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Music Review: Metallica – Death Magnetic
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Metallica – Death Magnetic
2008
Produced by Rick Rubin
Warner Bros.
Release date: September 12, 2008

I wished Metallica would have walked away (or done the decent rock band thing and imploded in a cloud of drugs and lawsuits) after And Justice For All. The Black Album at the most. Since then their output has been pretty awful. Let’s face it: St Anger was a catastrophe. The album was shrouded in turmoil and embarrassment. Welcoming ex-Ozzy bassist Rob Trujillo into a mixture that was ready to explode, the band released St Anger, which displayed their ability to perform generic riffs to a very high standard. Gone was the boundless energy and, most interestingly, guitar solos. The documentary Some Kind Of Monster demonstrated how fragile Metallica had become thanks to, well, almost everything and as such it seemed their creativity and tolerance for each other and love for the music had vanished.

But now five years after their last studio album, Metallica is back to metal up your ass with Death Magnetic. I was very apprehensive about pushing “˜play’ on my CD player when I put this in. But one thought kept pulsing through my head: “It’s Metallica!” Whether I liked it or not, whether I was ready or not, Metallica had returned.

And what a return it is.

Death Magnetic was unfurled by internet leaks that told us everything and yet nothing at all, followed by some underwhelming artwork and finally a new track. The artwork is still fairly underwhelming, but fittingly, that is the theme of the whole project: a feeling of going back to basics. They have re-established what Metallica is about, what they’re good at. Fortunately what Metallica is good at is making great music.

Ok, so it doesn’t quite compare with the early albums, but this is a huge improvement on Load, Re-Load, Garage Days, and St Anger. This is because the energy is back: I don’t just mean hammering out riffs at the speed of light — Metallica can do that with their eyes closed — I mean they sound like they are enjoying playing again. A welcome return too for their ability to turn what could be just a one riff metal song into eight-minute-plus epics that play like the best movies: they draw you in, set out their intentions, then take you to a place you never envisioned, and come tearing into the home stretch tying everything up at the end.

A big talking point with the last album was the omission of lead guitarist Kirk Hammett‘s solos. But at the five-minute mark in the first track, “That Was Just Your Life,” there it is: a sonic blast of a solo from Mr. Kirk Hammett. Welcome back. It’s as if the rest of the band said “Ok, we screwed you over on the last album. Go nuts.” And Hammett obligingly melted their faces with some incredible solos.

It has been a very long time since Lars Ulrich‘s drumming sounded this good. There are some points, especially on “Suicide & Redemption,” where I wonder if it is actually him! So many people were eager to point out his shortfalls as a drummer over the years (me included), but here there is so much to his playing and so much more energy than he has shown in a long time that I take it all back.

James Hetfield is also back to his best. He manages to spit out his vocals with venom on tracks like “The End Of The Line” and “Cyanide,” but is also capable of more sombre deliveries like on “Unforgiven III.” Winning the battle against his various demons has given him his energy back in spades.

Never showy, never overstated, bassist Rob Trujillo is perfect for Metallica. He combines so seamlessly with Ulrich, they provide the perfect platform for each song. He didn’t play on St Anger, so this is the first chance we have had to hear what he can do and he shows why Metallica was right to select him.

The real stroke of genius here is recruiting Rick Rubin as producer. It was clear the Bob Rock era had to come to a close. Under Bob Rock they had become repetitive, generic and dull. Under Rubin’s guidance they immediately sound vibrant, creative, and, most importantly, alive.

Although it comes close, this won’t live up to the greatness of their early albums. But it will restore your faith in Metallica. Turn the volume up and play it to Death.

13 Comments »

  1. “Turn the volume up and play it to Death.”

    No i won’t. It sounds like shit. Death Magnetic is another victim in loudness war. Sad.

    Comment by CJ — September 13, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

  2. CJ, wake up and smell the metal. this album is the return of Metallica minus the coke and booze. that doesn’t mean it’s crap. people evolve and so should music, if you want to hear “old” Metallica, play the old CDs, but keep an open mind to the new evolution of one of the greatest rock bands ever!

    Comment by JM — September 13, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  3. I don’t get this at all.

    Sure, it’s the best thing Metallica has done in ages. But better than Load? No. Load wasn’t much of a Thrash album, but it was well executed.

    Yes, St. Anger was a catastrophe. So is the plastic sound of Death Magnetic, the stupendeously simple drumming, the only slightly better riffing, and the – oh god – audible voice correction of Hetfield’s singing.

    Granted, Kirk Hammett’s guitar work rocks! But there’s not an overwhelming lot of it, and it’s kind of crammed into the rest of the recording as if they desperately tried to come up with some, any sort of framework to fit it in – and succeeded only somewhat above St. Anger levels.

    But what gets me more is that other bands of the time – Overkill, Testament, Megadeth, Exodus, you name them – still produce vastly more solid outputs. Some of them showed similarly large or larger gaps in their productivity, but when they came back, they came back rocking (for the most part).

    So measured by the standards of Metallica, their latest is a great step forward from their recent history, and pretty good in parts, but by no means fantastic. By the standards of the rest of the scene, it’s mediocre at best.

    Still, it gives some hope for the next one, there’s an upwards trend.

    Comment by unwesen — September 13, 2008 @ 3:46 pm

  4. THE BEST THING EVER! RANKS WITH KILL EM’M ALL, BLACK ALBUM AND MASTER OF PUPPETS!

    Comment by Boris The Dancing Hedgehog — September 13, 2008 @ 4:38 pm

  5. If you agree that the music is good but the sound is bad then go here: http://www.gopetition.co.uk/online/21800.html

    And tell them…

    Comment by Mike Prachar — September 13, 2008 @ 5:30 pm

  6. This is huge for metallica. There is so many great sounds on the new album that it gave me chills listening to it. I love every song on the new album. If you wanna hear a great meatl song, listen to “All Nightmare Long” ITS GOLD!!!!! its an exelent album. I dont get why every one whants the old albums back, they just want metallica to put out the same album over and over… do you know how boring that would get? metallica would have crashed and quit in the 90’s if they did that. but this album does proove that metal is alive, and that they are not dead. In my eyes, they were never dead.

