Let me preface this by saying I never thought I’d ever have anything positive to say about Metallica ever again. With their self-titled 1991 release (aka the “Black Album”), the band really toned down its hardcore metal sound for a more mainstream hard rock/metal blend, and ended up polarizing their fan base. The hardliners (of which I was one) who worshipped the legendary sounds of Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …And Justice For All now found themselves disillusioned and disheartened by the new direction Metallica was taking, while more casual fans and those who didn’t care for the band’s thrash metal style now found these new songs much more accessible and easy on the ears. The term “sell outs” was tossed around in Metallica’s direction, which, for the record, I disagree with. I don’t think they simply went in a new direction just to make money. I think they were genuinely interested in going new places with their sound. Unfortunately the music suffered greatly from this decision; the quality of their lyrics and overall sound took a nosedive.
So for all of the 90’s and up until the release of Death Magnetic about a year ago, I thought, as I’m sure many did, that the downward spiral would be the status quo until Metallica eventually called it quits. But this new album and current tour have proved otherwise. They have managed to create an album that recaptures a lot of the old head-banging riffs and double-bass drum thump, but does not completely slip back into the thrash sound of those early albums. In essence, they’ve made an album that should please old hardliners and the newer fan base alike.
The opening track “This Was Just Your Life” immediately brings to mind the Justice album – very similar production quality and riffs. And the pounding drums and machine gun guitar strumming don’t let up much throughout the album. “Broken Beat and Scarred” really lets drummer Lars Ulrich let loose, giving his arms a workout they haven’t had in probably 20 years. The deceptively slow start to “The Day that Never Comes” gives way to some lightning-fast chord changes and Kirk Hammett solos. “All Nightmare Long” will definitely not disappoint Metallica fans of days past, with its heavy riffs and James Hetfield’s tonal howling. The album is not without its misses – “The Unforgiven III” is the one ballad, and really doesn’t add much to the album. Let’s hope this trilogy of mediocrity ends here. Hetfield is at his best writing about death and destruction, not introspective love songs. “Judas Kiss” is another throw-away track; it’s not bad, but isn’t nearly on par with the other tracks. Following a great tradition of instrumental Metallica songs (“Anesthesia,” “Call of Ktulu,” “Orion,” “To Live is to Die”), we get “Suicide and Redemption” on this album, and unfortunately it can’t come close to those classic aforementioned tunes. It’s not without its charm, but the tempo changes seem forced and disjointed. The album closes with “My Apocalypse” (death and destruction!), a fast and heavy ending to a pretty fast and heavy album.
I will be seeing their live show tomorrow night (with review posted here following), and I’ve peeked at some set lists from other shows this tour. They are pulling out quite a lot of old classics, along with much of the new album, and thankfully they seem to be avoiding the albums during that space in time when their fans were at opposite ends of the Metallica spectrum. Like Death Magnetic, it seems this tour is reuniting all Metallica fans…Metallica for all!
Death Magnetic gets 3.5 out of 5 stars