"Only remember Metallica as they once were..."
"Listen without prejudice."
There's no doubt about it, along with any new Metallica recording, there will always be the baggage they bring. Like so many '70s and '80s babies, I too fondly remember the glory of Metallica's first three records and their vital importance in turning me into the giant metal nerd I became. But it's a double-edged sword. Sure, they fucked up their own legacy with a streak of crap records (not to mention the vile hypocrisy of suing Napster after spending years publicly crediting their early success to tape trading—which, of course, was the Napster of its time), but its also become an albatross around their neck—albeit a multi-platinum, million-dollar making one.
As a music scribe, I'd like to think I can get past all that and listen to their latest, Death Magnetic, with an open mind (if not extremely lowered expectations), so having put that disclaimer down, here is my song-by-song gut-reaction review of their latest 10-track opus. If you care to play along at home, the boys have also posted more than half of it here.
That Was Just Your Life: Good hook/riff, and it sounds catchy with a vocal inflection that's reminiscent of Justice's "Blackened" days. The drums still sound like crap; at this point in my life, I've come to believe that Lars Ulrich is the Rob Leifeld of drummers. There's also something about James Hetfield's voice that's a little off. Is it the mix? Is it the singing? "I open up just in time to say goodbye" is probably not the best bridge for an opening track.
The End Of The Line: OK, here we go, this song actually evokes the Metallica I grew up listening to. James voice sounds gritty, and there aren't a million intro parts before he kicks in. Still, it's crazy to me that the definition of "heavy" has evolved so much that this track, which could even be a Master outtake (yes, I typed that) has more in common these days with the likes of Disturbed than it does with the elite four thrash acts they were clearly the kings of back in the day. Wait, a slow "singing" part just came in at 6:10, scratch that Master of Puppets comparison, we're back to The Black Album.
Broken, Beat & Scarred: This song is by far my favorite on Death Magnetic. Heavy, with a killer guitar riff that builds up like a tidal wave. Overall, this bitch is a driving force of guitars, half-murky drums and aggressive vocals. Classic Metallica... almost. "We die hard," barks Jaymz. Yeah, no shit. The guitar solo is pretty damn awesome, bass is still absent and pushed totally into the background, but this is definitely the most aggro track.
The Day That Never Comes: This one should've been called "The Hook That Never Comes." I can't believe this is their lead single and video. And chances are, if you're still reading this, then you've probably heard the song already. Next.
All Nightmare Long: Of all the songs, this is the one that's been stuck in my head the most. A pretty good rawk song, with an almost "Enter Sandman"-like intro before it gets heavy—or as heavy as Metallica gets these days—and uses more riffs than needed. Great chorus, "'Cause we'll hunt you down without mercy..." Too bad Hetfield's voice doesn't have the bite to sell it anymore.
Cyanide: Starts off really heavy with Kirk Hammett's signature guitar sound, and shockingly, you can hear bass on it. (Ironically, in my eyes, their newest member, bassist Robert Trujillo is undoubtedly the coolest guy in the band these days and the only one I would love to see play live.) Overall, this one chugs along, but doesn't kill it. At about 4:56, I swear the solo work turns into "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," but not in a bad way.
The Unforgiven III: Hold up, there was a "The Unforgiven II"? Guess that's what I get for protesting everything after The Black Album. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. This iteration starts off with some strings and piano, very somber for a token ballad but quickly goes downhill. Hetfield's vocals are fucking painful to listen to. Rick Rubin, did you convince him to sing that way? (I'm sorry, Rick. I didn't mean it. You've done more good for my ears than I could ever thank you for properly. Please let me interview you—or even clean your house—one day.) I am tempted to skip ahead to the next track (which I did).
The Judas Kiss: From the opening chords, this has the classic Metallica sound we all fell in love with at one point in our lives, but that love fades fast. I absolutely hate the ill-fitting chorus, and at eight minutes plus, this is also one of the longest songs on here, so it takes its time delving into mediocrity. Oh shit, a hot solo breakdown at the 4:28 mark that continues for over a minute. When it ends, James reminds us, "Judas lives, recite this vow/I've become your new god now." Meh, maybe 20 years ago.
Suicide & Redemption: This is a pretty decent instrumental that doesn't sound all too contrived, but also doesn't showcase a lot of Kirk's signature "wah-wah" sound; in fact I could only identify this as Metallica about six minutes in (it comes in at 9:57). Very meat and potatoes and chunky, but nothing that blows my mind nor makes me want to learn to play guitar just so I can rock out to it properly. I bet that gay-ass ballet troupe would use this in one of their recitals (sorry folks, but ballet is just NOT—nor will it ever be—metal).
My Apocalypse: What starts off kind of average quickly turns into a driving, speedy track where Hetfield delivers one of his better rapid-fire performances. And the drums don't sound like shit... good to close on that note, at least. This song really should've been further up in the sequence. But at least it leaves a pleasant, blood-metallic taste in your mouth.
Closing thoughts: What started out as a fun listen slowly turned into a monotonous exercise, considering more than half of Death Magnetic's songs are longer than seven minutes. At the end of the day, it doesn't restore my faith in the Metal Militia, but it will not go down in history as a St. Anger-type misfire.