Review Summary: Metallica fuses Master of Puppets with The Black Album and finally starts kicking ass again.
Metallica has become just as much of a punchline as a band name over the past decade. The band’s incredibly loyal fans have sat back and watched the band sabotage itself for well over fifteen years. Sure, it made their older material seem like classics in comparison, but I’m just making lemonade out of lemons here. The Load/Reload cycle was an unwelcomed fusion of blues and gut-busting rock and roll, and St. Anger has been said by many to be one of the worst albums ever released in the metal genre. I’m not about to disagree with any of these claims.
It’s about time Metallica released something worthwhile. With the exception of songs like “Bleeding Me”, “The Unforgiven II” and “Fuel”, Metallica has truly been in the ***ter. While Death Magnetic isn’t the band returning to full form, it certainly comes damn close.
There really aren’t that many tricks to this album; it’s for the most part the typical Metallica thrash-metal and hard rock hybrid that we heard on The Black Album. The riffs are just as furious as ever, as you’ll hear on the album’s particularly fast and occasionally groovy first song, “That Was Just Your Life”. This song is for the most a very accurate representation of what you’ll be hearing for the rest of the album: thrashy verses fused with catchy choruses that I’m sure will become fan favorites at the band’s upcoming live shows.
James Hetfield is really at the top of his game here and is by far the most interesting and entertaining member of Metallica. His vocals have mostly lost that “yeah-hah!” sound that has become just as hilarious as they are annoying, though you’ll still hear them in small doses. James’ voice carries plenty of melody while having plenty of attack. I’m pretty confident and saying it’s his best vocal performance to date. While the lyrics aren’t exactly great, I challenge you to not sing along to the chorus of “All Nightmare Long”, which has now become one of my all time favorite Metallica songs.
But where Metallica has always shined is the riffs. Flat out entertaining riffs. With an album that’s over seventy minutes long, you’ll get more than enough to keep you entertained for weeks. They’re nothing incredibly different from what you’ve heard on past Metallica records, though there are a few new tricks here and there. There’s plenty of thrash riffs to please all the diehard Burton-era fans as well as a good helping of mid-tempo groove reminiscent of songs like “Sad But True” and “My Friend of Misery”. Every once in a while you’ll be treated to either really catchy or flat out strange harmonization (Cyanide and The End of the Line, respectively). But perhaps the greatest example of riff mastery is the band’s instrumental, “Suicide and Redemption”. While it’s no “The Call of Ktulu”, that doesn’t mean it’s not fat out fun to listen to. There’s a great main groove going on throughout, a great bass line, as well as a solo by Hammett that’s easy to listen to! It’s one of this year’s choice cuts and worth any metal fan’s attention.
This album is certainly deserving of praise, but it’s not without its obvious flaws, like the overly long songs. Many of the songs could stand to be a minute or two shorter. And yes, we all know Lars Ulrich’s drumming is boring and Kirk Hammett dry humps his wah pedal whenever he takes a solo. These are the things that it’s easy to point out whenever you listen to Metallica, but these things seem to always be downplayed on here. The drumming is rarely ever the focus of any of Death Magnetic’s ten tracks, so it’s more than easy to ignore. Lars basically just keeps the song moving and nothing more, and I’m not complaining. Hammett’s solos are usually a nuisance, but the riffs behind them are usually very solid and just as easy to focus on. Trujilo’s bass, when you can hear it, is always crunchy and thick, but it’d be nicer to hear it much more often.
What really makes Death Magnetic shine is that it’s very familiar, but it always keeps you guessing. Metallica uses essentially the same album format that they had on albums like Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning: opening with thrash, then a slow song, more thrash, an epic instrumental, and then a scorching closer. “The Day That Never Comes” definitely conjures up memories of “One”, while still having that hard-rock sound found on Reload. “My Apocalypse” essentially Metallica trying to give us another “Damage, Inc.” and it’s pretty obvious what “The Unforgiven III” reminds everyone about.
Metallica’s back, that’s for sure. Hetfield shows that he’s still got plenty of potential to write quality metal songs and not the drop-c, tin can snare garbage that was released five years back. There aren’t that many tricks to Death Magnetic, it’s just flat out fun
to listen to. It’s a quality fusion of Master of Puppets and The Black Album that every past fan of Metallica can enjoy. In conclusion, Death Magnetic is one of the most surprising and entertaining listens of the year.
All Nightmare Long
Suicide and Redemption
That Was Just Your Life
The Judas Kiss