[UPDATE 9/5/08: The album leaked- check out our full review here.]
Hey Metallica, why hold a listening party for your new album if you don’t want people talking about the music? We all know you guys are all about embracing the internet now and stuff, but this latest listening-party fiasco adds a final, gleaming sheen of hypocrisy to your douchebag crowns.
See, Metallica held a listening session in London on Wednesday to preview all but four tracks from their hysterically anticipated, yet-unnamed ninth studio album (you know, the one where they’re supposed to get all shreddy and raw again, like they were twenty years ago). There weren’t any non-disclosure agreements guests had to sign beforehand, and no reference was made to keeping album details under wraps.
Nevertheless, journalists who were in attendance and have since written about the event have been contacted by a third party on behalf of Metallica, demanding the removal of any commentary related to the new music. Fearful of falling from good graces with the world’s biggest rock band, nearly all reviews have vanished. Except the glowing ones, that is.
Bloggers over at The Quietus posted their review of the listening experience after the event, a fair, even-keeled piece that centered largely on the comical hardships of being an old-school Metallica fan, longing for a return to the days of …And Justice For All. The review stayed up longer than the others we’ve seen, and before it was removed we managed to get our copy action on.
Opinions are like assholes, but far as I can tell I’ve never had my asshole censored. Whether or not that’s for the best is another matter entirely, but the fact remains that The Quietus’ Bob Mulhouse gave a fair, well-written and balanced account of his experience. There’s no reason he should be silenced.
So, with that in mind, here’s what Bob had to say:
METALLICA: New Album Preview
by Bob Mulhouse
Being a fan of the Danish-Californian heavy metal quartet Metallica is hard work. They’re the quintessential band of two halves, pulling in millions of fans from 1983 to 1995 with five mostly excellent albums, which ranged in approach from youthful violence to radio-friendly hummability. In 1996, however, Metallica released the first of a shockingly poor string of alternative-rock, covers and live records, finishing up with 2003’s terrible St. Anger, the most disappointing metal CD ever released. Staying loyal to them after this many years isn’t easy, frankly.
So what, you might be thinking– all bands have their creative peaks and troughs, surely? Well, you’re not getting it. Metallica aren’t just a metal act: they are the Led Zeppelin of their generation, a band which your kids will revere 30 years from now to the same degree as we do the Beatles and the Stones today. To love them is to really love them. Their work ethic (which other band spends three years on the road at stadium level?) and their damnable songwriting ability (leading to songs of visceral power which you can still sing in the bath) has made them bigger, heavier and more essentially here than anyone else. That’s why we still pay attention to them after more than a decade of recorded dross. That’s why even their drummer Lars Ulrich’s petulant sparring with Napster in 2001 and the painful-to-watch Some Kind Of Monster documentary (made during their group-therapy sessions) don’t outweigh the hope we all felt when it was announced in 2007 that none other than Rick Rubin would be helming their new studio album, the first in five years.
Rick Rubin, as any fule kno, is responsible for launching the careers of many a fine band (including Slayer, Metallica’s sometime contemporaries), but– more relevantly in this case– has also revived the fortunes of creatively ossified artists whose moment in the sun has passed, such as Johnny Cash and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Could The Beastie Beard breathe life into Metallica? God, we hoped so, simultaneously aware that Ulrich et al have raised and dashed our hopes before.
It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I attended the playback of Metallica’s new album at the HQ of Universal, their UK record company, on 3 June. We were permitted to hear six of the 10 tracks which will ultimately appear on the album– which, a rep from the Q-Prime management company informed us, is referred to colloquially by Metallica as ‘Nine epics and one song’. The sense of occasion was reinforced by the presence of almost the entire editorial teams of the UK’s two biggest metal magazines, glaring at each other over the tea urn. [What? Metal Hammer and Terrorizer? -Antiquiet.]
