original fans have been satisfied with Metallica’s musical offerings.

With their upcoming ninth studio effort, Death Magnetic, due out September 12, 2008, the Bay Area original masters of metal will seek to recapture the magic of their 1986 multi-platinum Master of Puppets.

To help them with this endeavor, Metallica ditched long-time producer Bob Rock in favor of Rick Rubin, the mastermind behind Jay Z’s hit single “99 Problems,” The Dixie Chicks’ Taking the Long Way and its controversial award-winning “Not Ready To Make Nice,” and Johnny Cash’s American IV: The Man Comes Around, which contained the popular cover of Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt.” Rubin was also the one who came up with the idea in 1986 for Run DMC and Aerosmith to do a rap/rock hybrid of the latter artist’s classic rock tune, “Walk This Way,” which topped the charts and helped propel rap music into the mainstream.

That small sample of Rubin’s 33-year career in music producing should tell you that the man has the Midas Touch. But will Rubin’s golden touch shine through on Metallica’s Death Magnetic?

While not apparent from the aforementioned sample of Rubin’s work, the New York native has also had long-term success with many hard rock/metal acts, which began in 1986 when he made the crossover from producing LL Cool J, Run DMC, and The Beastie Boys with Slayer’s breakout album Reign in Blood. While still prominent in hip-hop circles, Rubin has branched out into many music musical genres and it’s his vast knowledge of music and what “works” that made him a producing pioneer.

For Death Magnetic, Metallica said that Rubin was very “hands-off,” mainly letting the band do their thing, while offering brutal honesty about what was good and what wasn’t.

That is a far cry from what Rock, who’s produced every Metallica album since the band’s highly successful 1991 self-titled album (referred to as The Black Album), was doing. While Metallica is the band’s most successful album to date and does contain some of the band’s classic thrash metal sounds, Rock’s influence is obvious throughout, especially with the more commercial friendly “Enter Sandman.” It was during this album’s recording sessions that singer/guitarist and band leader James Hetfield — a notorious control freak at the time — clashed with Rock many times over the direction of the album.

For Metallica‘s back-to-back successors — Load and Reload — Rock took the band in a completely different direction with what can only be considered by old-school fans as a wimpy selection of throw-away tunes. For Rock’s final studio attempt with the band, St. Anger, the producer — who’s notorious for his extreme involvement with the band’s music — went so far as to lay down the bass tracks himself, as Metallica was still searching for a replacement for their long-time bassist Jason Newsted (which they later got with former Suicidal Tendencies bassist Robert Trujillo who makes his studio debut with Metallica on Death Magnetic).

Though St. Anger was supposed to be the heavy metal comeback for the band, it was just a bit too hard for today’s fans to believe that multi-millionaires could authentically conjure up that kind of angst. Plus, Rock’s generic bass-playing, drummer Lar Ulrich‘s tin-can drumming, and the lack of ANY solos from lead guitarist Kirk Hammett contributed to the album’s failed acceptance. (At the time of its release, in my review of St. Anger, I wrote, “Bob Rock, please do me a favor: fuck off and die, eh? Thanks” which sums up my thoughts on Bob Rock quite nicely I think.)

Now that Bob Rock’s gone (good riddance), what was Rick Rubin’s influence over Metallica and Death Magnetic? We’ll have to wait for September 12 to hear for ourselves, but the band has said that Rubin did offer some keen advice. For one, he told the band to get up off their asses in the recording studio and rock out like it’s a live show. Perhaps that was an effort to get Metallica to recall their headbanging youth when they were the kings of thrash, as was his suggestion that the band think back to 1985 when they were writing and recording Master of Puppets — to remember how they thought and felt and what was influencing them at the time. Rubin wanted them to get into that mindset, when the band was still hungry for success and hadn’t yet headlined major arenas (in support of Puppets, Metallica was the opening band on Ozzy Osbourne’s Ultimate Sin tour).

