I know, I know. I was supposed to have MetalsNotDead.com up for Randy by the end of September. I done got busy. Enjoy:
I must preface the review of this album with the fact that I’ve been a fan of Metallica since the ripe old age of 13. I am the biggest Metallica nerd or “fanboy”, as I think the saying goes today, that you’ll ever meet. Sadly I was 13 back in 1988; 20 years ago. Even still, I’m not oblivious to their shortcomings. Upon writing this review I realized I haven’t had much to be proud of in regards to this band lately. Sure they had some great moments on their 90s albums that let you know the old Metallica was buried in there somewhere, but overall the music just wasn’t up to snuff compared to past endeavors. Fast forward to 2008 and their latest offering, Death Magnetic, and one could say that things have changed for the better.
Track 1. That Was Just Your Life
The album opens with a single heart beat which gives way to a slow, clean intro that is soon met with bashing guitars and drums. It is such typical thrash metal that you have to think “wow what band is this?” If you didn’t know it was Metallica before you heard it, safe to say, you wouldn’t know it was them. The song then goes into a fast speed metal riff full of double bass before settling in to a mid-tempo main riff a la Blackened. It is quite clear within about 2 minutes of this album opener that the Metallica of old is rearing its head. The first of many Iron Maiden-like harmonizing passages on this album takes place in this song. If there is one thing that will give me a musical hard-on it has got to be harmonized guitars. They are with out a doubt my musical cocaine. Hell, I even like that horrible Ratt song Round and Round for the harmonized guitar solo in the middle. This passage though Maidenesque has more of a Thin Lizzy feel to it.
Track 2 The End of The Line
This track has a short pounding intro to it with a wahed out bass lead. Though the bass does add an element to this section it is by no means the memorable bass intro on For Whom The Bell Tolls and only mimics the guitar. From here the band launches into one of the catchiest riffs on the album which is reminiscent of the main riff in either Even Flow or Animal by Pearl Jam. There is a ripping solo from Hammett who though using his wah petal seems to have dialed back the bluesy effect on it in favor of the sound it had on 80s albums. It is also evident that he is going to do all in his power to simply make noise. Fuck the feel of the song, just go for it.
Track 3 Broken, Beat & Scarred
This is another fantastic tune but the first thing that stands out is the awkward lyrics that aren’t needed to fit the vocal harmony. When Hetfield sings “What don’t kill ya make ya more strong” I have to wonder, uh, where is the ‘s’ in makes? Perhaps this is the Rocky Balboa story with lyrics provided by Mr. Balboa himself right after 12 rounds with Apollo. With other lyrics such as “you rise, you fall, you’re down then you rise again,” it seems this may be the case. The chorus in this song will be great live with the chant of “show your scars” which will no doubt become an arena sing-a-long. Lars has stepped up his drumming game on this one. Now don’t get me wrong, he isn’t going to win any drummer of the year awards, but by Lars Ulrich standards this is the most active he’s been behind the kit in ages.
Track 4 The Day That Never Comes
In typical Metallica fashion, track four is the ballad. Structurally the beginning is exactly the same as the classic Fade to Black. Being the third song to clock in over seven minutes, it thankfully shows the band has forsaken some radio friendliness in favor of better writing. The ending of this song is a tour de force in guitar shredding from Hetfield and Hammett. It seems that they wrote the back side of this song specifically for Guitar Hero and have put up a big middle finger to the Dragonforce “guitar virtuosos”. Lyrically Hetfield has never been shy about dealing with personal matters in his songs. Previous examples of this would be The God That Failed which explored his Christian Science upbringing and the death of his mother to cancer, or Until It Sleeps which was about his father’s own battle with cancer and eventual death. Here Hetfield is much more straight forward in his lyrics which are about a child (presumably him) who is beaten by his father and though he seeks revenge, he never seems to get the courage to stand up for himself.
Track 5 All Nightmare Long
For those that want nothing but straight forward 80s Metallica, then this is the song for you. This is one of three standout tracks on the album and though not quite my favorite it is probably the best song on the album. There are a dozen riffing twists and turns within the first two minutes before a single lyric is sung. There is simply no doubt that the MVP of this album is Kirk Hammett. He has no less than three solo passages that firmly put new guitarists like Matt Heafy of Trivium fame in the corner. That’s right Matty, you and your emo girl jeans are in the corner and Patrick Swazye ain’t comin’ to take you out of it.
