Review Summary: Surprisingly solid.
No matter how you look at it, it's pretty much universally agreed that Metallica are past their prime. While the band still tour relentlessly like always, their 80s heyday is now just a sweet memory and musical haven to fans looking to get their thrash metal fix. Even Death Magnetic, while attempting to recapture the old classic Metallica vibe, still saw a pretty mixed fan reception (but hey, at least it wasn't another St. Anger!). After their Lulu album with Lou Reed pretty much drilled their reputation even further into the ground, what was the next logical step? Make a concert film and cash in with another damn live record! Fancy that! Luckily though, this is probably the most entertaining and energetic Metallica effort in a very long time.
Let's begin with the worst and most obvious aspect of this album though. If you look at the track list, you'll already notice something exceptionally disappointing about this record: there are no surprises whatsoever. The setlist is the most predictable one you can imagine, with a slew of popular hits and rarely any lesser-known gems; the only one that's pretty notable is "...And Justice For All," since the band rarely played the song due to its length. The songs are largely played in the same way as they were in the studio, with a notable exception being the guitar tuning. Any song that was played in Standard-E tuning (as in, almost every song on here) is now played in E-flat tuning; this is actually beneficial because it makes the songs a bit heavier and more intense in the long run. As I said before, the real highlight of this record is its energy; these songs haven't been played this way by the band in a decade or two. Even with thrashier cuts such as "Battery" or "Hit the Lights" are played just as aggressively and quickly as they were in the 80s. Speaking of "Battery," that's an absolute highlight here; the solos and swift drumming still feel completely fresh and James' singing is still sufficiently gruff and intimidating. "Nothing Else Matters" and "One" hold up well in the "ballad" department as the band are still able to maintain a strong sense of dynamic control and retain their tight musicianship. Perhaps it's from years of playing these songs over and over, but the emotion is certainly still felt in these tracks and "One"'s more aggressive second half still manages to build on its first half's melancholic vibe extremely well.
However, the problem is that you still get a feeling of deja vu because of the aforementioned predictability of the setlist. Yeah, there are classics like "Master of Puppets," "Creeping Death," "Ride the Lightning," and "For Whom the Bell Tolls," but why do we need to listen to yet another round of live renditions of these tracks? It seems pretty pointless considering the amount of live albums the band have already released, not to mention all the videos you can find online for these songs. Not only that, but there are some moments of sloppiness on the band's part. During one of the verses on "Nothing Else Matters," James' voice just starts going everywhere for some reason as he sings the word "anew." This isn't even one of the heavier moments of the song but rather a slow melancholic section, and the slip-up (or at least it seems to be a slip-up) sticks out like a sore thumb. Another example is the drumming on "For Whom the Bell Tolls"; Lars Ulrich just sounds a bit sluggish and some of the fills he performs are a bit odd. The first fill he does once Kirk's melodic guitar line starts sounds completely off, as if he lost his musical footing at that very moment and regained it during the next measure. Stuff like this seems nitpicky, but it really adds up in the long run and gets very annoying after a while. One more thing, and this is just a side-note: if the soundtrack/film is called Through the Never, why the hell wasn't "Through the Never" actually in it? That just seems baffling to me, but that's the last nitpick I'm mentioning.
So how is the Through the Never soundtrack? It's definitely a good live album if you're not sick to death of Metallica live releases, or perhaps this is your first time picking up one by them. Even then, I'd suggest getting the Live Shit: Binge and Purge collection if you want some of the band's best live material. Either way, despite its track list's predictability, Through the Never is a solid collection of Metallica tunes that benefits from (usually) solid performances and a healthy dose of energy that's quite frankly refreshing. It's a nice live effort, just not very essential.