Living on your knees, conformity
or dying on your feet for honesty

While Puppets wasn’t their most commercial success, the album — which was the final studio release for bassist Cliff Burton, who was killed in a tour bus accident in Sweden in 1986 while touring in support of the album — is widely hailed by fans as not only Metallica’s best album, but also as one of the greatest metal albums of all times. So Rubin’s having Metallica “think back” to the time of Master of Puppets seems like a logical idea, will it really work?

When the four original band members were working on Puppets, they were in their early 20s, imbibing excessively in alcohol and other substances, sleeping on makeshift tour buses — completely different from the clean, more mature, healthy and wealthy lifestyle these men (who are all fathers as well) have today. Though still a bit wet behind the ears, Metallica reigned over the thrash metal movement with their music heavily influenced by the bands of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal genre like Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Saxon, and Budgie, as well as by punk outfits like The Misfits. Lyrically, Hetfield drew inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft tales and tackled themes of fundamentalist religion, mental illness, violence, war, and drugs — themes that are still relevant today.

Plus, aside from the fact that the late Cliff Burton — an innovative bassist and co-songwriter in his own right — can’t ever be a part of the band’s creative process, there’s another major difference in the band’s dynamic: At the time of Puppets, Hetfield solely wrote the lyrics and recorded all of the guitar parts with Hammett only contributing the solos; Hetfield also co-wrote and arranged, along with Ulrich, the majority of the music and dominated the band’s creative process. These dictatorial scenarios don’t exist for present-day Metallica, which has since become a democracy, with all band members treated and contributing equally.

So while hearkening back to their roots in an effort to recapture the magic of a much-beloved record seems plausible in theory, will it really be effective for these musicians, who’ve come so far in their career and progressed so much in their personal and professional lives? Possibly, if the members of Metallica can take from these memories the passion, the drive, and the hunger they felt in their youth and remember what made them stand out amongst countless other metal bands while at the same time leave behind all the baggage that’s held them down in the past decade.

According to Hammett, since Rubin wasn’t coddling the band in the studio, Death Magnetic will be “almost 100 percent undiluted Metallica.”

Let’s see come September 12 if “undiluted Metallica” means what it did back in 1986.

For now, check out the video below to listen to the album’s first single, “The Day That Never Comes,” or download it legally for FREE (yes, a free AND authorized Metallica song, oh how they’ve come a long way from their anti-Napster days).

What do you think so far? Does the 8-minute single, “The Day That Never Comes,” signal a return to Metallica’s old-school metal roots?



  1. Rick Rubin is one of my idols.
    Great article!!

    Comment by Jerry — August 25, 2008 @ 12:45 pm

  2. Very impressive write up that mirrors my own thoughts pretty accurately. The single still leaves me skeptical, as does the return of the original Metallica logo (is it a cash-in to recapture old fans or a true signal of their return to classic thrash?).

    I’m sweating bullets (get it, get it?) as we approach 9/12…

    Comment by Ryan Midnight — August 25, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

  3. You have me excited for Metallica all over again… a band I had long-since written off. Excellent write-up, Eve!

    Comment by Dave2 — August 25, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

  4. Bloody Hell!!!!!! sweet read.

    Comment by Groovespook — August 25, 2008 @ 1:10 pm

  5. Growing up, it was always an event when a New Metallica album came out. Masters Of Puppets and And Justice For All were greeted with such anticipation from all of us in high school and college.
    The Black Album was good, but did not live up to the wait we had created.

    I remember I was at party back in 2003 and some die hard fans had given up on them– they thought St. Anger was pathetic. I could take or leave it.

    Rubin seems like the ideal choice to take them back to the age of Disposable Heroes and Damage Inc.

    Comment by Jerry — August 25, 2008 @ 1:13 pm

  6. wondering what “Empress Eve” thought of the St. Anger documentary, Cyanide and The Day That Never Comes

    Comment by liquid — August 25, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

  7. Just listening to this track for the 3rd time…beginning to like it..cautiously. I’ll reserve final judgment upon the album release. As long time fan since Master, I have become jaded and skeptical of these constant claims..”Just like the old days!” Riiiight. This is a good first impression though.

