posted on 9/2008 By:
During my relatively awkward years in high school back in the mid 80's, Metallica meant the world to me. They helped my self-confidence, they fueled my courage in times of need, and they inspired me to stand out and not simply fall in line with the majority of other wangs that roamed the halls around me. In a way, I owe a little part of who I am today to this band, and I honestly consider myself perfectly content simply with what Metallica produced throughout the 1980's. But I still get anxious when a record is on the horizon. Admittedly, the fire has ebbed substantially because of the quality of the last three bricks dropped from the Metalli-chute, yet ever curious I remain.
With the release of Death Magnetic, we find Metallica at the peak of Mt. Hype. Holy Blessed Rosary, could this truly be a return to the glorious days of yore? Has the Great Bearded Pontiff of Production, Rick Rubin, wriggled his saintly hand up the arse of the Golden Goose and finally helped to free a wondrously bejeweled egg? Well...yes, I suppose I'd say he has, but the man's timing is pretty good. The album is worthy of Metallica fans' money -- those rumors are definitely true -- but its merit seems more the result of better songwriting and four guys finally playing well together again than knob twiddling from Rubin (at least on the surface). Although I must say, if Rubin's solely responsible for finally wiping the shit off Lars' snare, each and every one of us owes him a beer.
Yes, Death Magnetic is actually an enjoyable record. In fact, it's the best material Metallica has birthed since And Justice for All. What's key, however, is to give it a few spins before casting judgment. If you're anything like me, you'll walk into this affair still pissed as Yosemite Sam with a deranged bee up his ass about the band's last three albums, so inaugural spins will likely be spent finding faults in nearly everything that floats from the speakers. Just be a little patient, the songs will click. The third time I heard that melodic little guitar lick mapping Hetfield's call of "Rise, fall down, rise again!" on "Broken, Beat & Scarred", I was pretty much hooked.
And speaking of Hetfield, the man seems to have found some grit and fire in his throat again. And it's not just his voice that's more brisk, but his playing as well. Death Magnetic has loads of classic Bay Area thrash riffs, and quite honestly, everyone sounds like they've taken a 250cc hit of (unbelievably refreshing) invigoration.
There are a couple of flubs, of course. The third installment of "Unforgiven" is a shorthair away from being exactly as the title suggests, and its predecessor, "Cyanide", is 7-minutes better spent making a sandwich, but that leaves an hour of pleasurable Metallica to digest. And yes, that means long songs once again, but this time around the flow between players is much more natural, and everyone seems to have a part to play in every song. Hammett gets plenty of room to shred, Hetfield downpicks to his heart's content, Lars is Lars and yes, it's true, you can actually hear some bass guitar. Not as much Trujillo as there probably should be, but I suppose we gotta walk before we run. The boy's just sound happy to be playing with one another on Death Magnetic, and that joy really shines through on the majority of these tunes, especially the welcomed return of the long Metallica instrumental, "Suicide & Redemption".
I'm right alongside the lot of you in terms of being disappointed in the Metallica of the last twelve years. Hell, I was there for the pre-screening of Some Kind of Monster in San Francisco, so I was a part of the stunned crowd that quickly ran from the theater to get home and douse the eyes with boiling bleach; I understand the frustration. But if you can shelve your bitterness and just try to listen to this record with fresh ears, I think you'll find yourself quite pleased with the results. Death Magnetic is a really fun album, and it's a giant LEAP back in the right direction. A very pleasant surprise indeed.
posted on 9/2008 By:
Before we begin, I'll get a few things out of the way so you know where I'm coming from:
1) I like the Black album.
2) I began losing interest in Metallica with Load, which was the point at which they stopped contributing positively to that impressive catalog and began meandering.