Track 6 Cyanide
This will obviously be the second single off the album. This is the closest the band gets to Load era Metallica yet it is still light years better than that. The chorus on this song is infectious and very catchy. One listen and you will not be able to get the line “Suicide, I’ve already died, it’s just the funeral I’ve been waiting for,” out of your head. Hetfield is beginning to tread the same lyrical ground as previous albums. While this song is about suicide, the previous track is obviously about nightmares which were already addressed in Enter Sandman. This isn’t necessarily bad, but some new topical matter may have been a fresh approach.
Track 7 Unforgiven III
When I saw there was another Unforgiven, I about punched my computer I was so mad. Is there really a need for that? Wasn’t two enough? I joked with a friend that the chorus was going to be “Cause you’re unforgiven cubed”. Thankfully, my anger was totally unfounded. Other than having an Ennio Morricone influence, which Hetfield has never tried to hide with his Unforgiven compositions, there is nothing that connects this song with the other two. The intro starts out with a spaghetti western type orchestra underplayed by a horn which is fan-fucking-tastic. You can practically see Clint Eastwood riding over the horizon while this plays. The orchestra is played again in key spots through out, which really adds to the overall atmosphere. This is another standout track on the album. The main riff has a very sludgy, Corrosion of Conformity stoner rock feel to it, and the middle section is nothing short of magnificent with a great build up to another scorching Hammett solo. Lyrically Hetfield gets personal again with what seems to be an apology to his family for having wronged them by living the rock n’ roll lifestyle for so long. Seems maybe all those cringe inducing therapy sessions so painfully documented on Some Kind of Monster actually paid off.
Track 8 The Judas Kiss
This is by far my favorite track on the album and is an instant classic. Like All Nightmare Long it has all the ingredients of 80s Metallica. The intro is harmonized guitars which then stop and start into a drum roll which then gives way to a hooky main riff. Rob Trujillo’s bass work has one of its few shining moments here. This song also has many twists and turns and has several solos jam packed in there as well. The lyrics are by far the best on the album and are again a subject that Hetfield has touched on before: temptation. This time they come from the point-of-view of the big evil bad guy himself, the Devil. Another catchy chorus is featured with a great middle section with almost spoken lyrics that really adds to the “evil” feel on this one.
Track 9 Suicide & Redemption
There isn’t really much to say about this track. It is an instrumental and seems to be put on the album simply to give it that 80s feel again. I think overall Death Magnetic would have been better served to have a different track on it since there were four leftover songs that weren’t included. There is some good dueling guitar solos by Hetfield and Hammett, but you can tell that most of the riffs were leftovers that got put together.
Track 10 My Apocalypse
This is the shortest track on the album at a little under five minutes. It is pretty much straight ahead speed metal with a middle guitar riff that is very reminiscent of Lamb of God. It has some really great clichéd metal lyrics like “fear thy name as hell awakens”.
The production on this album is very curious to say the least. Rick Rubin was at the helm this time and as with other bands, he has once again resurrected a career. The band sounds really raw and you feel like you are in the room with them. I don’t think I’ve ever heard drums this under produced, which is a good thing as they actually sound like drums. There are also other little things which give it that live feel such as feedback, rough cymbal mutes, and Hetfield counting to the next section of a song in places. This must be the sound they were going for on St. Anger but couldn’t achieve. All this being said Rubin is known for making his albums very, very loud and this one is no different. There is a huge debate raging right now in the sound and engineering community about the mixing and mastering process of this album. There is also controversy about which version is sonically better: the Guitar Hero III or CD version. I won’t suggest one over the other as I think it is a matter of taste and what kind of system, (car, iPod) you are listening to it on.
Songs you may have overlooked by Metallica
Load— The Outlaw Torn, The House That Jack Built
Garage Inc.– Mercyful Fate Medley, Astronomy
St. Anger – The Unnamed Feeling, Sweet Amber