Review Summary: A successful rebound effort from a band seemingly doomed to dwell forever in the realm of mediocrity.
“And when you see me strut, remind me of what left this outlaw torn,” vocalist James Hetfield howled on the closing track of Metallica’s 1996 album, Load
. After a brief venture into the kingdom of mediocrity with 1997’s ReLoad
, which suffered from more than blatantly-unoriginal album title, Metallica upped the ante by usurping the throne of their newfound dwelling place. Sworn into office with 2003’s St. Anger
, Metallica crafted the quintessential example of a legendary band becoming slaves to their own apices. No doubt the last decade or so has been absolutely disastrous for the heavy metal band, following their infamous conflict with file-sharing network Napster, the critical failure of their recent studio efforts, and the perception among music fans that Metallica is a band to love to hate. That Metallica had the guts to release their ninth studio album, Death Magnetic
, five years after the ridiculous St. Anger
is a strut at its most obvious. A band’s got to be mighty proud to release new material in the wake of such failure.
However, Death Magnetic
is not the comedy album of the year as some would have believed. Metallica’s ninth album is a thunderous rebound from their previous two attempts. Using a meticulously-prepared formula of tightly-constructed songs, thrashier riffs, pretension, and a departure from the lo-fi garage-band sound, Hetfield and Co. have attempted to recapture the sound scope of Ride the Lightning
, Master of Puppets
, and …And Justice for All
while retaining a hint of the alternative direction they took in their 1991 self-titled record. In short, Metallica is trying with Death Magnetic
to draw in both older fans and a newer audience at the same time. Perhaps this record is an attempt to start a clean slate on the band’s scratched and abused blackboard, and the thing is, the album isn’t terrible.
A lonely heartbeat opens the album with the abrasive “That Was Just Your Life,” and the song suddenly bursts into a furious festival of heavy riffing and drumming. The listener immediately realizes how clean and polished Metallica’s sound is compared to their previous album, and then Hetfield enters with some forgettable lyrics, a recurring occasion throughout the record’s mammoth 74-minute length. “That Was Just Your Life” features Hetfield delivering some half-baked similes and a chorus that is catchy because of the tune, not the words. The return of guitar solos is also marked in Death Magnetic
’s thrashy opener, a return which is most welcome after St. Anger
’s complete lack of solos. At seven minutes, “That Was Just Your Life” is a very listenable and tight song, and is a perfect indication of how the album sounds as a whole.
Besides Hetfield’s apparent lack of lyrical inspiration, Death Magnetic
’s most notable flaw is in its singles. Excluding album closer “My Apocalypse,” which stands at a still-solid 5-minute length, all of the album’s singles are simply too long…way too long. Lead single “The Day That Never Comes” clocks in at nearly eight minutes, “The Judas Kiss” is
eight minutes, and the ever-repetitive “Cyanide” is nearly seven minutes. Of the four singles, “My Apocalypse” is the best, and for good reason. Not only is it the shortest single (and also the shortest track on the entire album), but it is the most cohesive single. “The Day That Never Comes” is crippled by the fact that the song seems to be a deliberate parody of previous Metallica ballads, and it features Hetfield’s worst lyrics to date as well as a drawn-out, boring outro. “Cyanide” is a bland, repetitive track that is redeemed only by a slick bassline and memorable chorus. “The Judas Kiss” is just too long and uninteresting (except for the guitar solo), and fails to stand out among Death Magnetic
’s other tracks.
The album’s strengths lie in non-single cuts “The End of The Line,” a quasi-funk-metal song with some captivating guitar work, “All Nightmare Long,” the best example of an ‘80’s Metallica track since, well, the ‘80’s, and “Suicide and Redemption,” the band’s first instrumental in many, many years. While these tracks are good, full of churning, chugging, and frantic guitars and Lars Ulrich’s best drumming since Metallica
, they’re also all very similar in style. Indeed, a majority of this album focuses on a return to heavy metal, and, as a result, there is very little diversity in Death Magnetic
So yeah, it’s not a bad album. It’s a good album; in fact, it’s the band’s best album since Load
. However, as I said earlier, Death Magnetic
is a sign of Metallica’s newfound strut. So, Metallica, let me remind you: you’re not invincible, you’re a group of prideful musicians, and this is your flaw. I see Death Magnetic
as a perfect stopping-point for the band. They have redeemed themselves with this record, and it would be horrible to taint their legacy again. Welcome back to the ranks of accomplished musicians, Metallica, and tread carefully.