Right from the off, it’s a relief to hear that the utterly awful production of St. Anger is no more. Ulrich has replaced the old dustbin lid from that album with an actual snare drum, and the sound is fresh, clean and resonant (even though the songs are still only rough mixes at this stage). The first song, like the rest of the ‘epics’, is between six and eight minutes long and begins with a bass intro from low-ender extraordinaire Robert Trujillo. Moving rapidly from riff to riff, the song bursts with energy and ideas: singer and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield barks “Luck runs out!” repeatedly and throws in some twisty, semi-progressive riffs which could have been lifted directly from, their last truly good album, 1988’s …And Justice For All. Guitarist Kirk Hammett, who was banned from soloing on St. Anguish for no adequately explored reason, is on fire, whipping out the melodic, rapid-fire shreds for which he is famous over an extended solo section – almost as if he’s making up for lost time. This is Metallica’s best song in ages, perhaps since the 1980s.
The next cut has a working title of Flamingo and is going to be the first single. Now, Metallica’s lead singles have been breathtakingly crap since 1995, so it was a relief to hear that Flamingo (as it almost definitely will not be called) is a modernised take on their amazing 1988 song One, all balladry at its front end before a speeded-up metalstorm at the back. Hetfield delivers a clean-picked intro which reminded me of the Beach Boys (I know… but I only got to hear it once, all right?) before the body of the song, which is basically like The Unforgiven from 1991’s Black Album. If you’re familiar with the chord progression behind the solo in Am I Evil?, the ancient Diamond Head song which Metallica made their own, you’ll be able to picture the under-solo riffage in this song– all simple, effective major-interval jumps.
However, let us not forget that this is modern Metallica– and the next two songs are much less fun. The first, which may be called We Die Hard judging by the frequency with which Hetfield barks the phrase, starts boringly but accelerates halfway through and enters slightly proggy territory, all stop-start riff stabs and a clever time signature. The next song is very …And Justice, a lengthy, unhurried workout which revolves around the line “Bow down / Sell your soul to me / I will set you free”, itself a 1988 line if I ever heard one. Apart from dexterous soloing from Hammett, it’s not great.
So far, we’ve had two good songs and two dull ones– not a bad track record for new ’Tallica, believe me. However, track five is tedious, a combination of the aimless riffery of St. Anger and the pointless rock chorusing of Load, the album which almost finished Metallica in 1996. “Crying, weeping, shedding strife!” sings Hetfield in that slick Enter Sandman manner, over an unthreatening clean midsection which would (and no doubt will) suit VH1 down to the ground.
At this point the Q-Prime geezer asks us if we want to hear more, and fortunately we say yes– because the final song (and indeed, it is ‘The Song’, the little guy among the nine epics) is great, a genuine slice of thrash metal that starts fast and stays that way. Like a slower, less precise Battery (the opening track of 1986’s flawless Master Of Puppets album), the song nips in and out, not outstaying its welcome and proving that on some level, Metallica still have the necessary vitriol to impress their older fans. OK, it reminded me a bit of Dyer’s Eve, the last song on Justice, which had a kind of “I suppose we’d better do a fast one for the fans” feel about it– but in 2008, Hetfield and Ulrich delivering any form of thrash metal is not to be sneered at.
We file out of the listening room, not saying much. This album could be good, or it could be mediocre– too much depends on the other four songs to make a call at this point. I try not to agonise about it, but this matters, damn it. It really does.
I said it wasn’t easy being a Metallica fan in 2008, didn’t I?
Yesterday, Metallica posted a statement on their official site, saying: “…once we re-surfaced on Tuesday after a few weeks on tour in Europe, we were informed that someone at Q Prime (our managers) had made the error of asking a few publications to take down reviews of the rough mixes from the new record that were posted on their sites. Our response was “WHY?!!! Why take down mostly positive reviews of the new material and prevent people from getting psyched about the next record… that makes no sense to us!” So after a few rounds of managerial ear spank and sentencing everyone at Q Prime to 20 push-ups each, we figured why not take matters into our own hands and just post the links here on our site.”
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.