[Album Review] "Death Magnetic" – Metallica

Band: Metallica

Album title: Death Magnetic

Year: 2008

Track Listing: 1. That Was Just Your Life; 2. The End of the Line; 3. Broken, Beat and Scarred; 4. The Day That Never Comes; 5. All Nightmare Long; 6. Cyanide; 7. The Unfogiven III; 8. The Judas Kiss; 9. Suicide and Redemption; 10. My Apocalypse

Running Time: 74m 41s

After the utter horror that was 2003’s “St Anger”, I was convinced that Metallica were going to slip in to a painful irrelevance as the decade wore on, culminating in self-destruction before too long.  That demise looked even more-likely after the car-crash documentary, “Some Kind of Monster”; a movie that documented the inter-personal struggles within the band more than the making of “St Anger”.

But, you got to hand it to them; they continued to be successful, playing to hundreds of thousands around the world, slowly (and wisely) burying “St Anger” along the way.  To use Dave Mustaine’s metaphor for his own dreadful 2001 misfire (“The World Needs a Hero”), the album was “a ship lost at sea trying to return to its course”.

While they need some more guidance with album titles (using “Suicide and Redemption” might have been more apt I think) the critics have been lining up to praise “Death Magnetic” as a return to form.  It hit number one in about a billion countries and Metallica became the first act to score a fifth US number one album, out-performing the likes of The Beatles, U2 and the Dave Matthews Band.

Have they turned the ship around or are the metal legends heading for rocks?  In the sea, like.

That Was Just Your Life

From the off it’s clear that the band have got their focus back.  The biggest problem with the last record was that the music was just rubbish.  “Frantic” and “Dirty Window”, for example, were directionless messes which mistook noise for aggression,

But this is much better.  “That Was Just Your Life” builds with small sonic touches like the “heartbeat” intro and a slow riff that recalls “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.  Thankfully James has got his vocal chords back in order too.  It’s fast and furious but, unlike his last outing, he sounds like he believes in the music.  Kirk Hammett was allowed to plug his guitar in as well – solos were left out of “St Anger” because Lars Ulrich and producer Bob Rock thought they “sounded like an afterthought” – and Hammett shows once again why he is rightly regarded as one of the best.

Great opener.

Rating: ****

The End of the Line

“Choke, Asphyxia/ Snuff, Reality/Scorch, Kill the light/Obliterate, Celebrity”

It’s almost like time stood still for twenty years.  “The End of the Line” – sounding like it could have been lifted from between “One” and “Harvester of Sorrow” – features a musical and vocal drive that we haven’t really heard since 1988’s “…And Justice for All”.  We can even forgive the slightly eye-rolling lyric of “Drop the hourglass of time/Spinning sand we will not find” – does that even mean anything?

Rating: ***1/2

Broken, Beat and Scarred

Although I’m slightly distracted by the “Walking the Dog”-esque blues riff, there is no doubt that “Broken, Beat and Scarred” is an absolute triumph, featuring a great chord-progression in the verse (“Rise, fall down, rise again/What don’t kill you makes you more strong”), a powerful chorus, another great solo and an expert tempo change.

Rating: *****

The Day That Never Comes

The decision to release “The Day That Never Comes” as the lead single has been criticised by some fans since they considered it to be the weakest and most downbeat track on the album.

Musically and lyrically it recalls “The Unforgiven” (“Mouths so full of lies/Tend to black your eyes/Just keep them closed/Keep praying, just keep waiting”) but the style and tempo change half way through and it becomes reminiscent of Metallica’s breakthrough hit “One”, ending in a crescendo of guitar chords a touch before eight minutes.

Rating; ****

All Nightmare Long

Metallica lighten up a little on the first half of “All Nightmare Long”; a fast, but more straight-on rocker with a melody-driven chorus.  The second half breaks out though – two great Hammett solos shakes things up from about five minutes in and Lars Ulrich knocks out his best beats in 20 years.  The false ending is sweet too but, overall, it’s a case of the solos being worthy of a better song.

Rating: ***

Cyanide

Given it was my first sample of the album when I saw them live this year, I was decidedly unimpressed with “Cyanide”.  Oddly the song sounds better in the studio than it did live – more likely a case that it works in the context of the album than it did thrown out cold in the middle of a bunch of classic hits.

It sounds really good, finding a metal-groove early on, firing out a classic lyric (“Suicide, I’ve already died/It’s just the funeral I’ve been waiting for/Cyanide, living dead inside/Break this empty shell forevermore”), delivering a mid-song rest for the listener to catch their breath and then finishes you off with a punishing solo and drum assault.

Rating: ****

The Unforgiven III

The second sequel to the classic 1991 hit “The Unforgiven” doesn’t fair quite as well as the, well, so-so first sequel.  It seems stuck in second gear.  Perhaps Hetfield was weighed down or distracted by the song title instead of concentrating on writing a more interesting song.  Hammett attempts to liven things up with an urgent solo but the whole thing misses the mark.

Rating: **

The Judas Kiss

“When the storm has blacked your sky/Intuition crucify” … “Venom of a life insane/Bites into your fragile veins/Internalize and decimate” … “So bow down/Sell your soul to me/I will set you free/Pacify your demons”

There’s no point in writing seven or eight minute songs if you don’t have a strong arrangement and I’m not sure “The Judas Kiss” is worthy of the eight minutes it gets.  I would have shaved a few minutes off in the middle, dropping the first solo.  But that’s art for you … and the chorus riff is strong in fairness.
Rating: ***

I’ve read that this is Metallica’s first instrumental since the 1980s – the last was presumably 1988’s Cliff Burton tribute, “To Live is To Die” (I didn’t pay too much attention to their 90s albums).  Clocking in at 9:57 it overtakes “The Outlaw Torn” as the longest original track recorded on a Metallica album.  What you get are powerful riffs and solos held together by an excellent rhythm section.  Where “The Judas Kiss” struggles to fill eight minutes, “Suicide and Redemption” comfortably manages to fill ten.

Rating: ****

My Apocalypse

The barrage of aggression never seems to end.  “My Apocalypse” is the Usain Bolt of the record, pushing Team Death Magnetic towards the finishing line with a burst of breakneck adrenalin: “Crushing metal, ripping skin/Tossing body, mannequin/Spilling blood, bleeding gas/Mangle flesh, snapping spine/Dripping bloody Valentine/Shatter face, spitting glass” .  It’s a fitting close to what has been a near-relentless seventy-odd minutes of metal.

Summary

This is way above my expectations.  Despite the average song length being well over seven minutes, few of the tracks outstay their welcome with the exception perhaps of “The Judas Kiss” – and even that’s a decent track.  “The Unforgiven III” disappoints but the bar has been set so high in the songs leading up to it that it was always going to struggle to live up to the original.

I’m not a fan of James’ lyrics – probably my grounding and preference for the political verbal of the “other” guy in Megadeth.  They are never vacuous but neither are they easy to relate to.  Frequent use of onomatopoeia and agressive visual imagery can get exhausting and that’s the case here.  But it’s a far cry from “Down on the sun, down and no fun/Down and out, where the hell ya been” or “Tick tick tick tock” …

4star

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