Review Summary: The band's best album ever since ...And Justice For All.
Considering my low rating and the description title, there's a lot of Metallica fans that would both disagree and agree with me. Back in the mid-80's and early 90's, when Metallica was just a group of outcasts who had come together to release a metal album, just like that, they became arguably the singular most popular metal band of this generation. Metallica's first four albums were pure metal, and were all equally explosive and epic in quality.
But then it seems as though Metallica died right after that, ran out of fresh material. They took some major sips from the wine of mediocrity, then completely downed the whole damn thing in the two Load and ReLoad albums, both of which would eventually be the final nails in Metallica's coffin (which, as a joke, you can probably see on the album cover). Thankfully, Death Magnetic is a great chance at redemption, and by that, I mean a half-greatly metal, half-god awful album that barely exceeds my high expectations, but it's still better than the band's previous four albums. But hey, can't blame them for trying, CAN YOU?
Think of Metallica like this: you add in the wicked guitar playing of Iron Maiden and Motorhead, then spice it up a little with good bass playing, and you've got them. In this album, some claim that Metallica has finally come back to being the true thrash metal gods. No, this is not Kill 'Em All, or Master of Puppets. In fact, this is about as "true to the core" as Virtual XI was with Iron Maiden. I can barely get used to the new James Hetfield voice. What was once a powerful, angry voice that any metalhead could recognize, has turned into a softer, more eerily subtle voice.
Although the other band members are still somewhat at their peak, all of these songs continue to suffer, no matter how the rare great one is. The songwriting has now reached an all-time low (if you exclude St. Anger), as there's barely anything remarkable about it at all. Take the absolutely atrocious "Broken, Beat & Scarred", for example "You rise, you fall, you're down then you rise again What don't kill ya make ya more strong /You rise, you fall, you're down then you rise again What don't kill ya make ya more strong / Rise, fall, down, rise again What don't kill ya make ya more strong / Rise, fall, down, rise again What don't kill ya make ya more strong" It's repetitive and lacks imagination.
Riffs are a mixed bag. First of all, "Cyanide" gets unrelentingly annoying with the constant tapping and random finger movement, and the annoying, attempting-to-be-eerie bass-drum intro throughout "All Nightmare Long". The production is also surprisingly crappy. There's a plague of raw instruments throughout that tend to either become too muffled or far too noisy. "The Day That Never Comes" could be the best-produced track.
As I had mentioned before, the selection is a definite win-and-lose. "That Was Just Your Life" and "The End Of The Line" serve as two increasingly pointless intro songs. Hetfield's voice is next to barely tolerable in the former, while the latter, in terms of instruments, sounds too alike to the former, both throwaways. "Broken, Beat & Scarred is a superbly boring song that just drags on and on with repetitive drum beats and an uninspired riff. "The Unforgiven III" is a mixed song, in all senses of the word. On the positive hand, the lyrics are a lot better than the other two from ReLoad and Metallica (not respectively), but on the downside, I never said it was great at all. In fact, it could be a decent song with some serious riff and vocal cord editing.
"My Apocalypse" is thankfully a worthy song up to Metallica's standards. (I believe this won the Grammy in 2009 for Best Metal Recording, right?) With a chugging, harshly slicing guitar riff, the unforgiving vocal offense in Hetfield's voice, and the crushing bass and drum beats. "The Judas Kiss" contains a forgiving, definitely original riff, and original drum beats. It's very good on its own, but needs lyrical tuning. Probably the most captivating song here is the 10-minute instrumental "Suicide and Redemption". With thunderous guitar lashes, bass attacks, and crashing drum beats in the first 3 minutes, then boom, in the fourth, it slows down considerably, then back to a lashing guitar riff later on. It's, personally, the best Metallica instrumental ever since Master of Puppet's "Orion".
My biggest problem with Death Magnetic: is that if you could take away at least 6-7 tracks, leave it as a single EP, this would be a bestseller and one of their best albums yet. Death Magnetic suffers far too much from repetitive songwriting, a hard-to-get-used-to vocal progression, and setting low expectations. I suggest buying just to see how much a Juggernaut band can really suffer, for it just seems that Metallica can never follow the old saying: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." That old formula probably got thrown out the back the minute Load was released, with dignity and fan reputation splattered on the wall. Otherwise recommended.
Probably the only true standout tracks that bring me back to the good 'ol days of Metallica are [i]My Apocalypse[i] and Suicide and Redemption
. If you're looking for really good solos, and if you somehow get used to the new Hetfield voice, take a look at "The Day That Never Comes".