Right, before you start reading this, I’ll just give a disclaimer that I have a lot to say about this album, so please bear with me. For those who could’nt care less, I’ll synopsize. It’s a great return to form for Metallica, but it’s no Master of Puppets yet. Moving on….
Death Magnetic is supposed to be Metallica’s redemption record. Supposedly, they have their mojo back after a supposedly disastrous outing in St.Anger (I’ll pass my judgment on that soon enough). On the first listen, it seems like they truly are firing on all cylinders. The riffery is right on, the drums are bashing and the bass in thundering.
Lars Ulrich has finally decided that he is not content with being in the biggest band in the world. He also wants to be one of the best drummers there is. His consistency throughout this record is baffling and brilliant, coming as it does from a 40+ man who is about the height of a water bottle. At times, his drumrolls sound like the ghost of Keith Moon got into him. Damn, he plays fast.
Rob Trujillo(bass) definitely makes an impact, because of the sheer heaviness of his sound. It’s a full fat B-string laden sort of sound that adds an immeasurable depth. James Hetfield’s main competition for the best right hand in metal can be found in Metallica itself, it seems. I think its fair to say that Cliff Burton’s approach to the bass was like a great lead guitarist, and Trujillo’s is that of a bitchin’ bass player. Think about what I just said. Oh, and don’t ask me about Jason Newsted. I think he was less sure footed than either and was always mixed too low to be anything other than a hovering ghost.
“That was Just Your Life” isn’t the greatest start to this album. Sure its thrashy and energetic, but it doesn’t have the X factor that made “Hit the Lights” and “Battery” thrash classics. Therein lies the problem, according to me. I can tell its heavy thrashy riffing, but why isn’t the album speaking to me? I’m flummoxed. Also, while I’ve heard some pretty heavy stuff in the past few years, the length and pounding meted out by tracks like “Broken, Beaten and Scarred” ultimately dents the accessibility of the record.
Thankfully, the ballady side of Metallica is suffering from no such impotence. “The Day that Never Comes” is one of the best pieces of music Metallica has come up with. Great video too. James Hetfield shines on this track, both singing wise and lyrically, despite the awful pun “son shine”. Urk. I detect a few Iron Maideny harmonized guitars here and there, which hold interest right through. Even Unforgiven III is a great song, despite the slightly gauche horns in the beginning.
Of the thrashers though, the instrumental “Suicide & Redemption” stands head and shoulders above the rest and takes its rightful place as a great Metallica instrumental.
I’m not particularly fond of all the songs here, but its good to hear Metallica doing what they are good at, after a brave but ultimately ill-advised detour into Hard Rock with Blues (see my Re/Load reviews) and the massively panned St.Anger (which I’m yet to pass judgment on). People have talked a lot about how great Death Magnetic is. It’s a good album, in my opinion, but I don’t think it will match the first four great Metallica albums 20 years from now. Even so, I’m hoping time will prove me wrong and will make this sound right.
– El Bajista