This is a post I’ve been avoiding a bit, just because I wanted to spread myself apart from music everyone who’s ever known me knew I loved. I don’t want to come off across bias. But then again, I know I’m not bias, you’ll learn I’m not bias, and I shall write about the feelings and emotions of any album I damn well please.
Death Magnetic. In the eyes of most, an album that landmarks Metallica’s return to their heavy metal roots. In the eyes of some, their best album in 25 years. In the eyes of others, another disappointment after decades of other disappointments. Metallica’s been in a position no other heavy metal band has ever been in; they’ve tested the depths of their limitations time and time again, ever since their beginning. They always refused to make a duplicate sound, and when that ventured away from thrash metal, people called the band ‘sellouts.’ Which is ridiculous, ignorant and absolute nonsense, considering everything they do is for themselves, and taking risks in their careers that may potentially alienate everyone that’s ever heard them, like in Load and ReLoad, is an idea that is the polar opposite of selling out. Metal fans have more of a fear of change than any genre ever created, and their strict and thorough guidelines as to what constitutes metal makes them about as unforgiving as the people that beat them up early in their lives and made them this angry in the first place.
But I digress. If there is an album to call Metallica ‘sellouts’ on, it’s Death Magnetic. It’s the first time any of us have ever seen them go backwards in any sort of sense; so backwards, in fact, that producer Rick Rubin forced them to listen to their masterpiece of 1986, Master of Puppets, over and over again until they returned to their 23 year old frames of mind. If that isn’t proof that Rick believed this was Metallica’s last stand in their career, nothing is. It was a hail Mary; a last chance; otherwise many would see Metallica as a band whose glory days ended twenty years ago. Of course, other fans like myself enjoyed any sound Metallica made and felt grateful for it.
What made this album amazing, near-perfect and true is the fact that while yes, they did go back and revisit, it was a reminder to the band as to another aspect of what they were all about; “Metal Up Your Ass.” They ventured, from country ballads to irish folk songs to symphonies and everything in between, and returned home with their decades of knowledge and experience to make this album. It can be considered a Greatest Hits, because it’s everything in one; I hear the punk presence that they first introduced from Kill ‘em All, I hear the thrash of Ride the Lightning and their inspiration Master of Puppets, and the commercial/mainstream monster licks similar to Metallica, or ‘The Black Album’ in there as well. But it doesn’t end there; the “ballads” of the album, The Day That Never Comes and The Unforgiven III have a strong resemblance to melodies and harmonies of the Load era. All that’s missing is the ugliness of St. Anger, which was little more than an ugly time in their lives that had to be created, let out, and left there.
The opening song, That Was Just Your Life, has the dark openings similar to previous other first tracks like Battery and Blackened. It’s brutal, ugly, angry and violent, and damn near knocks you out of your chair if you’re expecting anything less. Broken, Beat and Scarred is a clear narration of the personal and professional troubles James and the boys have gone through, and while it too sounds like an angry release similar to St. Anger, the song structure, solos and non-trash can drumming makes the fury of the song much more enjoyable. All Nightmare Long is my personal pick for ugliest track; it literally sounds like a nightmare, and has one of the most incredible solos guitarist Kirk Hammett has written in years. The album even has its first true instrumental since 1986’s Orion, entitled Suicide & Redemption, which consists of one of the heaviest, moodiest jams I’ve ever heard. The closing song, My Apocalypse, might be the most brutal of them all; to me, it sounds like something Slayer or early Megadeth would write.
The album has all the fury every Metallica fan has ever needed; it has a lot of comparisons to their early work, of course, but at the same time it sounds nothing like it; it’s got the experience, the battle-worn trials and tribulations of their lives and careers, and the messages created in the aftermath. It’s Metallica coming home after a long, hard, havoc-wrecked battle, and creating some of their best work yet. They’re nearly 5o now, with wives and children, but no matter how much they experimented and traveled, they’re the same Metallica we know and love, and Death Magnetic has the feelings and sounds to make it an instant vintage classic. Well done.