Every new METALLICA album is like a car crash on the side of the road - you don’t really want to check it out, but at the same time, you’re curious and want to see what all the excitement is about. The long awaited album is now here, and believe it or not, it’s not horrible. In fact, it’s pretty damn solid. No, the band doesn’t go back to their roots, nor does it sound like Master of Puppets, but it IS a refreshing album to listen to, especially since METALLICA have not made anything of quality since the Black Album. Skeptics will probably dismiss this album during the first listen, but after a few spins, it becomes apparent that it is a pretty decent METAL album; something the band has not done in a while, as they have been making music closer to “hard rock” than metal. The first positive step METALLICA made was to get rid of Bob “pop” Rock, and brought in Rick Rubin to produce the album. Every instrument is crisp and clear, newcomer Robert Trujillo has his bass lines audible in the mix, and the garbage can snare is gone. The negatives are still there - Lars still has atrocious drumming and when James starts to sing, it can be agonizing at times. METALLICA does pull off a few “old school” moves however…solos are back, thrashy riffs are back, songs hit the seven, eight, and nine-minute mark, and there is even an instrumental!
The opening track, “That Was Just Your Life,” starts off with a riff that could be comparable to newer mid-paced SATYRICON material and starts the album off nicely. The next few songs are solid until “The Day That Never Comes” starts, which is an obvious choice as a radio hit, as James’ country influence, off key singing come into play, and the song ends with a semi-heavy-but-annoying riff. “All Nightmare Long” gets the album back on track with some nice thrashy chops, Kirk’s distinct solos, and even some double bass (for a few seconds!) which will bring you back to the good ol’ days. That feeling is short lived however, when the next track “Cyanide” pops up. Another radio friendly hit, it definitely has an “I Disappear” feel to it. The catchy, yet hilarious chorus of “Suicide - I’ve already Died!” makes one wonder if James puts as much thought into his lyrics as he did with the older classic albums. The low point of the album is next with “The Unforgiven III”, which defines exactly what everyone was expecting “new” METALLICA to sound like - think “Astronomy” from Garage Inc.
Fortunately, the album picks back up in both quality and aggression with “The Judas Kiss.” The guitar crunch that’s been missing for years is back and James is on top of his game on this track, which makes “The Judas Kiss” one of the stronger songs on the album. METALLICA proves to everyone that they can still write good music if they want to. In true METALLICA fashion, the track before the aggressive final song is an instrumental. As the album winds down with the 10 minute instrumental, “Suicide & Redemption,” Death Magnetic closes with probably their most aggressive track in years. “My Apocalypse” is a song that old school fans who have hated everything METALLICA put out in the last 20 years can finally enjoy.
Death Magnetic is far from perfect, and far from a 100% metal album, but it is impressive. All minor details and nitpicking aside, this is the album METALLICA should have put out after the Black Album, so just ignore everything from Load to St. Anger. Don’t hold your breath for the next album to be as good as Death Magnetic, but for the time being, soak up this surprisingly enjoyable release. (Warner Bros. Records)