3) Consequently, I don't own Reload. But I did get St. Anger, and like everyone I know except for my friend Mike Cortese, I hold it to be a nearly inexcusable train-wreck of bad songwriting and worse decision-making. (Cortese, because he’s a die-hard fan or perhaps just deaf, defends it as being "okay.") For some five years now, I've vehemently disparaged that piece-of-dung recording as the final collapse of a once-great band, the explosion at the end of ten years of freefall. I decried it as the end of the end, the nail in the coffin. "Metallica is over," I said. And now I have to re-align my rage and disappointment because, dammit, Death Magnetic is a good record, one that makes the disaster that was St. Anger and the movie that followed it a bit easier to forget. While it doesn't put them back at the forefront of metal, this record at least reminds me of why they were there to begin with, even as it simultaneously reminds me of how they had the ring of power and let it slip away.
Before you ask, no, this is no Ride The Lightning—that album remains the band's highest high-water mark in my book. Truthfully, Death Magnetic is not even close. Metallica fans looking to relive any pre-Justice glories can look elsewhere; those days are gone. Even with its similarities to earlier works, Death Magnetic doesn't recapture the fire of twenty-somethings intoxicated on both metal and Jagermeister, living the dream and tearing the world a new ass. But still, it’s better than anything this band has done in nearly twenty years, hands down. For a bunch of pushing-fifty millionaires with kids and mortgages, Death Magnetic rocks pretty hard, and it's ten times better than anything I had imagined, especially after hearing lead single "The Day That Never Comes," which, by the way, is among the album's biggest misfires. (Leave it to Metallica in 2008 to pick a craptacular lead single from a make-or-break album.)
And yes, there are misfires—in addition to the overlong and overblown "The Day That Never Comes," there’s yet another unnecessary "Unforgiven" sequel. The production is raw, without being either great or insufferable, and Lars’ snare drum is only one-tenth as hollow-sounding as on the last record, which is an improvement without being good. His drum performance is acceptable, but in typical Lars fashion, he remains among the most overrated drummers in history. Hetfield’s once-vicious bark is older and fading, and like his band, his best years are past him. But dammit, in 2008, twenty years after their glory days, this sounds like the record that Metallica should’ve made in 1996, before heading down the slippery slope of suckness that was Load and beyond.
But where the album wins is in the return of tight spirited riffing—Hetfield in his prime is directly responsible for some of the most killer riffs in history, and while he’s not back to Puppets-level inspiration, he’s at least headed in that direction. Most of these tunes cycle through riffs that lean towards the Justice days, finally getting back to what Metallica has always done best. Kirk finally has something to do again, and Trujillo’s bass is not only audible but actually contributes to the record. Songs like "All Nightmare Long" and "Cyanide" mix raging riffage with the streamlined commercialized rock songwriting that marked the Black album (or marred it, depending on your opinion). Overall, more of Death Magnetic succeeds than fails, and again, after nearly two decades of various degrees of awfulness, it’s good to have even a seventy-percent-killer Metallica record.
Take it for what it is: after all these years, Metallica made a good record, no more and certainly no less.
posted on 9/2008 By:
In the midst of the buildup to what will easily become the biggest-selling metal album of the year (if not the decade) a question has wormed its way into my skull and skittered around like spastic gnat: What, truly, is the point of writing this review? Why even bother? Nearly everyone will go into Death Magnetic with some semblance of bias. It's a weird phenomenon, but one that is typical among the metal community - the more revered and relevant the back catalog, the more intense and rabid the scrutiny of new material will be. Sometimes the backlash is irrational, but in Metallica’s case, it’s hard to argue against. We’ve been burned, scarred, and burned again.
And, truly, so have Metallica themselves, though their collective ego would never admit it. The artfuck debacle that was St. Anger has left them standing in the rubble of a no-win situation. If they had crafted the follow-up record as a blatant throwback to the old-school, it would be perceived as an obvious pander to changing musical tides. On the flipside, another attempt at stylistic reinvention would not only be taxing for fans, but it would also play into the baffling ego-trap that has led them down the slippery-but-successful slope that they have been traversing for the past 10-15 years. Fortunately, the band has resisted both urges, thrown caution to the wind, and said, “fuck it.”
