Archive for the ‘death magnetic’ Category

Metallica’s Death Magnetic – A Review

September 29, 2008 Leave a comment

Well, here it is. I’ve been waiting patiently for this album to come out. And now here it is. I’ve been thinking about how I’d do this review for a while, and I think I’ll do a track-by-track review, because frankly, too many reviews don’t actually review the music on an album. Before I get to that though, I’d like to address the album as a whole. That way those of you who are to impatient to actually read the whole thing will get the “typical” album review. (Note: I have been a Metallica fan since I was in junior high. I attempt to take the positive bias out of this review and call it for what it is. Let’s face it: some parts of the album are just bad.)

This album is not the second-coming of Master of Puppets. If anything, I think it’s a combination of …And Justice for All and ReLoad. Which leaves it living in an interesting place in the Metallica catalog, and certainly in metal in general. Metallica have never really been victims of trends. Say what you will about Load and ReLoad being attempts to go alternative. Say what you will about St. Anger trying to be nu-metal and gritty. But really, nothing out there sounds like a Metallica album. So with Death Magnetic, Metallica take on something they haven’t attempted since about 1988: themselves.

Let’s face it: every metal band out there owes something,–directly or indirectl–to Metallica, just as they owe Black Sabbath, Diamond Head, and Motorhead before them. So when you have what can be regarded as the Bible of Metal in the first four albums, a breakthrough rock record in the black album, and a few assorted groove/blues rock albums, what do you really do? Eventually you just throw it all together. This album is Now Metallica trying to coexist with Then Metallica. They bring the Then in with the general riffage, and to a point, the song structures. They bring the Now with a few of the riffs, bassist Rob Trujillo’s funkier bass style, James Hetfield’s newer, more personal and spontaneous lyrics, and the production values. If you like the old stuff but want it to sound fresher, this is probably the album.

However, it definitely has some low spots. The production is definitely better than St. Anger, but the mix is painful to listen to after a while. Hetfield’s vocals and the snare drum are too loud. There is too much midrange in the guitars. The mix is way, way too hot, giving the album a very ugly digital clipping, noticeable even at low levels. And there’s still a couple Bob Rock-inspired vocal deliveries, especially on “All Nightmare Long” (i.e., “OU-TAAAAAAAAH”). James’ grammar seems to have descended to a level of pre-high school junior high kids. (“What don’t kill ya make ya more strong”? Please.)

I don’t think any of these are deal-breakers. People on seem to be raising a stink about the production quality, but to me it’s just a nuisance. But the return of Kirk Hammett’s guitar solos, speed riffing, and even the occasional tasteful double kick drum is a great thing in my opinion. I highly recommend this album if you’re a fan that felt betrayed by the 1990s-era Metallica. While not an exact “return to form,” Death Magnetic is definitely a step in the right direction. I think if they keep on Rick Rubin as a producer they could definitely go on to make some more classic metal albums.

Track by Track

“That Was Just Your Life”
Am I the only one that thinks the intro to this song was cribbed from some lost Type O Negative demo? Other than that, this song is a typical Metallica album starter, in the vein of “Battery” and “Blackend”. The chorus riff sounds akin to the chunkier riffs of the black album, while the verse riff is very Puppets-era. The lyrics, unfortunately, are the soft spot. Since the initial spawning of St. Anger, a lot of sub-par lyrics have crept into James Hetfield’s songwriting. And the delivery is equally bad. James is not Tom Araya from Slayer.

“The End of the Line”
I think this is the most forgettable song on the album. Sounds like a St. Anger reject. It takes a ReLoad-type riff and goes too far with it. The speedier riffing during the verse would sound much better as more of a scooped sound, with less midrange. The solo is okay, though, and there’s a really unusual sound at the end of it. I think it’s from the string fretting on the pickup, but I might be wrong. The harmonized guitar parts are similar to those on Ride the Lightning. The breakdown is probably the best part of the song. Reminded me of “Astronomy” on Garage, Inc.

“Broken, Beat & Scarred”
I have a theory that this song started with a Lars Ulrich/Rob Trujillo bass-n-drum groove. I think the message of this song is good. The grammer, however, is AWFUL. Solo, again, is good. Lots of whammy bar antics. The key and meter changes really evoke memories of …And Justice for All (the album, not the song.)

“The Day that Never Comes”
Many have theorized that this song is an allusion to James’ childhood, where I don’t really see the connection. Sure, the lyric sheet clearly reads “the son will shine,” but I think there’s more going on than “My dad hit my mom.” I think that a lot of relationships could be described in this song: mother-son, husband-wife, couple-outsider, etc. I actually think this is a bigger song than most people let it be.

Musically, it’s one half “Fade to Black” and one half “One”. Also, I think the bridge riff is probably one of the best riffs Metallica has ever committed to tape. Straight from …And Justice for All.

“All Nightmare Long”
The clear best song on the album. Rolling Stone said that, with it’s riffs of the old Metallica and the hooks of the ’90s Metallica, it may very well be the best Metallica song ever. It’s already one of my favorites. The best part? When the full band comes in during the intro riff. It goes from being large and expansive to very narrow and confining. The only real complaint I have is the aforementioned Bob Rock-isms in the vocal performance.

This song would be 200% better without the drum-n-bass breaks. Cut out about six measures and you’ve got a much better, more cohesive song. Try that live, guys. I realize that some of it is probably a concession to prove that there’s bass on the album, but I know it’s there, guys. You don’t have to show him off.

“The Unforgiven III”
Seriously? I mean, really? Musically there’s very little allusion to the previous installments. Lyrically, the song is absolutely abysmal, with the whole “treasure hunting” allegory, and the further grammatical butchery. (“How come it’s got so cold?” Seriously, James, add a syllable or change the lyric.) Musically it’s got a few neat things going on. I like the rolling guitar bit, I like the melody. But the lyrics and the solo that reminds me of the abortion of a solo that Kirk tried putting on the original Unforgiven (ever seen A Year and a Half in the Life of…?) add up to a song whose positives don’t overcome its negatives.

“The Judas Kiss”
Number two on the album. The riff is completely …And Justice for All-era, with some serious Load/ReLoad-era lyrics going on. The chorus is catchy as hell, too. The solo is probably the best missing link between Kirk’s blues-based work on Load and the modal stuff of the earlier albums. I think there’s one too many verses.

“Suicide and Redemption”
Obviously built out of a rehearsal room jam. The riff is neat, some of the solo work is okay, but not as strong as “The Call of Ktulu” from Ride the Lightning, “Orion” from Master of Puppets, or “To Live is To Die” from …And Justice for All. I don’t even think it’s as good as “My Friend of Misery” could have been, had it been lyric-less. (Note: “My Friend of Misery” was former bassist Jason Newsted’s main contribution to the black album. He intended for it to be an instrumental.) It just doesn’t really go anywhere, although the brick-walled mix might have something to do with the lack of dynamicism.

“My Apocalypse”
Again, the thrashy closer. Not as kinetic as “Dyer’s Eve”. More melodic than “Damage, Inc.” Probably has Lars Ulrich’s best drumming on the album. But honestly, I think the best closer they’ll ever do is ReLoad‘s “Fixxxer”. “My Apocalypse” definitely doesn’t feel as final as that.

Overall album rank out of the catalog, I’d say number four, after Justice, Puppets, and Load. But I’ve got a really weird taste in Metallica, so… take that how you want.