Review Summary: Better than anyone dared to expect, but by no means a classic.
‘Praise the Lord, Metallica is back’.
If I had written this review a few months ago, like I intended to, that would have been the tagline, and the rating a solid 4/5. However, now that the excitement of having the “old” Metallica back has dissipated a little, it’s time to evaluate Death Magnetic
as a stand-alone album. The new assessment is not too different from the old one, but acknowledges a few problems that were gleefully overlooked or sugar-coated the first time around.
First of all, one must bear in mind the fact that it couldn’t have been easy for Metallica to write this album. I mean, where do
you go after St. Anger
? It would seem the only possible way was up, but the ascent was still pretty tricky – one slip-up and you could be in Load
territory again. And that wouldn’t please the fans. And you must
please the fans, because your last piece of crap of an album lost you quite a few, and an equal amount stuck around solely on the merits of your still-fiery live show. So, you’re basically stuck in a rut. What should you do?
The answer: make a conscious and premeditated effort to rejuvenate by 20 years. That’s what Death Magnetic
is, and that’s what it sounds like: a group of 40-year-old men going through a second childhood. Did you ever hear about that phase in a person’s life where they (especially men) seek to recapture the carelessness and fun of their teenage years? Well, musically, that is what Metallica are doing here.
However, there are a few things keeping them from succeeding entirely. For one., James’ voice is still accusing the effects of one too many rehab sessions. In the clean parts in particular, there are some slip-ups that, while not as frequent as on St. Anger
, still make the listener a little uneasy. For another, Lars still can’t drum worth a damn, and he insists on making his drums sound like sh*t on the album. The drum mixing is nowhere near as atrocious as on The Album Which Shall Not Be Named, but it’s still pretty bad. Worse, the execution itself is sloppy and uninspired, constituting one of the lowest points of this album.
And then there are the lyrics. To put it bluntly, some of them are atrocious. There are some verses that show Hetfield can still write a meaningful põem, but on others, you have to wonder what he was thinking. Take, for example, the cringe-inducing grammatical error repeated to exhaustion on Broken, Beat And Scarred
. ”What don’t kill ya’ll make ya more strong”
Really? ”More strong”
? Aren’t Metallica supposed to have English as a first language? Even I know that’s wrong! Sadly, that’s not all. Try ”say is that rain or are they tears”
for good measure. Or ”love is a four letter word”
. Really!? What an astounding revelation! And then there’s All Nightmare Long
, probably the worst pun I’ve heard in quite a while.
Even more puzzling is how the group manages to counter-balance these ridiculous lines with some good ones. ” Judas lives, recite this vow/I’ve become your new God now”
, snarled by Hetfield, sounds amazing. Or how about “born to push you around/You better just stay down/You pull away/He hits the flesh/You hit the ground
? It’s instances like these that make the bad lyrics even more intolerable.
But what of the music, you ask? Well, there’s good and there’s bad. As stated, Ulrich’s drumming is mostly bad, and in many cases confuses volume for actual aggression. On the opposite end is Kirk Hammett’s performance, with the guitarist having a handful of stellar, shredding, technical SOLOS. That’s right, Kirk’s solos are back!!! Yaaaaaay!! What’s more, over half of them are interesting, with a couple being downright awesome. I confess the first time I heard him rip on That Was Just Your Life
, it put a big goofy grin on my face which refuses to leave even to this day. We needed Kirk to do this type of solo...it’s been too long. As for James, he follows along pleasantly, creating some satisfiably crunchy riffs and delivering a confident, if flawed, vocal performance. New boy Trujillo, in turn, is no Cliff Burton, but gets the job done with gusto.
The problem, then, is that the songwriting is extremely wavery. For every above-average or good moment – That Was Just Your Life, The End Of The Line, My Apocalypse
, there is another which is plodding and expendable, such as Suicide and Redemption
or the dreadful Broken, Beat and Scarred
. The first seeks to recapture the spirit of the instrumentals of old, but contains no significant wank factor, quickly becoming plodding and overlong. The latter...well, if you like this song, you’ve just lost your right to badmouth anything by Metallica ever again. It’s worse than anything on St. Anger
, and that’s saying a lot. From the unsufferably insipid lyrics to the faux-aggression, it shows Metallica falling prey to the same mistakes they made six years previously. A redeeming factor is Kirk’s awesome solo, and the subsequent riff – they don’t belong in a song like this, and deserve a better fate than the inevitable oblivion they’ll be condemned to.
Fortunately, the rest of the album fares much better, veering between the acceptably average – All Nightmare Long, Cyanide
– and the outright awesome – My Apocalypse
– with a few good surprises like The Judas Kiss
in between. This is a complex, satisfying song with life beyond its chorus (unlike Cyanide
, which gives the illusion of being a standout but isn’t) and some good vocal and instrumental work. However, the real
standouts are the bookends. My Apocalypse
is Metallica’s best song since the black album, a rippin’, shreddin’ slice of pure Bay Area thrash which contains the best moment in the album – look out for James belting out ”split apart, split apart, split apart, SPIT IT OUT!!!!”
before Kirk launches into another one of his creaking solos. Simply awesome. A similar pattern is followed by That Was Just Your Life
, which brings back the spirit of tracks such as Blackened
and seems destined to become a Metallica classic. Finally, The End Of The Line
is a mid-tempo track with some more good guitar work and another catchy chorus. Here, the solo is more dissonant, bringing echoes of Sad But True
; it works well in context, but we can never get enough of Kirk shredding.
The remaining songs, as stated, are satisfying, but show a somewhat worrisome tendency. You see, Metallica are ripping off themselves
. Lead single The Day That Never Comes
is structured in the exact same way as the classic Fade To Black
, except this time there are words in the chorus. And why do I keep slipping up and calling it The Day That Never Was
or The Day That Should Not Be
...? As for The Unforgiven III
, it’s an effective but most definite rehash of Low Man’s Lyric
. As for the cover of the album itself, it seems to be attempting to bring back the spirit of ...And Justice For All
, an album with which Death Magnetic
shares a few similarities, not least the fact that it debuts a new bassist in the group, just like the 1988 album did. Plus, sonically, it’s basically a mixture of AJFA
, with a bit of everything else thrown in.
But is it a classic? Well, no. There are far too many flaws. But Metallica are left off the hook on the evidence of having presented an honest album, with some very definite standouts making do for its more than glaring deficiencies. A pass mark, but no gold stars.
That Was Just Your Life
The End Of The Line
The Judas Kiss