Review ·

Seventeen years since they last put out a great album, eight years since the much-decried Napster lawsuit and four years after Some Kind of Monster pulled back the curtain on this once larger-than-life band to reveal a quartet of all-too-human wusses, Metallica’s image is tarnished beyond repair. Blame it on an endless line of shoddy PR moves and even shoddier musical decisions, combined with our snipe-happy blogger culture: It’s become so easy to hate on Metallica that it’s just no fun anymore. Actually, that’s not true. Stuff like this makes it pretty fun to hate on them.

 

Metallica’s influence has been mostly absent from modern rock radio since grunge took the airwaves in the early nineties, and as Metallica outgrew heavy metal, so has heavy metal outgrown Metallica. For the millions of fans that came to metal through Metallica’s unimpeachable first five records, and the millions more that never cared to explore metal beyond them, any excitement at the prospect of a new album is linked to the hope that it’ll sound like Metallica used to. Our hopes have been thwarted by every release since the eponymous “black album” (1991). With three straight studio albums that felt disconnected from Metallica’s past and both metal and rock ‘n' roll’s future, plus a half-useless covers set Garage, Inc. (1998) and bombastic orchestral collabo S&M (1999) joining in the band’s nearly two-decade tripe parade, Metallica’s worked out the perfect recipe for continued irrelevance.

 

Strangely enough, irrelevance works in Metallica’s favor on their ninth studio album, Death Magnetic. The cross-the-board failure of St. Anger (2003) taught us that a return-to-form was unfair to expect. Here, the members of Metallica aren’t trying to relive past glories or redefine themselves -- they’re just writing their toughest metal riffs we’ve heard from them in ages, shoved into songs that, absurd track lengths notwithstanding (seven of ten tracks eclipse the seven-minute mark), feel more dynamic and energized than anything they’ve done since Metallica.

 

Producer Rick Rubin gave the band the directive to work back to the Master of Puppets mindset, and yes, we hear plenty of galloping “Battery”-style riffs in the thrash sections of “All Nightmare Long” and “My Apocalypse.” The verses to “The End of the Line” closely echo “The Four Horsemen” from Kill ‘Em All, and with “The Day That Never Comes,” Metallica have essentially written a middle-aged revision of the classi …And Justice For All track “One,” down to the half-power ballad, half-machine gun riff format and war-centric video clip.

 

More often than not, the backtracking feels natural, but there’s no need for nostalgia to enjoy Death Magnetic. Some of the album’s best songs borrow just as liberally from the blues swagger of Metallica’s '90s output as their thrashing, tritone-obsessed days of yore. “Broken, Beaten & Scarred” and “The Judas Kiss” possess killer grooves and anthemic Hetfield hooks that you might find yourself not embarrassed to howl along with. Though Hetfield’s no poet, he’s perfected the art of ramming down death-addled clichés with conviction (sing it with me: “Bow down/ Sell your soul to me/ I will set you free/ Pacify your demons!”). He’s pulling off vocal risks that he wouldn’t have tried in Metallica’s glory days, especially a high note in “The Unforgiven III” that’s more hair-raising than the song’s title.

 

Bitch all you want about Lars Ulrich’s flat time-keeping and the barely there inaugural studio performance of bassist Robert Trujillo. Metallica was always a guitar band, and both Hetfield and Kirk Hammett hurtle through Death Magnetic like they aren’t halfway toward carpal-tunnel age. One of St. Anger’s worst traits (and there were a lot of bad ones to choose from) was its lack of Hammett’s solo wizardry. Clearly he was practicing the whole while. His wah-ful solos in “End of the Line” and “The Unforgiven III” are some of the best of his recorded career, full of prickly speed-demon runs and buckets of sloppy soul.

 

The main thing that Death Magnetic lacks -- and it’s a biggie -- is edge. Several tracks dull their razor-sharp riffs with excessive lengths -- the ten-minute riff/rinse/repeat instrumental “Suicide & Redemption” should have been left in the studio -- and there’s at least one section in every song that feels either tacked-on or not nearly as hard as the band wanted it to be. But edge is just as much about perception as sound, and the bigger problem is that at this point, we simply know too much about Metallica to believe they’re badasses. After a year of publicity squalls and three months of humanizing fly-on-the-wall videos at MissionMetallica.com, Uncle James and Cousin Lars and Big Bro Kirk and his pal Robert are all part of the family now.

 

If that transparency prevents Death Magnetic from ascending to the mythical plateaus of Metallica’s albums from the '80s, it’s also part of why the album works. Metallica sound human, hungry and like they give a shit. Forget about relevance. For the first time in nearly two decades, Metallica have released an album that you don’t have to make concessions to enjoy. With Armani on the outside and faded denim underneath, Death Magnetic is just about the best album Metallica could have made at this point. 

