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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Metallica

Death Magnetic

Review by Mike Korn

Has the hour of redemption arrived for Metallica? Or is it too late for them to reclaim their crown as the reigning kings of heavy metal? Of course, that judgment is up to every person who listens to their latest opus, Death Magnetic, but I believe this new record goes a long way towards rehabilitating a band that had seriously gone off the rails for close to 15 years.

I wouldn't say that Death Magnetic equals the brilliance of the first three Metallica albums but it sure doesn't shame their legacy and it is miles ahead of their last three albums. St. Anger was indeed heavy and angry, but also very boring and featuring possibly the worst production ever for a platinum selling act.. Load and Reload were average, watered down metal albums, with Reload being nothing but out-takes from the Load sessions. Even the mult-platinum Black album, despite some brilliant songs, was pretty uneven in the songwriting department.

Key to Metallica's rebirth is showing long-time producer Bob Rock, responsible for most of their sonic mis-steps, the door and bringing in eclectic genius Rick Rubin to man the boards. Rubin has got the band back to their roots, as Death Magnetic definitely boasts superior songwriting, an injection of thrashy energy missing since And Justice For All... and a complex, progressive approach. I would have liked a little more rawness in the mix myself, but tracks like "All Nightmare Long," "Broken, Beat,  Scarred" and the monster instrumental "Suicide and Redemption" demonstrate that there is still a real fire burning somewhere in these guys' hearts. The album is a renaissance particularly for Kirk Hammet, who had been totally neutered the last few years. His solos here are amongst the best he's ever done. In short, Death Magnetic sounds like the record that should have come after And Justice For All...

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
That Was Just Your Life
A human heartbeat and a slow, eerie build kick off the album. The heaviness gradually builds and it's already thankfully evident that the production is not the mud and muck of St. Anger. When the thrash riffs kicks in, it's off to the races. This song mixes old school Metallica with the catchier approach of the Black album and is a fine opener, but much better is to come.
End Of The Line
This track is even more of a combination of old and new Metallica. The early riffing is like Load-era stuff but leads into a great chugging riff that hearkens back to Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets.  You get the best of past and present here. Kirk Hammet's guitar playing really comes to the fore and there's some great twin guitar work almost reminiscent of Thin Lizzy...a trademark on Death Magnetic. The track is a tad longer than I would have liked and the mellow breakdown was something I could have done without, but this cut really announces the band means business.
Broken, Beat, Scarred

Choppy, angular riffing starts this bruiser off, very much like something that could have been on "And Justice For All...", but then turns into a super-cool, semi-oriental motif that I think is one of the best Metallica riffs EVER! Hard to describe how totally killer that hook is. This is fist-pumping metal at its best and very heavy all the way through. Hard to believe this is the same bunch who blundered through the last 15 years or so.
The Day That Never Came
Here we journey into the land of the Metallica ballad. The opening moments are pretty familiar and reminiscent of every ballad these guys have done since "Sanitarium," "One," "The Unforgiven," etc. Even so, the hook is genuinely emotional and catchy and the song builds magnificently. The heavy parts are really heavy and Hetfield's voice is at its evocative best. About two-thirds of the way through, they slam into a thrash riff so pure that it would bring tears to the eyes of any fan of Kill 'Em All - absolutely awesome! More great twin guitar work shows up. This is one of the best Metallica ballads, on a par with "Sanitarium" and "One."
All Nightmare Long
One of the album's hardest and thrashiest tunes, this shows the band has not lost their taste for twisting, unorthodox song arrangements. This is a barrage of constantly shifting tempos and hooks, combining balls-out thrash with muscular, mid-tempo power riffing. The vocal hook is terrifically catchy as well. It's a very intense cut...I get the feeling this is what they were reaching for with St. Anger, but just couldn't nail.
Cyanide
Although definitely hard-hitting, this isn't as successful as the other heavy tracks here. The music seems too basic, Hetfield's vocals are a little off and generally it seems kind of bland compared to the more sophisticated tracks surrounding it. One good thing about the tune is the full-blooded bass playing by Robert Trujillo, who comes into his own on this album.
The Unforgiven III
Oh God, not another one of these! I don't know why the band is so hooked on these "Unforgiven" ballads, it doesn't seem terribly creative to keep beating the same lyrical dead horse. Despite that, this does manage to grow on me and it's definitely leagues ahead of "Unforgiven II."  Piano and orchestral instruments give the sad music a lush, soundtrack like feel and it does heavy up nicely, building to a strong climax, with more sizzling guitar leads from Hammet. This is a good ballad, but "The Day That Never Came" is better yet.
The Judas Kiss
This progressive metal epic constantly throws something new at the listener. In the first minute alone, we get enough riffs for a typical metal song. This is Metallica at their most obtuse, with angular arrangements and a harsh feel. This is quite an advanced track that will take more than one listen to digest.  It is very much in the And Justice For All... vein of songwriting.
Suicide And Redemption
"The Judas Kiss" would have been an album highlight for many a band, but it was just a warm-up for this monumentally huge instrumental. As surprised as I already was by Death Magnetic, I was still not expecting this monster. Almost ten minutes in length, this is a pure riff-fest of stainless steel metal. There's one super catchy riff with a "swaggering" feel that reappears several times...killer stuff! Because the tune never gets locked into a groove for too long, it's never boring. Honestly, this is better than "Orion" or "Call of Cthulhu"...it is that good.
My Apocalypse
The shortest track on the disc starts with an almost happy guitar hook over powerful tribal drumming from Ulrich. Then it cuts loose into pure thrash very much like a "Battery" or "Damage, Inc.." This is hardly the most original or advanced cut here, but it's still a joy to listen to because it's Metallica putting pedal to the medal and thrashing out almost like its 1986 again! The machine-gun lyrics from Hetfield over an almost Slayer type riff is great stuff.
 
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