Review Summary: There is life in the old dogs yet. But how much is yet to be determined...
‘The game’s over, Metallica won’ reads a quote on an advertisement for Death Magnetic. It’s just not true though. If the game could ever be over, it would have been finished back in 1986 (Master of Puppets). And while this album is not as good as that classic (nor should we expect it to be), it still sounds relatively exciting for the most part, although there are definitely some flaws in it.
The first track, ‘That Was Just Your Life’
is brilliant, an old-school burst of true Metallica thrash. Exit St. Anger, enter Death Magnetic. They mean no nonsense on this track, and Hetfield’s vocals are reminiscent of Metallica’s older work, notably ‘Blackened’. It’s the album that ‘Blackened’ came from; ‘…And Justice For All’ which this album sounds most like. The guitar solos which St. Anger was devoid of have returned in all their glory here. The album closer, ‘My Apocalypse’
is similar in style also, another powerful thrash track to bookend the album, but it is not quite as strong as the first. The former track is one of the best on the album. The other two standout tracks are ‘Broken, Beat & Scarred’
and ‘All Nightmare Long’
. The first of these is one of the heavier tracks, pounding the senses with jabbing guitars and rumbling bass. ‘All Nightmare Long’
has trotting, machine gun style guitars, and sounds like it belongs on what has become known as the Black Album.
The single, ‘The Day that Never Comes’
is reminiscent of ‘One’. It has a slower, more melancholy pace towards the beginning, but a good speed change partway through also keeps things fresher. That they have chosen it as a single is no surprise, although no track on the album is obvious single material, just that this track the most likely candidate. That or ‘Cyanide’
. And herein is where the problem starts to appear. For all the crunch of the first few tracks, this could have off of St. Anger. I actually quite liked St. Anger as an album, (and for that matter, Load and Reload, though of course, they are not as good as their older stuff), but here it sounds out of place. This is a step away from the metal and into hard rock; the song itself is not awful but it does not fit with the album.
The song lengths are also a problem, (averaging between seven and eight minutes a track) and are certainly a barrier to entry for any potential new Metallica fans (though they probably do not care one iota about this). Whilst most of their best songs are around the eight minute mark, they feel natural and expansive, whereas some of the tracks here feel a little repetitive and slightly uninspired. Which is more than can be said for Hefield’s terrible lyrics. Metallica never were the most poignant with a pen but here, some of them are truly awful. On ‘My Apocalypse’
Hetfield cries out ‘Crushing metal, ripping skin / tossing body mannequin / spilling blood, bleeding gas’; almost as if with the thrashy style, and the ‘gory’ lyrics, they are trying (and failing) to emulate Slayer’s ‘Angel of Death’. The instrumental ‘Suicide and Redemption’
lacks the feeling of the previous one on Master of Puppets - ‘Orion’.
All in all, the album is listenable, but a disappointment. Only really on the conquering ‘All Nightmare Long’
and ‘That Was Just Your Life’
do they really fly.