Metallica – Death Magnetic
Produced by Rick Rubin
Release date: September 12, 2008
I wished Metallica would have walked away (or done the decent rock band thing and imploded in a cloud of drugs and lawsuits) after And Justice For All. The Black Album at the most. Since then their output has been pretty awful. Let’s face it: St Anger was a catastrophe. The album was shrouded in turmoil and embarrassment. Welcoming ex-Ozzy bassist Rob Trujillo into a mixture that was ready to explode, the band released St Anger, which displayed their ability to perform generic riffs to a very high standard. Gone was the boundless energy and, most interestingly, guitar solos. The documentary Some Kind Of Monster demonstrated how fragile Metallica had become thanks to, well, almost everything and as such it seemed their creativity and tolerance for each other and love for the music had vanished.
But now five years after their last studio album, Metallica is back to metal up your ass with Death Magnetic. I was very apprehensive about pushing ‘play’ on my CD player when I put this in. But one thought kept pulsing through my head: “It’s Metallica!” Whether I liked it or not, whether I was ready or not, Metallica had returned.
And what a return it is.
Death Magnetic was unfurled by internet leaks that told us everything and yet nothing at all, followed by some underwhelming artwork and finally a new track. The artwork is still fairly underwhelming, but fittingly, that is the theme of the whole project: a feeling of going back to basics. They have re-established what Metallica is about, what they’re good at. Fortunately what Metallica is good at is making great music.
Ok, so it doesn’t quite compare with the early albums, but this is a huge improvement on Load, Re-Load, Garage Days, and St Anger. This is because the energy is back: I don’t just mean hammering out riffs at the speed of light — Metallica can do that with their eyes closed — I mean they sound like they are enjoying playing again. A welcome return too for their ability to turn what could be just a one riff metal song into eight-minute-plus epics that play like the best movies: they draw you in, set out their intentions, then take you to a place you never envisioned, and come tearing into the home stretch tying everything up at the end.
A big talking point with the last album was the omission of lead guitarist Kirk Hammett’s solos. But at the five-minute mark in the first track, “That Was Just Your Life,” there it is: a sonic blast of a solo from Mr. Kirk Hammett. Welcome back. It’s as if the rest of the band said “Ok, we screwed you over on the last album. Go nuts.” And Hammett obligingly melted their faces with some incredible solos.
It has been a very long time since Lars Ulrich’s drumming sounded this good. There are some points, especially on “Suicide & Redemption,” where I wonder if it is actually him! So many people were eager to point out his shortfalls as a drummer over the years (me included), but here there is so much to his playing and so much more energy than he has shown in a long time that I take it all back.
James Hetfield is also back to his best. He manages to spit out his vocals with venom on tracks like “The End Of The Line” and “Cyanide,” but is also capable of more sombre deliveries like on “Unforgiven III.” Winning the battle against his various demons has given him his energy back in spades.
Never showy, never overstated, bassist Rob Trujillo is perfect for Metallica. He combines so seamlessly with Ulrich, they provide the perfect platform for each song. He didn’t play on St Anger, so this is the first chance we have had to hear what he can do and he shows why Metallica was right to select him.
The real stroke of genius here is recruiting Rick Rubin as producer. It was clear the Bob Rock era had to come to a close. Under Bob Rock they had become repetitive, generic and dull. Under Rubin’s guidance they immediately sound vibrant, creative, and, most importantly, alive.
Although it comes close, this won’t live up to the greatness of their early albums. But it will restore your faith in Metallica. Turn the volume up and play it to Death.