Review Summary: Tasty music. Unfortunate production.15 of 40 thought this review was well written
I've been meaning for awhile now to reduce that schizophrenic review I left on here after DM first came out, and after giving the album a few months to digest I can finally do that.
The 1.5 rating does not change, though. Metallica is worth a lot of money. I'm sure they can afford a really good sound engineer. Instead, pops and clicks and noise abound, and the too-loud production becomes a burden on the music.
The music, though, is where it counts, and on that end the boys partied like it was 1986. James Hetfield truly steals the show, with an aggressive but believable vocal performance. The pseudo-rage of St. Anger is gone, and he adds just the right touch of his signature growly-yowly vocal "YEAHS" to keep everything in balance. The verses of That Was Just Your Life and The End of the Line may represent James's finest career hour as a vocalist. Short of calling it very good singing, let's call it a very genuine vocal performance that is fits perfectly the type of music they're playing.
The lyrics, against all odds, work. I think. Somehow, James sweeping mural of mutilation and destruction never becomes cheesy. That's how the band started, anyway -- "no remorse, no regret" -- and maybe that's why the formula still works. Don't expect the verses to shake you to your core -- "crushing bodies, ripping skin, twisted bloody mannequin" -- just let them go where they will and they won't bring the music down with them.
Metallica is the penultimate riff band. I can't recall a single Metallica chord that ever got stuck in my head for half a day. It's all about the riffs. Death Magnetic has a tasty collection of riffs at work, riffs that always keep the songs moving along even if they are simple (and at times played just a few dozen bars more than they need to be.) The End of the Line hits the groove with a slamming swing-metal lick that calls on the best essences of Sir Ritchie Blackmore. Some of the main licks might be a little too simple for the band's ample pedigree (Broken, Beat & Scarred comes to mind), but they always manage to at least put a tap in your foot.
A lot was made of the apparent kidnapping of Kirk Hammett during the recording of St. Anger, and let's face it, taking a Kirk solo out of a Metallica song is taking the hops out of a thick, heavy beer -- removei t, and you're left with just a shitty-tasting glass of water. Kirk returns with a vengeance on DM, wah-pedaling his way through at least 10 guitar solos that will at least make the Guitar Hero Metallica Game much more interesting. The solos are thrashy and flashy, sometimes feeling structured to the song, other times sounding like they were first jammed in the recording booth. Kirk is not reinventing the guitar solo wheel, especially with the likes of John Petrucci and other virtuosos nipping at the mainstream fringes, but it's good to have him back nonetheless. Oh, and check out the second solo in The Judas Kiss -- one of my favorite Metallica solos of all time.
Now for the bad. And man oh man, there is the bad. I'll give Lars Ulrich credit, his drumming is what inspired me to become a drummer, and I played that VHS recording of the Roseland Ballroom Garage Inc. show until the tape spun dead. I'm sure more than one young metalhead will listen to the drumming on DM and bug his parents to buy him his first drumset. I'll even call this his best work since ...And Justice For All. But my stance remains. If half the drummers in metal lost both their hands and both their feet to a chainsaw or boat propeller, they'd still be better than Lars.
Lars' digression from 1988 onward is spectacular, and depressing. His fills on DM range from the snare drum to the snare drum (and the snare still sounds like a big, tinny piece of shit). There are a thousand places where run of the mill 1 and 3 beats could be replaced by something more metal. Even his double bass runs become incredibly muddy, leading me to wonder if the shit production was meant to hide some sloppy footwork. Lars may be the lifeblood of the band and an ambassador to metal (huge props for blowing up Dillinger as new pioneers of metal), and there's no doubt his drumming on DM will sit more than one young metalhead behind their first kit. But, from the man who once wrote Dyer's Eve and Battery, its safe to say he's reached the twilight of his career.
Robert Trujillo plays bass on the album. From what I've been told.
So that's it. Death Magnetic is a return to form for the biggest heavy metal band in the world, and make no mistake, Metallica is still the biggest heavy metal band in the world. We may never again see a band take over the world the way Metallica did following the release of the black album. For them to drop 10 songs that sound like they came from a band who still had something to prove is remarkable. If I had 100 million dollars I would sit on my ass and hire computers to make my music for me, so more credit to the old men for making an album with some genuine kick to it.
Metallica invented metal once in their career, and that's enough. DM will never be called groundbreaking, so let that expectation go. These are 10 songs that are heavy, fun, and hit all the right groove muscles in the process. Major oversights notwithstanding, Death Magnetic is a success.