In the wake of what has become a musical circus for one of the biggest releases of this year, the legendary San Francisco heavy metal quartet that is Metallica has blown expectations off the map with an atom bomb of magnificence. Much like Heath Ledger’s diabolical performance of the Joker in The Dark Knight, Metallica’s Death Magnetic faced the gauntlets of harsh criticism before the final product took hold. The laughs belong in Metallica’s back pockets, however, because not only has the Los Angeles-based band put out its best album since 1988’s …And Justice For All, Lars Ulrich and company have also erased the harsh stripping of their heavy metal identity and reclaimed the throne of metal’s global diplomats.
Making his debut on the record, bassist Robert Trujillo certainly makes his presence known. With no disrespect to former bassist Jason Newsted, Trujillo’s presence fills in right where the legendary Cliff Burton (untimely) left off. As a Metallica fan, there’s no denying Burton’s late influence and on Death Magnetic, and Trujillo certainly fills in some gigantic shoes. As a result of this kindred spirit returning to form, the other members have fallen in line, most notably James Hetfield. From the get go, with the album opener “That Was Just Your Life”, the subtle heartbeat and gloomy overtones kick into one of the quartet’s heaviest handed numbers since …And Justice For All‘s “Blackened”. With that old school, size thirteen boot kick to the head, Metallica prove to the doubters to back off and choke on their own thoughts. Hetfield’s vocals are finely tuned, mature, commanding and the most melodic he’s been since the early days. This isn’t an 80’s throwback by any stretch, but the sound of a mature band moving forward and rediscovering its past.
Hetfield and Hammett trade off hammer-on/pull-off riffs reminiscent of “Blackened” but with a much more sinister chagrin. Ulrich’s drums sound improved, and unlike the critical nadir that was 2003’s St. Anger, the drummer comes out with both fists swinging and sounds a hundred times better. With all its cylinders firing, the best thing the band did was reintroduce the guitar solo, and Kirk Hammett has never shredded better than here. While lost on St. Anger, the solos come out cutting aluminum cans in half and certainly puts the man back on the top of his game. Clocking in at a lengthy 7:08, “This Was Just Your Life” gets the blood flowing, but as they always say… it’s only just the beginning.
Up next is the equally lengthy and bone crushing “The End Of The Line.” With double stops, crushing groove metal riffs and meaty power chords similar to that of Pearl Jam’s “Animal”, Metallica has reinvented the wheel of what their legacy is all about. In other words, they’ve created their first progressive-rock record. With the chorus ringing loud and clear (“Hooked into this deceiver/Need more and more/Into the endless fever/Need more and more/New consequence machine/Burn through all your gasoline/Asylum overtime/Never mind/You reach the end of the line”), the fearsome foursome have divulged into a newer plateau of musical metaphor, much like they explored on Master Of Puppets. Hetfield’s and Hammett’s interluded guitar harmonies cry, thrash and bring all of those good feelings back, as if discovering a long lost friend, who’s also on the same page.
The only complaint thus far is Ulrich’s snare drum. From time to time, it’s a bit hot in the mix, but unlike the metal folding chair timbre of the band’s previous works, this one fits in nicely with the album, especially on “Broken, Beat & Scarred.” Much like the other two songs, crunchy riffs, Hammett’s leads and a growling Trujillo bass rattle and roll all over this tune and push the heavy metal locomotive forward with powerful steam. Just like Ozzy Osbourne once said, these three songs are “going off the rails of a crazy train.” The first single, “The Day That Never Comes” sounds like a toss-up of some of the band’s earlier works, most notably “Fade To Black” and “The Unforgiven.” Hetfield’s subtle arpeggios and Hammett’s melodic leads paint a beautifully woven, electrical canvas for the quartet to explore and take full advantage of. As mentioned before, the musical complexity of this record hasn’t been matched in almost twenty years and for a first single, “The Day That Never Comes” brings to the table different walks of life that all work together. Thrash metal chords, dual harmonies, double bass… the musical grab bag is all here for the taking and heavy metal’s forefathers bring it back with style. Even the most cynical minded metalheads can’t argue with the production value. Rick Rubin’s impeccable work ethic has definitely paid off, with Metallica taking the full fruits of the labor. Instead of a potentially disastrous eight minute single, riddled with bullet holes, we get a perfectly constructed cast of musical iron; indestructible and strong.
One of the album’s highlights (and should-be potential single), “All Nightmare Long”, sounds like a throwback to the early 90’s riffage and raucous rock and roll. Hetfield hits some impressive notes vocally and anchors the song with strong, confident delivery. The chorus of this tune is possibly one of the catchiest things they’ve written in the past ten years.
‘Cause we hunt you down without mercy
Hunt you down all nightmare long
Feel us breathe upon your face
Feel us shift, every move we trace
Hunt you down without mercy
Hunt you down all nightmare long, yeah
Needless to say, Hetfield’s swagger, Ulrich’s rhythmic groove and the power muted, accommodating chords make this treasure trove of a tune amazing. No, really… they’re back. This also continues on their second single “Cyanide.” The band gobs firebomb after firebomb of musical winners. They make it look easy, and regardless, this is a very strong album, and by far one of 2008’s best and possibly this decade. With that being said, there has to be one flaw in the machine, and the Achilles’ heel of this whole album is “The Unforgiven III.” While it is a slower departure from the band’s typical thrash efforts, it feels sandwiched for the sake of being sandwiched. Fitting between “Cyanide” and the mega-epic “The Judas Kiss”, it falls in the cracks musically. To be fair, it is a good song, but does carry the stigma of the weakest track on the record and doesn’t match up to par with the other tracks.
Death Magnetic ends with an apocalyptic one-two- three punch with the ultra crushing “The Judas Kiss”, their first instrumental in twenty years (and longest song recorded ever at 9:56), “Suicide & Redemption” and the third single, the appropriately titled “My Apocalypse.” With the storybook ending intact, Metallica chose to conquer Goliath with three guitars and a drum kit. They did the unthinkable and came out on top of the mountain with one of the heaviest albums in years. The music surpasses the hype and defines a new generation of Metallica army recruits. That’s the great thing about this record, it’s quite a paradox. Every song here could be a potential single, even though the average length of the song is about seven minutes. Crazy, but appropriate.
Enough of my yakking, go listen to the damn thing already. It’s beyond worth it!