Abandoning the ridiculous, nearly self-destructive notion that they could never repeat themselves, never dance with familiarity, never draw on their fucking strengths, Metallica have finally cut the shit, trimmed the fat (namely, Bob “The Main Riff to ‘Invisible Kid’ is Definitely A Keeper” Rock), and made a straight-up fuckin' Metallica record that draws all of its influence from inward sources. It is an unfortunate fact, though, that Metallica have just as many desirable traits as they do undesirables at this stage of their career, and Death Magnetic embodies both sides of their million-dollar coin.
Somewhat shockingly, Death Magnetic kicks complete and total ass out of the gate. Armed with a sharp guitar tone amid that trademarked Rubin desiccation, "That Was Just Your Life" is an absolute corker. Leaning on the pogo-Rolex precision bop of Hetfield's right hand and some rapid fire, Justice-styled barks, this is a longtime ‘tallica fan’s shitgrin du jour. Hammett’s wah is back in full force, Trujillo’s bass is audible and scowl-inducing, and Lars, umm, well….he’s definitely there. But the combination stomps. Performance and production aside, this song is strong-as-fuck, and sounds as energetic and vital as anything since “The Struggle Within.”
The spark generated from the first track is quick to dissipate, however. "The End of the Line" and "Broken, Beat and Scarred" see the band revert to the jagged kinda-groove that was a staple of St. Anger, only this time, it’s applied with the blues-laden, airy riffcraft of the Loads. If that combination sounds like it’d be total ass, that’s because it is – during the torturous eight minutes of “The End of the Line,” anyway. The song sounds like the bastard spawn of “Fuel” and “Shoot Me Again.” But “B.B.S.” hones the formula quite well, finding strength in an ultra-chunky chorus that actually induces headbanging. Yes, actual headbanging. This is notable, people; Metallica hasn’t made my hair spin since age 9, when I was suplexing my Ultimate Warrior Wrestling Buddy to the strains of “Sad But True.”
Exciting and unpredictable as it may be, the inconsistency that is prevalent on these first three tracks permeates the entire album, and curbs any thought of christening a modern classic. While Death Magnetic is streamlined, moderately vicious, and heavy as one could hope, the fact that these dudes are old-as-hell and past their prime shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Nostalgia and enthusiasm has always clouded Metallica’s hit-or-miss nature. For every “Fight Fire With Fire,” we’ve been given an “Escape.” In return for a childhood molded by the nihilistic vision of …And Justice For All, I was awarded a collection of throwaways entitled Reload. So it should come as no surprise that they follow a neck-snapping, super-catchy anthem like “All Nightmare Long” with the repetitive and clunky strains of “Cyanide,” a song that could only be regarded as a gem by the “King Nothing”/”Better Than You” crowd. And it shouldn’t be shocking that the band would craft a stellar, epic-as-hell ballad on the first half of the album in the form of “The Day That Never Comes,” only to induce comas a few tracks later with the hookless, anticlimactic “The Unforgiven III.” No, it’s not perfect. But it’s Metallica circa 2008. And that’s the essence of this thing.
Ultimately, the band has given fans what they want this time around - a Metallica album for people that enjoy the Metallica sound. Instead of languishing in a void of delusion and grandeur, Death Magnetic brings the band back to earth, and effectively renders them a classic rock band. Like Motorhead, Iron Maiden, and Testament, Metallica are now simply putting out music that embodies their identity and pleases their existing fans. Is this the most challenging, vital, accomplished, or well-executed disc of 2008? Fuck no – for starters, Lars can barely play his damn instrument. Does it touch their best material? Fuck no – it’s not even close, and it doesn’t even reach for it. It’s not a thrash album, it’s not Smell The Glove, it’s not an alt-rock/arena-Kyuss album. But it’s got charm, and charm goes a long way. I’ve been a Metallica fan for as long as I can remember, and while that road has been littered with disappointment, derision, and frustration, the initial rush I felt when I threw this album on was priceless. While it doesn’t hold up to overtly critical scrutiny, Death Magnetic showcases that Metallica is finally making heavy metal again. “All Nightmare Long” kicks ass seven ways to Sunday, and Kirk Hammett is unleashing the fury once more. This makes me happy. I like to be happy.