    Comment by Dweeb — August 25, 2008 @ 1:29 pm

  8. They don’t have to make Ride The Lightning II to make me happy, and they can’t (and probably shouldn’t): as you pointed out, it’s 24 years later, and it’s likely that almost nothing in their lives is still the same, and it just wouldn’t be genuine. And it would be scary if we as fans demanded it, as staying stuck in the past for a quarter of a century seems like a profoundly unhealthy way to live, and I don’t think it’s either fair or realistic for us to expect that of them. It’s good for people—and consequently their musical output—to grow and change… just not into the suck-land they’ve been stuck in.

    I don’t want another Master of Puppets, I want a genuine record that rocks my balls off to the same degree that the old stuff does, but without being a contrived throw-back. New content is good, just keep the quality up. Hopefully Rubin helped them pull their heads out of their asses and make something that’s both real and metal as fuck.

    Comment by 1-900-HEY-NICK — August 25, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

  9. @Jerry (first commenter) Thanks dude!

    Thank you kindly. I’m totally happy beyond belief that the old logo is back. I had the logo on a patch on the back of my denim jacket all through junior high and high school. It’s about time it’s back! And nice little wink to Megadeth there ;-)

    Yeah, I had written them off for a while too, but this album has me pumped. My fingers are crossed.

    Thanks Groovy!

    You said, “The Black Album was good, but did not live up to the wait we had created” and I wholeheartedly agree. That’s exactly how I felt at the time. I mean, it had some good tunes, but it was so commercial in comparison to their previous albums. And it was all downhill from there.

    Empress Eve is really liking the new songs out so far — “Cyanide” and “The Day That Never Comes”; by the St. Anger documentary I’m assuming you mean “Some Kind of Monster.” If so, I friggin’ loved that documentary. I couldn’t stop watching the DVD when I first got it. Metallica was a band that never opened up, so to see them in that vulnerable state was really something. And the stuff with Dave Mustaine was the best. I swear, it should have won an Academy Award for best Documentary. I never get tired of watching it. It actually made me tolerate “St. Anger” a lot more, because I was privy to what was happening during the writing and recording.

    I agree, good first impression. Eight minutes long, just like the “And Justice For All…” days and GUITAR FUCKING SOLOS. Do not, and I mean it, DO NOT tied Kirk Hammett’s hand, damnit. Give that man all the soloing time he friggin needs.

    They definitely shouldn’t make Ride The Lightning II, it will be totally false metal if they do. But, please, don’t make another Korn record like St. Anger. Go back, listen to Diamond Head and Budgie a thousand more times and then go write some songs. Stop trying to be “anger” and write Nu Metal stuff. That’s NOT progress. That’s trying to be something you’re not. It’s ok to be melodic — Fade to Back, One, those are melodic, yet totally crushing songs. In my opinion, Metallica had their time to experiment with the last three albums. Hopefully, it’s out of their systems now.

    Comment by Empress Eve — August 25, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

  10. I’m sorry but I just don’t care. Metallica is dead to me.

    Comment by Techwrekfix — August 25, 2008 @ 5:41 pm

  11. I am at a point where I feel I am “over” Metallica, and have been for well over a decade. I still picked up the disappointing and generally awful St. Anger, as well as the excellent and interesting S&M disc before that. Heck, I didn’t really mind a good chunk of Load and Re-Load, as both had some solid and memorable tracks for me (Fixxxer, Until It Sleeps).

    I feel that my faux social rage days are over, but I am still pretty intrigued and cautiously excited for this new album. “The Day that Never Comes” sounds like a great start, and I look forward to picking up and listening to the rest of the album on September 12th. I’ve been pumping …And Justice for All in my car for the first time in half a decade just to prepare.

    Comment by Alex — August 25, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

  12. Good article. I don’t want to get my hopes up too high, but “The Day That Never Comes” and “Cyanide” have me in cautiously optimistic mode.

    Comment by Jason — August 26, 2008 @ 1:57 am

  13. Of the two cuts I have heard I a fookin prove!

    Comment by Talcott — August 26, 2008 @ 4:21 am

  14. what a load of shit how the fuck can u blame bob rock for metallica writing shit songs when the demo’s for the black album where done before they had even picked a producer.that was the direction they went in and if u are a true fan u would have heard the demo’s 4 load & reload james & lars wrote those songs not bob rock so think before stink bumhole.

