Metallica’s Death Magnetic represents the band’s attempt to return to their thrash roots, and while the album will remind longtime fans of older Metallica records, 1988’s …And Justice for All in particular, this new effort more accurately seeks to merge the band’s initial sound with the commercial sleekness of recent efforts. For the most part, the juxtaposition works quite well.
Complex Arrangements and Lengthy Songs
In retrospect, 1991’s Metallica both catapulted the band into the mainstream and severed their ties with a lot of hardcore fans who accused the band of selling out. Metallica without question represented a stripped-down version of the towering metal riffs and complex arrangements that marked previous albums, but the commercial strategy wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if the band hadn’t come up with its strongest set of songs. Since then, Metallica have moved awkwardly from album to album, trying to balance mainstream accessibility with metal’s antisocial, outlaw image. Death Magnetic signals a desire to no longer worry so much about accessibility: None of the album’s 10 songs clocks in at less than five minutes, and a majority of the tracks hover closer to eight minutes. Like the material on …And Justice for All, Death Magnetic's lengthy tracks feature elaborate bridges and spiraling solos. Plus, there’s very little consideration for catchy hooks on the album, suggesting that Metallica are back to worrying about compositions rather than radio hits.
'Death Magnetic' Delivers a Powerful, Imposing Wallop
In some ways, Death Magnetic improves on …And Justice for All and the albums that preceded it. Produced by Rick Rubin, the album boasts a large, booming propulsion that makes the pre-Metallica records sound tinny and dull by comparison. One of the major complaints about Justice has always been its weak bottom end, but drummer Lars Ulrich is much higher in the mix on Death Magnetic. Likewise, the guitars of Kirk Hammett and frontman James Hetfield don’t just shred but feel three-dimensional, whipping through the songs with a real heft. Sonically, the new album may not be able to match the furious thrash of old, but the songs’ sheer power is impressive and imposing.
Lack of Lyrical Focus
Unfortunately, where Justice
topples Death Magnetic
is thematically. An album built around issues of injustice – soldiers sent to die in wars, environmental destruction, corrupt governments – Justice
was an angry record that demonstrated what metal could do in terms of social protest, building off the band’s previous stunner, Master of Puppets
. By comparison, Death Magnetic
lacks a similar lyrical force, dealing largely with death in generalities that are hard to pin down.
Hetfield Not Always on His Game:
As both a lyricist and vocalist, Hetfield simply doesn’t possess the fire of his younger days, and often a questionable line or two undoes a compelling Death Magnetic song. For example, “The Day That Never Comes” roars along until he bellows “Love is a four-letter word!” Additionally, moments of introspection fall flat, such as the quest for self-forgiveness on “The Unforgiven III” and the personal meltdown going on in “My Apocalypse.” Thankfully, though, none of these songs exude the touch-feely silliness that seriously marred the band’s last album, St. Anger.
Metallica's 'Death Magnetic' - Bottom Line
Death Magnetic contains several tracks that offer the dazzling complexity of early Metallica while at the same time retaining the tight musicianship the band members have developed over the last 15 years. Though it may not be memorable enough to qualify as an outright triumph, Death Magnetic finds the band looking to the past for inspiration in moving forward creatively.
Best 'Death Magnetic' Tracks:
“Broken, Beaten & Scarred”
“That Was Just Your Life”
“The Day That Never Comes”
“The End of the Line”
Release date – September 12, 2008