    Load and Reload were great albums in my eyes. Sure they wernt thrash, but it was music. good music. And St.Anger?? I dont cares what any one say i love that album!

    Comment by Brandon — September 13, 2008 @ 6:20 pm

  7. JM, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war

    Comment by CJ — September 13, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

  8. I agree with the first poster: I hope they go back and remaster this correctly and re-release it without all the clipping distortion.

    Comment by Brian — September 13, 2008 @ 8:17 pm

  9. Death Magnetic is something like the album I should have/ wish I heard in 1990. If it were 1990 again, I would be ape shit over this cd. I heard “the black album” 3 times and i never heard it all the way through again. At the time, I thought to myself “This must be a joke! When is the real Metallica album coming out?” Three listens to that crud were all I needed to hear. It is well documented that they fought Bob Rock on the production of the black album. I wish they would have fired him right there and we would have all been safe from blood and cum x 2! What trash! I like some of that Load stuff, just venting. LOL.

    18 years later. . . not the polished Metallica I’d like to hear. these guys are older and much more screwed up, lazy & sloppy musicians, god awful arrangements on some tunes. They really had to force themselves to come up with something I can hear it.

    However, I digress, Death Magnetic is a return to the SPIRT of Metallica when the music mattered. in the sence that the music takes precedence over Bob Rock’s precious production. They were able to write the music & make the record the way they wanted which was a big selling point for me not to mention that I paid under 10 dollars which is AWESOME. It’s their music again not Bob Rock. Death Magnetic is not perfection & as I’ve read all over the net, there are a billion bands out there today much tighter & better. I agree & I listen to them too.

    Ramblin’ on . . .

    Hearing Metallica playing the music they helped invent no matter how sloppy (at times which I forgive) is something I wanted to see before I die.

    So it’s about time! LOL!!

    Death Magnetic – I LIKE IT A LOT! LOL!!

    Comment by Music Fan — September 14, 2008 @ 8:21 am

  10. This will be the first and only time i ever post in one of these forums…
    MY OPINION stands as follows:
    I like this album, don’t love it, don’t hate it but i wont have to spend 5 years convincing myself that it is not a steaming pile of sh1t, as i did with St. Awful!
    It’s not straight out of 1985, but if i wanted straight out of 1985 i’d wear skin tight acid wash jeans, flannelet and have a mullet hair cut!
    Favourite track is “That was just your life”

    Now i’d like to address the following points:
    “The Black Album” was described as crud by “music fan”, i beg to differ… It is without doubt the heaviest album i’ve ever heard and it opened my eyes to the great wonder that is music in general! The first time i heard “Sad but True” i was convinced there was at least 10 guitars being played such was the thickness/chunk of the guitar sound! It wasn’t a thrash record, but it was and is brilliant!

    I don’t understand how anyone can say that Megadeath are offering better releases then this. Every megadeath album sound the same as the last, not that i don’t like them, i do but for god sake i’ll take experimentation and evolution by a band anytime over the same sound and riffs for 20 albums!

    Metallica are not back, they never left! What they did was grow up and enter the 21st century! I would suggest that all the nay sayers and haters out there need to do the same!

    Comment by one time only — September 15, 2008 @ 1:59 am

  11. death magnetic is awesome album..ive read comment all over the net and every1 say tht this album is not classic bla bla..but i think this album is classic jus wait for the time..i think after 10 -20 yrs new generation will talk abt deathmagnetic for sure…jus like killem all changed manything in music history, this album will do the same. ya there are many hardcore bands out there but they never create the same hype as metallica..if we all want metal to live and bring back those times n market for metal bands then deathmagnetic is the perfect metal album, and im damn sure this will open the door for all other metal bands in music market.
    sorry for my eng..its not my first lang..
    anyways the main point is deathmagnetic rocks ..and all the haters out there stfo coz this album is classic and metallica rulezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Comment by clairvoyant21 — September 15, 2008 @ 9:58 am

  12. its amazing better than i ever expected!!!

    yeah st anger was shit but load and re-load were great albums

    stop looking into it to much and stop being so petty

    just put it in and listen over and over agin!!!!

    Comment by andrew — September 15, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

  13. The Black Album WAS a SELLOUT in a very big way. In the 80’s, Metallica prided themselves on being loyal to their fans who made them what there were. They pissed on MTV. They were METAL WARRIORS spreading the word. They were a driving force in the music paving the way for others to follow. Many followed with good intent. In the early 90’s, the scene was rapidly changing into grunge and who was the first band to jump ship?
    WHO???

    METALLICA!!!!

    They were already on top of the game, they were selling out arenas, platnum records and all by magazine articals and word of mouth. They put out that “Clif em all” home video as an act of rebellion and the bloody thing sold like hot cakes! They didn’t need to get out. Except record executive, who could care a less about music put the scare into them, offered them huge money and stuck them with tip-top producer BOB ROCK not with their interests in mind but the billion dollar recording industry.

    I don’t hate Metallica. I don’t mean to offend the people who grew up with “Black” or step on anyones feet to those who were introduced by “Black.” I’m just trying to explain the particular outrage of the fan base at “Black” for those who may not have been there or were too young.

    Comment by Music Fan — September 16, 2008 @ 6:41 am

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