Review Summary: New signs of life make an unexpected appearance within this collection of b-sides.
Once admired by virtually the entire metal community, Metallica has spent the better part of two decades releasing a series of increasingly divisive and critically panned albums. Touted as a return to the band's thrashier metal roots, 2008's Death Magnetic
seemed to be headed in a more favorable direction although whether it succeeded or not was widely debated by both fans and critics alike. From these same 2008 sessions comes Beyond Magnetic
- an EP featuring four previously unreleased tracks. Could the discarded remains of an album with this rather lukewarm reception really be deserving of their own separate release over three years later?
Judging by the opening assault of "Hate Train", things appear to be much the same as they were on Death Magnetic
. It's not until the chorus kicks in that we hear something which truly stands out from what was provided three years ago. A lead guitar melody signals the change into a welcome quieter clean guitar-driven refrain, adding a unique texture to the metallic barrage which dominated the first couple of minutes. Likewise, "Hell and Back" sees the band experimenting with fresher ideas rather than simply reaching back towards the past. One could view these songs as a natural blend between the more rock based sound of the Load/ReLoad
era and this most recent thrash revivalism. It is in these moments that Metallica displays a level of progression in their songwriting abilities worthy of a band with a career spanning close to 30 years.
Throughout the EP, we are treated to all of the things we've come to expect from every Metallica recording - monster riffs and Kirk Hammett's impressive soloing (of both the wah-wahed and the un-wahed variety). Perhaps most surprisingly, Beyond Magnetic
reveals itself as a collection of frontman James Hetfield's strongest lyrical work in recent years. Glimpses of the man who penned such memorable anthems as "Fade to Black" appear more frequently than those of the "Broken, Beat & Scarred" wordsmith. Of particular note is the stark simplicity of "Just A Bullet Away". A cry of "stop the voices in my head" is followed by a few seconds of silence which then transitions into a serene instrumental section harkening back to a similar passage found on "Orion". This clear connection between word and instrument gives a much appreciated depth to what could otherwise be just another tune to bang your head to.
The 80s are long gone. We have only the future ahead of us. Be it through the creative, melodic chorus of "Hate Train" or the energetic speed-riffing in "Rebel of Babylon," Beyond Magnetic
shows signs of a veteran heavy metal band with something indeed left to contribute to the music industry. With a little quality control and some better decision-making during the critical production stages, Metallica may very well still be capable of releasing a classic album in the 21st century.