Release Date: Sep 12, 2008
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Rock, Metal
The architects of thrash dust off some old blueprints. Metallica’s last three albums have seen the band sink progressively deeper into schlocky grunge and nü-metal—an indignity magnified by big-screen depictions of egomania and creative exhaustion. For Death Magnetic, the group was tasked by production maven Rick Rubin to reverse course and recapture the raw vigor of their early work.
If the cringe-inducing, touchy-feely therapy sessions captured in the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster were responsible for 2003's execrable St Anger, you have to wonder what kind of tough love prompted this entirely superior offering. By presumably giving them a clip round the ear and shouting "just do what you're good at", producer Rick Rubin has performed the same kind of career-reviving alchemy on these lost souls as he did with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. Straining under the weight of an abundance of enormous riffing and bestial growls, this is the strongest material the band have written in 20 years: they are finally acknowledging their legacy as thrash-metal pioneers, but without retreading old ground.
To truly appreciate the Californian thrash metal titans' return to form requires a rueful revisiting of their most shameful episode. The last time we heard from Metallica, in 2003, they presented the world with St Anger, an album so badly produced, toothless and ill-conceived – exacerbated by the toe-curling Spinal Tap squabbling of the accompanying Some Kind of Monster documentary – that fans of 20 years standing were forced to rethink their loyalty to the band. Clearly, though, they've learnt from their mistakes, because Death Magnetic sees them howling back to their roots.
That's the pleasure of Death Magnetic: hearing Metallica sound like Metallica again. Individual songs and, especially, Hetfield's lyrics -- less the confessional ballast of St. Anger, more a traditional blend of angst and terror -- are secondary to how the band sounds, how they spit, snarl, and surge, how they seem alive. Metallica isn't replicating moves they made in the '80s, they're reinvigorated by the spirit of their early years, adding shading they've learned in the '90s, whether it's the symphonic tension of "The Unforgiven III" or threading curdled blues licks through the thrash.
There’s been lots of talk lately about ”energizing the base,” usually having to do with vice presidential selections or pandering at conventions. One hesitates to sully Metallica by implying they, too, are politicians, but Death Magnetic does seem designed to win back rock’s most irritable fan base. No? longer is the band nuancing its position, as it were, with radio-friendly ballads or sonic tweaks.
Seventeen years since they last put out a great album, eight years since the much-decried Napster lawsuit and four years after Some Kind of Monster pulled back the curtain on this once larger-than-life band to reveal a quartet of all-too-human wusses, Metallica’s image is tarnished beyond repair. Blame it on an endless line of shoddy PR moves and even shoddier musical decisions, combined with our snipe-happy blogger culture: It’s become so easy to hate on Metallica that it’s just no fun anymore. Actually, that’s not true.
Review Summary: A fine album from a heavy metal juggernaut that might just be kicking back into gear.Five years ago, music critics raved about an album called St. Anger, a record many hailed as a return to the harsh and carefree malevolence of Metallica’s ‘80s heyday. Pushing the group well outside their comfort zone, St. Anger was in some ways everything it was held up to be: it was still vocal-centric, but a renewed sense of vigour had crept into Jaymz Hetfield’s voice, and the relatively simplistic song structures of the ‘90s had been jettisoned in favour of more technically demanding passages.
Metallica's relationship with their fans is akin to that of a prodigious son who's slid into a mediocre adulthood while the parents refuse to admit that whatever gift he had has long since vanished. With that rambling analogy in mind, Death Magnetic is pretty much the faint ray of hope so many have been waiting for. Their latest successfully revisits elements of their thrash-metal prime, eschewing bloated self-indulgence for straight-up head-banging aggression, with decent riffs to match, thanks in no small part to producer Rick Rubin.
Beginning with an affirmation of life, an ominous heartbeat, Death Magnetic signals the second coming of Metallica. Five years after the pitiful St. Anger, intimately detailed in 2004 documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, and 90 seconds into opener "That Was Just Your Life," the Bay Area behemoth finally awakens, charging forth with a calculated fury not heard in close to two decades.