  • That Was Just Your Life
  • The End Of The Line
  • Broken, Beat & Scarred
  • The Day That Never Comes
  • All Nightmare Long
  • Cyanide
  • The Unforgiven III
  • The Judas Kiss
  • Suicide & Redemption
  • My Apocalypse

A funny thing happened on Metallica's way to its ninth studio album: it underwent group therapy, experienced a line-up change, and became a semi-functioning... band. The latest album is a result of a band that has learned the meaning of transparency. Each member, including new bassist Robert Trujillo, contributed to the songwriting. And, lo and behold,  many sessions were  documented on the group's site. That said, the group is still up to it's old tricks: the album is a meditation on death. Texas longhorns, anyone?

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no band has ever made an album like this 25 years into their career. maybe 10 is an excessive rating but i can't believe that metallica had another great album in them. i am stunned.

i disagree with the review about the "excessive lengths." the arrangements on this album are so well done and every song suddenly becomes something worth hearing again if you stick with it. this is without even mentioning kirk's solos ("clearly he was practicing all the while" lol) which will perhaps inspire the younger generation to play guitar again. i can't say enough about this record.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/MatthewK/guccitime.jpg MatthewK

hands down one of the best surprises of the year, and one of my new favorite records of the year. Glad you dug it etan, I know you were doubtful at first

/site_media/uploads/images/users/Jboh213/n38409054_33275787_4276.jpg jboh

my review would go like this, 'to my 1980's inner child still wandering the halls in his original metal up your ass t shirt, This just in, your band is back! 10 consequtive teflon coated ass kickers, tank you metallica!

whitedog1

It hardly matters who they are in real life-no one can deny that Metallica are the ultimate badasses on the stage.

opinionhaver

Well written, yet off the mark. Death Magnetic is a great album any way that you slice it. Comparing the greatest heavy band of all time to the greatest heavy band from 20 years ago (hint: they are the same band) has no relevance. Many reviewers, including this one, are taking 10-20 points away from this album for mis-steps taken by the band over previous albums and because they haven't just rubber-stamped "Master" since 1986. Decades have gone by, and I'm sure that no one judges this reviewer for expectations that were in place when he was 20 years younger. Come on guys - hating a band because they shop at Armani? Can a band only be cool or heavy if they shop in piss-soaked back alleys? Would you rather have endless posturing and ridiculousness akin to Slipnot's masks or Manson's contacts? This is a real band, with real people in it, and they have created a REAL epic metal album, complete with a variety of molten slabs of steel and beautiful moments of musicianship. For pity's sake judge it for what it is, not what you wished it could have been 20 years ago.

tennisstallion

PS. In terms of becoming too humanized, these "dads next door" rock harder than most of the modern bands that wouldn't even exist without their inspiration. I personally appreciate that they were brave enough to release Some Kind of Monster and show that they are normal people with normal problems, and that they just happen to have a much cooler job than the rest of us. Would you be brave enough to show the world your lowest moments, focus your time on creating balanced family lives, and then turn around and kick everyone's ass with an album called Death Magnetic? If I had a choice of raw honesty from guys who have been through a few things, or a bunch of bands that have locked-down PR campaigns and packaging to prove that they are "badass", I take reality any day.

tennisstallion

like everyone i was skeptical about the new Metallica album but i wasn't disappointed on any of the ten tracks.you can't repeat "master" on every album or everyone would get tired of that quick..it's good to see that they can still after 27 years of kicking ass,come back from near extinction and release Death Magnetic..i have liked every one of the albums they have put out.music is art and how they express themselves.they don't release what other people want to hear,it's about what they were inspired by when they were writing for an album.alot of people talk badly about "St. Anger" but honestly,if it were a new band that just released that album,metal fans would have jumped to thier site and gave it praise.i just think people are WAY to critical about the band that started heavy metal as we know it and none of these bands like slipknot,slayer,pantera.. (the list goes on forever)would even exist.great new album and many more to come!

dransdell101

WHOA!!! WHAT AN ALBUM...I MET DAVE MUSTAINE IS CLENCHING HIS TEETH RIGHT ABOUT NOW. IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME...

BigBobbyP

nope, not buying it with the way they handled their sound.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/Ethan/nirvana-corporate-rock-whoresjpg.jpg EStan

this is there best cd so far

Princesss

To be honest, when listening to The Unforgiven III, I was pretty sure James was the one soloing. He's done it before and it sounds more like his tone and style.

Snow Leopard

You are insane if you think that

overit

Personally, even with there change of style after there first couple of albums, i still find my self singing along and enjoying the songs they have produced. Reload and Load i didnt really listen to, but when i did i found myself listening to the songs again and again. I listen to every album and i know for a fact that i enjoy whats on every one. Death Magnetic was another great album i listen to everyday :-D

kakashi lord

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