The Metal Minute Awarded 2009 Best Personal Blog By Metal Hammer Magazine

Friday, October 17, 2008

CD Review: Metallica - Death Magnetic

Metallica - Death Magnetic
2008 Warner Brothers Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Yes, when it comes to Metallica, I'm one of those snooty "first three album" fans, which is hilarious considering I originally laughed at their name when Ride the Lightning came out. There was a local record store owner who'd given me the bum steer a few times, which naturally jaded me to purchasing any more of his lamewad recommendations. Unfortunately when he said "Trust me, Metallica is going to rule the world one day" as he waved a vinyl copy of Ride the Lightning at me, I blew him off and told him Metallica was one of the stupidest band names I'd ever heard. The laugh was on me because I'd left that day with a copy of Raven's The Pack is Back, easily the worst album from that otherwise kickass unit. Suffice it to say, I should've gone with Metallica instead.

Of course, Master of Puppets changed my life as much as it did a large portion of metalheads coming to it in 1986. The first time I played my friend Metal Mark's copy, I was joyfully devastated and thence ran the train tracks to the same record store and demanded my own copy of Master in a breathy series of pants. The laugh was on me yet again, as the store owner Ron guffawed heartily, reminding me of his prophecy about Metallica.

Damn if Ron wasn't spot-on with his prediction. However, the path it took for Metallica to become this generation's Led Zeppelin came with a cred costability in my eyes--as well as in many of their jilted fans who weren't buying the jock rock mockery Metallica became beginning with The Black Album and lasting well into their FM-courting Load records.

Like most of my peers who were so deeply affected by Metallica's first three albums, my dismay was derived from having seen them play the Monsters of Rock 1988 in which they'd last been a true thrash band. Jason Newsted had only been in the band a few weeks, even as we were all still mourning the loss of Cliff Burton. Still, we formed mini slam pits all over JFK Stadium and got into heated arguments with the jocks and preppies who'd infiltrated the festival to see Van Halen (or Van Hagar at this point, if you will). They hated us, we hated them. They called us losers and ferociously picked on Metallica during the show. Middle fingers went up, voices were raised, trash was thrown, but we didn't stop moshing because Metallica's presence on a commercial rock bill that also featured Scorpions, Dokken and Kingdom Come meant the world to us. As we'd done in the hallways of school, we deferentially fought for Metallica as the speed metal lords they were.

Thus it felt like betrayal when one day we woke up and the same Rush Limbaugh-praising dittoheads had flocked to Metallica and declared themselves hardcore to the tune of "Enter Sandman," which today sounds as tame as Ozzy's "Crazy Train," both made pretty kitty thanks to sports arenas. Even further indignation was to hear the main riffs of "Sad But True" whumping behind a skanking and rapping Kid Rock. Bad enough we'd suffered Metallica losing a gimme Grammy to Jethro Tull, but we'd lost them, man, and we should've seen it coming as earily as ...And Justice For All, the inarguable turning point where Metallica fell into the corporate clutches of the mainstream.

All of this being said, nobody roared more happily than myself when St. Anger came out and royally pissed off all the gym junkies, rednecks, Republicans, accountants and scenesters, not to mention heavy metal purists. I selfishly loved Metallica's implosion on that train wreck (a train wreck that does have a few good moments, admittedly) because like many of my true metal peers, it had become the case if we can't have Metallica to ourselves, then nobody should have them!

All pettiness aside, the world has now seen Metallica at their most dysfunctional via St. Anger and the Some Kind of Monster documentary. Perhaps there was more blackness lurking beneath the platinum than previously thought. Nonetheless, the next Metallica album was left suspect after such a debilitating non-effort in which Kirk Hammett was relegated to rhythm stooge with virtually no fret splashes and his customary outrageous solos.

Maybe he was wondering what would've happened if he'd stayed in Exodus (though that's highly doubtful given the successful life he's enjoyed), but let's face the facts; Hammett is the soul of Metallica and his demotion on St. Anger was tops on the list of reasons the album failed. Now that Metallica has made enough headlines to warrant their own political party, they return in 2008 with something to prove on Death Magnetic, easily a do-or-die album that will determine the band's future fate.

Allowing Hammett to fly free on Death Magnetic is antithesis to the singular-minded hatred of St. Anger, despite the new album's occasional propensity to reflect the hostile bombast of its junior. If you think Metallica isn't still cheesed off from the St. Anger sessions, get a listen to the snarling solo section on the otherwise swaying "Unforgiven III," a trifecta capper that beats the pants off of its Load-era predecessors.

Death Magnetic, by and large, is Metallica's heaviest outlay in many years. Even though "That Was Just Your Life" is essentially a redux of "Blackened" from And Justice For All with James Hetfield scraping some high octaves amidst a conventional rock edge on the song's bridges, the switch between bobbing rawk and brisk thrash is just the right amount of moxy to get this thing started. Once Kirk Hammett peels off a dirty solo in the midst of a blast beat pattern on "That Was Just Your Life," all that existed on St. Anger is like a bad day in the ball yard to be forgotten in better times.