posted on 9/2008 By:
To avoid any pre-conceived notions. There are some very legitimate reasons that people will love this album as it tugs on the heart-strings of the die-hard Metallica fans and wins back their loyalty from the amalgamated disgust of self-titled to St. Anger and its many nebulous forms. But the fact of this matter is that, yes, this album is certainly not the Metallica we unanimously love. It's not Master part two, it's not the corpse of Cliff Burton, it's Metallica now. Does that make this anything more than a self-indulgent and clumsy collection of four guys that have gone out of their way to let their fans know that they take them for granted? No. It's not. I know I may be speaking blasphemy to some of you, but this is a turd in wrapping paper.
Musically, Death Magnetic leans heavily on the persuasion of St. Anger and bears little to no resemblence to their glory years. The faster songs like "That Was Just Your Life", "Cyanide", and "My Apocalypse" are sloppy and at many points inaudible. It's also at these speedy points that Kirk Hammett's solos become incredibly sloppy and incoherent dirges into brief arpeggio runs that would furrow the eyebrow of Mr. Satriani himself. Mr. Ulrich's drums are boring, inane, and almost unnecessary. His double-kick parts are mixed out of the recording almost completely, making it easy to cover his mistakes, a complete desecration of Lars' peers and the instrument he plays.
The bright side to this whole ordeal are the handful of riffs laid down by Hetfield that are good. There are some truly thrash-tastic moments where he does show his stuff but it's a moot point as the vocals are still cheesey croonings over some of the most laughable lyrics imaginable. I'd point out an example but there's just too many. The ballads like "Unforgiven III" (*gag*) and "The Day That Never Comes" are the most apparent brandishing of Hetfield's vocal "technique". This also shows how dissimilar this album is to St. Anger. Regardless of input from one therapist or knuckle-headed producer.
On that note, Rick Rubin is nowhere to be found here. The drums still sound flat, out of tune, and soulless. The guitars have absolutely no meat. Listen to "Sad But True" next to "Broken, Beat, and Scarred". Robert Trujillo is Metallica's first audible bassist but his role of doubling Hetfield's rhythms is seamlessly passed down from Jason Newsted. Which is sad as this is the bassist from motherfucking Infectious Grooves people! This album has a demo quality and just doesn't quite rival the adolescent Kill 'em All on the balls level. This speaks volumes.
Is this the best album since the Black Album? Absolutely not. Despite what many say, the original Load album still bears the greatest resemblence to those glory days and that is only due to chronology as it was the successor of self-titled and, as we all know, it was controversial. The band took a chance on that album and for the most part it didn't work out and sent them on one of the greatest creative tailspins in music history. Yet, Load still had a creative fire under it and as commercially appealing as it was at the time, the band still at least seemed hungry to make meaningful music. Death Magnetic is far more self-indulgent and diluted. It's the sound of a band making music for the sake of the time clock. Whether it be good or bad, it is what it is. It's Death Magnetic. It's a step up from its predecessor, but coming from a band that has sued its fans, put out a laugh-riot album and accompanying documentary while completely disassociating themselves from the genre they helped start, it doesn't mean a whole lot. Indian givers, Metallica are, and Death Magnetic is another dying breath from a band who clings to relevancy like Shawne Merriman clings to Joseph Addai. It's just too bad the hype and Metallica's $50 million management team will swarm what this album really is; a turd in wrapping paper.
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