Review Summary: Not the final nail in the band's coffin...That comes later
We’ve waited patiently for long enough! 17 years had passed since the release of Metallica, the last highly acclaimed album by the metal gods of the same name. 17 years later and all the worshipping but by now pessimistic followers could only pray that their heroes could still muster some form of quality and start their path back towards redemption.
Whenever a promotion for any new album centers around a promised return to some previous form, then it’s a safe bet that the artist is generally past it. If they have to state that the album will be good, then it’s pretty clear that they haven’t been able to deliver that said quality in any recent time. So as the hype started to build for Metallica’s 9th studio album, curiously titled Death Magnetic, hope started to rise as people started to believe that Metallica could finally put behind them St. Anger and the band’s ‘rock’ era. Rick Rubin was brought in to replace Bob Rock, and some new songs premiered live (although neither would feature completely on the album).
So the question has been asked, does Death Magnetic shock Metallica’s dwindling studio career back to life? Well sort of.
It is a return to the bands heyday as promised, with a majority of the songs following the structure and often mimicking compositions of their earlier successes. The opening melancholy introduction to ‘That Was Just Your Life’ is reminiscence of ‘Battery’ and ‘Fight Fire with Fire’, and like the previous two tracks, the song eventually explodes into some fast riffs and aggressive vocals. Hammett puts everyone’s mind at ease, with a good workmanlike solo and Ulrich reminds us once again why St. Anger is the monstrosity that it is by using the exact same drum style and sound that made the metal world shed a tear 5 years ago.
Actually most of what was so horribly wrong with the previous release is still present here. The majority of the songs are still way too long, with the finale ‘My Apocalypse’ being the only track under 6 minutes long, and the horror production show that annihilated any hope of any enjoyment with St. Anger is still present. Hetfield continues to attempt to growl, and the lyrics remain pedestrian at best. Most of the album centers around death and suicide, two topics that depend on a capable songwriter to bring some authenticity to whatever is being mumbled out. Metallica used to be able to write competent lyrics, with the occasional moment of inspiration;
‘Take a look to the sky just before you die, it’s the last time you will’
But Death Magnetic’s lyrics read like a guide on how-to-not make any sense whatsoever. Hetfield ‘sings’ at one point ‘Suicide, I’ve already died’, a crude metaphor for any songwriting ability that might have been present 15 years ago. Any writing talent is long gone, and every new verse is just another shot in the head.
BUT at times the album does manage to overcome its many pitfalls, as some songs seem genuinely well composed. ‘The Judas Kiss’ serves almost as a compilation of every sound Metallica has ever attempted, combining the mid-tempo sound incorporated on Load with the aggressiveness of something like ‘Leper Messiah’. ‘End of the Line’ has a surprisingly fun main riff and some surprisingly decent vocals by Hetfield, and ‘The Unforgiven III’ brings the trilogy to a close on a high note with a beautiful piano intro, a solo that is built up to and unleashed effectively and good use of a few tempo changes to keep the listener guessing. The lyrics try to connect the dots to the previous hits, by focusing on lose and depression, but the verses and chorus are both much weaker than either of the track’s forefathers.
‘All Nightmare Long’ is the best metal song the band has written since ‘Dyers Eve’, and ‘The Day that Never Comes’ serves as a modern day ‘One’ or ‘Fade to Black’, just without any of the emotion of the previously mentioned tracks. Still instrumentally it’s well manufactured. ‘Cyanide’ could have fit in well on any of the band’s 90s albums, and also has the only true moment of lyrical bliss, compared to the rest of the writing;
‘An air of freshly broken ground
A concrete angel lit right down
Upon the grave which swallows fast,
It's peace at last, hey, peace at last!’
Death Magnetic is a calculated response to the criticism the band has faced in their recent years. The songs don’t try to be anything more than shells of their better versions, and even though individually the majority of the tracks are worth listening too at least a few times, some might find it hard to shed the feeling that this is not an album the band was to invested in. Death Magnetic is an album for the fans, to nourish their hunger and nurse their wounds, until the day comes when Metallica release something once again noteworthy and truly recapture their former glory. Hopefully a day will come when describing a new Metallica song as ‘Decent’ is not considered a compliment.