    Comment by dan — August 26, 2008 @ 5:41 am

  15. Great article. Makes me want to listen to the single and buy the album.

    Comment by tstar69 — August 26, 2008 @ 7:24 am

  16. Is it just me or is the album artwork extremly LAME?

    Comment by .sean — August 26, 2008 @ 10:55 am

  17. i thought st anger was alright

    Comment by andrew — August 26, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  18. I can’t say that I’m very impressed with Metallica anymore. They seem to be trying way too hard, and the lyrics are kind of bland and, well, stupid these days. There’s plenty of stuff going on in the world today that they can be writing about, reflecting the lyrics of earlier offerings, but they seem to want to reach out to angst ridden emo kids, which makes them parodies of themselves now. Sad, but true…

    Comment by Losferwords — August 26, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

  19. I REALLY want a good new Metallica album, but the cynic in me doesn’t see it happening. I’ve heard “Cyanide” but wasn’t super impressed, and I need to listen to “The Day That Never Comes” as soon as I get home. I hope it’s good but if I don’t like it, I can always go back and listen to the old albums. they can’t take that away from us.

    Great article.

    Comment by Henchman21 — August 26, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  20. Rick Rubin is the most overrated producer. Worst Linkin Park album and worst Dixie Chicks album were both produced by him.

    Comment by Shogun — August 26, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

  21. I think the return to standard tuning is definitely helping the band’s “classic” sound. That being said, this is Metallica’s make-or-break album. If Rick Rubin can’t do it, nobody can.

    Comment by adam — August 26, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

  22. ya nada ni nadie saca a metallica de la musica comercial.. recuerdan en Cliff’em all? como decian que nunca iban a cambiar.. pendejadas!

    Comment by guillermo — August 27, 2008 @ 4:20 pm

  23. I was fortunate enough to hear the completed album a few days ago and it is an amalgam of all their work. Moments sound like Kill ‘Em All and then transition into St. Anger, followed by a Load riff that jumps into an And Justice For All guitar duel. It is insanity! It is also fantastic (for the most part). I am an 80s fan of their music, but have not hated their 90s efforts, or St. Anger. That is not to say I loved them. I thought “The Black Album” was OK, and that Load was a fine rock album (though, didn’t sound anything like Metallica). Reload was a weak rehash of Load and St. Anger was only a minor upgrade, though it at least had signs of what could be –and Death Magnetic is what St. Anger could have been had the band not first needed to implode.

    I only heard the album once, so I cannot give it a worthy review (I think a critic should hear an album at least a few times before reviewing it), but I can say that what I heard will easily put Death Magnetic the 5th best Metallica album. It could even move up higher on the list, the longer we listen.

    Comment by Jack S. — August 29, 2008 @ 1:33 am

  24. I’ve been a long time fan of 80’s era Metallica. I even liked Load, ReLoad and St Anger as well–even though I was sorely disappointed with the lack of solos. But I have heard Death Magnetic and I can say it is a vast improvement over their recent releases; it’s a move toward old school Metallica with a modern twist. I think everyone will be very pleased with Death Magnetic–especially ‘Broken, Beat and Scarred’ which is my favorite song on the album so far.

    Comment by Don West — September 7, 2008 @ 9:47 am

  25. hmmm yeah i dont want them to make another 80’s like record… just a record that will rock out like the ones in the 80’s, i dont want Metallica to be clones and do the same thing for over 25 years.. i dont want them to turn into slayer… because that shit gets boring.

    Comment by Metallica Fan — September 12, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

  26. All of you poor poor suckers are no true fans every time someone says “Why don’ you write about something happening in this mellenia and not make up your own shit!” its depressing on how low life scum you are. Metallica is still one of the few good old rock bands if any of you would pay attention you would see what happens to bands that have written about recent things no one CARES! they either already heard it or already seen it some where so i say mettalica should fire their producer and start making their music like they used to!

    Comment by chris — December 11, 2008 @ 11:50 am

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