I had this fucker written in my head long before I’d so much as heard a note: they’re master rehashers, old men trying to reapply the dead skin they shed decades ago when shorter songs, slower tempos and straight-laced hooks moved into the vacant slot their balls left behind. And once I heard The Day That Never Comes I felt completely justified. That shit is right off the Black album, and was put out there for mass appeal, not as a testament of revival for the diehards. Those fans are buying the record come hell or high water. TDTNC is meant for the people whose metal teeth were cut on Enter Sandman, the type that’ll hear the solo and think Yeah! This shit’s gonna be awesome on Guitar Hero!
What I’m saying is that I more than expected the new Metallica album to suck. I knew it would.
And, of course, I was wrong.
Death Magnetic is the band’s first since their oh-so-long overdue split with producer Bob Rock, who helmed every Metallica album from 1991 to 2004 and pushed them out of the textured shadows and toward shining concision and immediacy. Knob-twisting messiah Rick Rubin didn’t even try to step into Rock’s shoes- he kicked those ragged fuckers to the side and rolled up barefoot, no bullshit- just a bucket of hi-octane turpentine and a determination to strip away the redundant layers and unearth the group’s original, beautifully feral primer grey. And somehow, he pulled it off.
After a beating-heart album intro and dramatically slow buildup, That Was Just Your Life roars into gear with essentially what you’d expect from a band that’s trying to show they’ve still got some teeth after more than two decades in the limelight. Not bad, but nothing remarkable at first. Not until the bridge hits around the 2:23 mark, when things got way more awesome than I was prepared for. The melodic syncopation, the chugging rhythm… it caught me by pleasant surprise, and I began to suspect that these old dogs might not be too far gone to learn a couple new tricks.
Goddamnit. I’m dancing to this. End Of The Line. There’s no scattered middleground here, no struggle to find some kind of new ground to stand on. The muddled, difficult St. Anger may as well never have existed. And somehow, even despite a hookline riff lifted right out of Pearl Jam’s Animal, it doesn’t reek of back-leaning or reaching back to any kind of “glory days.” The song simply tears shit up, thanks in no small part to Mr. Hammett, peeling out jaw-dropping wah-warped solos like he’s making up for lost decades with only 74 minutes and 41 seconds to live.
My feeble remainder of resistance fell literally in the first second of Broken, Beat & Scarred. It’s a blistering standout track, an onstage classic in waiting. The main riff is a mighty quivering gallop- punchy, unpredictable and immediately epic.
Sure, it suffers a bit from Ulrich’s repetitive fills and power-over-versatility approach, but if you’re not used to that by now…
Despite the band’s collective B-12 shot (by way of Rubin, no doubt) and subsequent sonic revival, Hetfield hasn’t abandoned his flair for lines that seem ripped out of a high school metalhead’s notebook, such as in The Judas Kiss: Venom of a life insane / Bites into your fragile vein or on the bouncing, brutal Cyanide, where he can’t help but hop on the obvious thematic rhymes Suicide / I’ve already died. The little interlude lull in the latter could’ve been entirely omitted to allow Hammett to open up that solo a little wider, but let’s not nitpick.
Naturally …And Justice For All, a crown jewel of their catalogue, is the recurring reference point for Death Magnetic, but there’s very little sense of throwback here. For one, there’s bass for miles (no, really, I’m serious, you can actually hear Trujillo) on All Nightmare Long, a left-fielder full of snarling we’re-coming-to-get-you lines and riffs that rip right through the thrash barrier, sounding nothing at all like their old material. And somehow, despite my premature near-desperation to hate Unforgiven III with the same fire of a thousand suns that I applied to its predecessor, it’s a tremendous track. Hetfield has stepped up his vocal game in a serious way, as evidenced by that high-end pre-solo scream around the 5:32 mark.
After the slightly underwhelming instrumental Suicide And Redemption and the cutthroat thrashy exit of My Armageddon, I’ve realized that 74 minutes have blasted by like 15. This does not sound like a band that went through an overblown public implosion, replete with more sappy publicized group-therapy than any music act in history. It sounds like a band that’s gotten a fucking grip on itself, abandoned the abstracts and focused some much needed attention on specific atrophied muscle groups.
For a guy who couldn’t wait to rip this band s a new asshole after more than a decade’s worth of disappointment, it sure feels strange that I can’t wait to hear Death Magnetic again.
September 12, 2008
1. That Was Just Your Life
2. The End Of The Line
3. Broken, Beat & Scarred
4. The Day That Never Comes
5. All Nightmare Long
7. The Unforgiven III
8. The Judas Kiss
9. Suicide & Redemption
10. My Apocalypse
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.