Bringing in the man with the golden producer's hand Rick Rubin, Metallica sounds like they give a damn on Death Magnetic. "The Day That Never Comes" is a culmination of Ride the Lightning and Load with a floaty few minutes of melancholia before Metallica brings the hammers out. When "The Day That Never Comes" really takes off, Metallica gives it everything they have with impressive soliong and exhilirating shredding in the final minutes. If you're old-school Metallica, this is the one you've been waiting over a decade for. The following song "All Nightmare Long" is likewise chock full of distorted bliss, banging beats and some absolutely sick shred in the last third. Goddamn, not to beat the same tired horse, but honestly, Metallica hasn't sounded this motivated to be purely metal since the immaculate first trio.

Sure, there's still a bit of plastic fantastic on "The Judas Kiss" and the lengthy jam instrumental "Suicide and Redemption," even though Kirk Hammett rips out solo after solo with a salivating vengeance as if reminding his bandmates to never repeat their previous errors. Unfortuantely, these tracks are far too busy and occasionally convoluted in the way And Justice For All overcomplicated many of its melodramtic tunes. This couplet is unnecessarily ambitious, though listenable in increments even as they comprise 17 minutes of Death Magnetic. At least the swift and trim "My Apocalypse" rounds the album out on a hopeful note. Metallica hasn't sounded this thrashy and noisome is quite some time, and despite "My Apocalypse's" inherent clunkiness, it's far more preferable to, say, "Fuel" from Reload, especially with Hetfield and Hammett's tag-team melody blitzing beneath the steady velocity. A far cry from "Damage, Inc.," but at least Metallica cares enough to send Death Magnetic out on a hungry note.

If Metallica is suffering anywhere at this point in their careers, it's the fact there's a tiny, lingering sense of instability and unsurety between themselves. Robert Trujillo does a formidable job in his post Suicidal Tendencies home. His presence is largely subtle as rhythm keeper, though he coughs up a beastly intro on "Cyanide." Lars Ulrich, considered one of metal's greatest drummers, is frequently out of whack all over Death Magnetic, plus at times his isolated tempo leads could benefit more high hat accompaniment or some double kick to compliment the often rudimentary smacks. At least he doesn't sound like he's hitting trash cans like on St. Anger.

Never ones to understand the meaning of abbreviation, Death Magnetic is one long metal mania chug fest after another and Rick Rubin simply lets Metallica have at themselves. Rubin could've scaled back the majority of these songs if he really wanted to since the man knows the ins-and-outs of issuing memorable tunes. However, he seems to have Metallica's base interests at-heart, which is to get their sea legs kicking again. Death Magnetic bears flaws, sure, but Metallica's willingness to connect with their old selves and their original fan base that got detentions and suspensions for wearing "Metal Up Your Ass" t-shirts out of blind loyalty is sending the right message. We'll see what happens next in the Metallica camp before declaring them officially back, but Death Magnetic is the first sign this band is finding their way back home.

Rating: ***1/2

55 comments:

Jeff said...

This album made me realize something... There is no reason to fill up an album to the max just because there is room. A lot of songs from this album could have been dumped which would have made it a much improved listening experience. The strong moments on this album are really good but there are too many so-so moments which brings down its value.

Since you are an old-school Metallica fan, what do you think of "The Day that Never Comes"? I personally love the song, and I too would much rather listening to their first three albums over the rest of their catalog. I just hear so many people talking negatively about the song, and I feel like all of the basis for the bashing is due to the slow section.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

That's basically what Metallica was criminally guilty of on And Justice for All...overkill, overkill, overkill... If I want Overkill, I'll play The Years of Decay and Taking Over.

I was refreshed by this album to the extent that they sound metal again. They were trying to sound street on St. Anger and it backfired while everything else between that album and Master is largely forced jock rock, but this album is the most natural I've heard Metallica sound.

I agree the songs are largely gratuitous, but also recognize these guys needed to get their confidence back, so I didn't really get annoyed by the extensiveness until the two songs I flagged.

I also really like "The Day That Never Comes." I think the last section of the song more than compensates any slow conceptions the fans are teed off about. I also appreciate songs that build to a climax (which is why I love Isis and their ilk) and this one I thought was sculpted very well between the anxiety of hte slow parts and paying off in dividends during the fast and heavy parts

This is easily going to be the most scrutinized Metallica album in their career because they have to get over the fact their fans declaratively said "You suck!" with St. Anger and when you're on top of the world and getting called out like that, your next response is going to be looked at with the most intensity. My opinion, Metallica will recapture most of their audience and give the old school a lot of hope they might return to thrash. I'm happy they played so fast on many songs, and once they iron out the wrinkles, they ought to be devastating again. Still, there's a reason I gave the new Destruction album a higher rating than Death Magnetic

Metal Mark said...

Confidence? I don't that they need to care at this point. They have made their money. They could have done a KISS and just tour without doing new material. Fans, particularly older ones want to believe that Metallica will try to win them back. I think those fans are thinking that they matter more than they really do to Metallica. I don't think Metallica had to do this album this way, they wanted to. I don't think they were all that bothered by the response to St. Anger. Okay, a lot of people hated it, but it sold a lot of copies and their tour did well so they made money. Metallica became rock stars when And justice for all hit because it took them to the big time and their mentality changed. It's not going to ever change back and the best we will ever get is a slightly pale imitation at best.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

maybe I'm a nostalgic old fart, but we'll see...this is the closest I've come to stop loathing their music

online pharmacy said...

Great album from metalica! maybe my favorite one!

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