[Four and a half stars]
In the world of metal, it would be really hard to find another band that is respected so much and reviled equally, as Metallica. On the one hand, there is the metal (rowwwr) brigade that believes the band “sold out” starting with 1991’s Black Album. The Napster incident and the tinny snare-drum on 2003’s St Anger didn’t help one bit in boosting the band’s popularity. On the other hand, there are the millions of fans and musicians who acknowledge Metallica as one of the most important metal bands of our times ”“ if not the most important. While they are part of the Big Four of thrash (alongside Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax), Metallica were arguably the ones to really create this genre of music, back in the early Eighties ”“ and then deliver it with unrestrained aggression in their ear-aching, neck-snapping debut, Kill ”˜Em All in 1983.
Now, a quarter-century later, they have dropped an H-bomb of an album in Death Magnetic. Expectations have been running high on this album; expectations furthered by all the teasers the band has been putting out online, in the form of shorts riffs, and later, entire tracks. This was, in more ways than one, Metallica’s last chance at regaining the crown. And do they do it? Oooooh yeaaaaah! Death Magnetic, as the band promised, is a back-to-the-roots record.
When you first pop in the CD, the opening heartbeats of ”˜That Was Just Your Life’ pretty much mirror your own, as you wonder if this album is worth all the hype. Then some slow riffing ”“ instantly recognisable as Metallica’s ”“ builds up the anticipation further. Until at 1.28, you are thrown straight into the path of a hurtling monster truck of a riff layered over some maniacal skinbashing by Lars Ulrich and spitting-it-out vocals by James Hetfield. This is a track that would have easily found place on that killer of an album, Master of Puppets (1986). Except, of course, this is more polished. In fact, Death Magnetic marks a return to all the power of the band’s Eighties glory years ”“ yet, super-producer Rick Rubin (best known for his outstanding work on albums by Slayer, Audioslave, RHCP) brings in a degree of polish unheard before on Metallica albums.
The merciless sonic assault continues with ”˜The End of the Line’ and ”˜Broken, Beat & Scarred,’ two longish numbers, both also giving Kirk Hammett a chance to showcase his no-nonsense guitaring. Let’s face it ”“ Kirk might not be the greatest guitarist on earth, as isn’t Lars the best drummer. But between them, they get the work done, and how.
The band slows it down next with ”˜The Day That Never Comes,’ a song in the vein of ”˜One’ (from their 1988 masterpiece ”¦And Justice For All), complete with a “machine-gun-riff-say-hello-to-double-bass-kick” section transforming the ballad into a monstrous thrasher. This is also the first song where we get to really hear the bass guitar, very ably slung at knee-height by ex-Ozzy bassist Robert Trujillo. The ruthless take-no-prisoners pursuit continues with ”˜All Nightmare Long’ (“”˜Cause we hunt you down without mercy/Hunt you down all nightmare long”) and what could easily be the best track on Death Magnetic – ”˜Cyanide.’ The unimaginatively-named ”˜The Unforgiven III’ relaxes proceedings a wee bit before turning the corner into ”˜The Judas Kiss,’ a bass-heavy mass of metal attempting to bash your skull in. The band then tips a hat to the past again, with an instrumental ”˜Suicide & Redemption,’ which, clocking in at close to ten minutes, is the first instrumental since ”˜Orion’ (from 1986’s Master of Puppets) or Justice’s ”˜To Live Is To Die’ (if you ignore the spoken part.) And then by the time Death Magnetic ”“ easily one of the best Metallica albums ever – ends with the frantic ”˜My Apocalypse,’ you are ready to collapse to the ground, from 75 minutes of headbanging. There’s only one cure to that exhaustion ”“ and an instant one at that: start all over again!