It's over. The Metallica-haters and -bashers in Internet-land have lost. With Death Magnetic, track by track, Metallica has taken each major criticism that has been leveled at them and made adjustments to their sound and to their music. While their last release St. Anger was dismissed for the most part by fans, I still say it is a great album. Other fans, though, were turned off by three major things. First, the drum sound seemed "different" and people equated "different" with "bad." On Death Magnetic, Lars Ulrich's drums sound more traditional and he is playing more double bass and bashing during the guitar solos and during the verses. Second, some thought the "no guitar solos" approach on St. Anger was a terrible decision. On Death Magnetic, though, Hammett flexes his creativity and plays within the context of each song without distracting from the material. It sounds like the songs were composed with a guitar solo in the back of their minds. There is no showboating, but be prepared to tune up those air guitars. Third, some fans have blamed producer Bob Rock's involvement for taking the band into the territory they have covered since first hooking up with Rock in 1990 to record the Black release. This time around, Metallica worked with legendary producer Rick Rubin (Slayer, many others).
So, it's over. Metallica made the adjustments fans wanted them to make and emerged with a sharper sound.
Kicking off with "That Was Just Your Life," vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield, guitarist Hammett, drummer Ulrich, and bassist Rob Trujillo announce their return. After the sound of a heartbeat, they launch into a ferocious riff, backed by Ulrich laying into the double bass. This is the band that fans have wanted to hear. Hetfield, resuming songwriting duties, barks "Like a release from a prison that I didn't know I was in…Like a general without a mission until the war starts again." Moving forward, "The End Of The Line" borrows from the vocal style of "Creeping Death" (from 1984’s Ride The Lightning) when Hetfield sings the verses. Fans of the band will pick up on the reference quickly. Musically, there is a lot happening, centering around Hetfield's vocal riff of "The slave becomes the master," referencing both the song "Master Of Puppets" and the theme of the …And Justice For All release. The first triad of tunes ends with the second-shortest track here, which clocks in at . With thundering toms and double bass, Ulrich powers the band through the intro of "Broken, Beat & Scarred," then intros an instrumental prelude with four hi-hat hits. This song has the deepest groove with the band, reminiscent of the beats in "Fuel."
"The Day That Never Comes" begins with the same type of intro as "Fade To Black" and "One" with Hammett playing a solo over Hetfield's rhythm. This track is the first single and serves as a good re-introduction to the band for radio fans. The lyrics seems to be describing some sort of abusive situation when Hetfield sings, "Born to push you around / Better just stay down / You pull away / He hits the flesh / You hit the ground / Mouth so full of lies / Tend to black your eyes." Later, after building the intensity of the song musically, Hetfield declares, "Love is a four letter word / That isn't spoken here," equating love with a curse word. "All Nightmare Long" begins with some more Ulrich toms building to another killer riff and a musical interlude similar to "Leper Messiah" on Master Of Puppets before collapsing into a different riff that propels the song. "Cyanide," the first song I heard from the new material, has already found its way into the band's set list. It is an all-out jam, complete with Ulrich and bassist Rob
When I saw the track listing, I feared any song called "Unforgiven III" and thought it would be the worst song on the release. I was pleasantly surprised. It doesn't retread the storyline of the first two installments and doesn't, really, sound like the other two. It could have been called anything else and would have been fine. Likewise with the instrumental "Suicide & Redemption." This song takes the band on an extensive journey of nearly ten minutes, yet, like a good instrumental should, it doesn't seem like a ten-minute song.
Metallica did, however, save the most ferocious song for the sonic conclusion. "My Apocalpyse" is the best jam song the band has released since the ending of "Bleeding Me" or "Fuel." Complete with Ulrich's chaotic pounding double-time drumbeat and Hetfield's heavy riff, this track ends the release with a stab of defiance.
But, really, it is the sum of all of the material on this release that make Metallica sound like this is a big middle finger directed towards all those who have dismissed them, most vocally with the reaction towards St. Anger. These songs were composed and thought-out. Energy oozes from this release as the band parades their instruments through their strongest showing in years. Metallica is scheduled to take to the road at the end of October and I hope to witness their show on