The world's biggest metal band have finally released a followup to their 2003 effort, St. Anger. While St. Anger wasn't received well by fans, much like their previous albums, Load and Reload, I could respect what they were trying to do. It was just an experimental album, no solos, a more organic or "garage band" feel and Lars' snare drum pounding on your frontal lobe. I really don't understand why fans want the same old shit when it comes to long-time musicians. What's the point if they keep rehashing the same music year after year? Sure St. Anger tried both the band's--they nearly broke up--and the fans' patience, but it was a crucial exercise for the band to grow.
Death Magnetic feels like a marriage of their new low-production sounding St. Anger mixed with some of their earlier albums, Master of Puppets, And Justice for All, and Ride the Lightning. On top of that Rick Rubin is producing instead of their longtime collaborator Bob Rock. On one hand you have the triplet chugging riffs and 7+ minute songs of their early career, and on the other you have a less "symphonic" sound. When I first heard the album it sounded like they were just trying to please the fans, to go back to their roots just for people to stop bitching and whining. But after listening to it 10+ times I've started to uncover more layers and realize that this isn't just an album that is trying to please the fans. I think Metallica took a very experimental journey starting with Load and finishing with St. Anger, and now are finding what works for them as a band again.
Hetfield and Ulrich have dropped the writing reigns quite a bit and now the entire album is credited as "written by Hetfiled/Ulrich/Hammett/Trujillo." Thats another sign that the band is growing. Hetfield and Ulrich were the dominating songwriters for years before letting Kirk Hammett and Jason Newstead in on a few songs here and there. It's good to see even newcomer Robert Trujillo getting in on the action. Hell he was just brought in during the recording sessions of St. Anger, with Bob Rock filling in on bass in the studio prior.
This album does what any good hard rock album should do: it fucking rocks. I can say something good about every single song on this album, I never found myself skipping tracks. And that's saying a lot considering none of these songs are your typical 3-4 minute radio-friendly fair. The single "The Day That Never Comes" is a good representation of what you can expect to hear on the other nine tracks. Many of the songs start out with a melodic clean guitar then progress into heavy riffs you all know and love. Also, like earlier Metallica, the songs aren't your standard verse, chorus, verse, chorus flavor, but has almost a progressive rock feel with different "acts" to some of the songs.
"Unforgiven III" also finds its way onto Death Magnetic. This is something that really worried me, considering the "Unforgiven II" was a pretty weak song. It didn't hold a shadow to the original song and on top of that was a play on words "...unforgiven too." Blech. I was pleasantly surprised by this song though. It is the most mellow song on the album, starting out with a piano, strings, then finally brass sequence, but also holds some great riffing that you'll find in all of the other songs. Despite the "early Metallica" sound of this album, Hetfield still manages to create great lyrical melodies and hooks to contrast with the heavy guitar work. You'll also find a completely instrumental song entitled "Suicide and Redemption" which isn't bad, but it's nothing like "Orion" or "The Call of Ktulu." The album closes with a very "Battery"-feeling song entitled "My Apocalypse."
The Not So Good
Where the fuck is Trujillo?! This is the first album where their new bassist finally gets to show his shit and I can't fucking hear him. I've followed his career from Ozzy to Alice and Chains and this guy is a real talent. It's too bad that Metallica is back to their old ways of "turning down the bass." Trujillo's playing could have really added a new element to their sound, which was only really apparent with their first bassist, Cliff Burton. Maybe next time.
The album doesn't really tread a whole lot of new ground. It is a very solid entry into Metallica's discography, but it doesn't stray too far from what we've already heard before. Now this could be a good thing to many fans due to their disdain for the last three releases, but as I've stated before, I really like seeing bands try new things.
There also could have been a few more songs that could have shown a little more of Metallica's range. Despite their typical powerchord-driven sound, they are extremely talented songwriters who have proven they are more than just a typical heavy metal band. This may have been the point, however, to just have a really "back to basics" release to clear their heads.
Death Magnetic is an extremely solid album despite a few minor shortcomings and not breaking much new ground musically; I doubt the fanbase will be split on this one. This is clearly what the fans have been wanting, and they finally got it. And at only $8.99 on Amazon you really can't go wrong.