Metallica didn't have to do this. After their last album—the hugely disappointing St. Anger (2003), which was itself far less noteworthy than the Spinal Tap-esque making-of documentary Some Kind of Monster accompanying it—they could have happily called it a day and lived off the proceeds of the many tens of millions of album sales to date stretching back to before I was born, and the rock kudos of, well, every album except St. Anger.
Not a bit of it. After a five-year gap they are back, with an album that is being hyped as "a throwback to the band's pre-1990s style" (Amazon). While the term "throwback" might imply disapproval, more sympathetic sources were also indicating that this effort would be more thrash than anything for quite a while. So, in order to prepare myself to be able to accurately judge that claim, I listened to Ride The Lightning (1984) and Master of Puppets (1986) before buying this disk, all the while mildly concerned at the new album having a name only slightly less silly than the previous one.
I really can't give Death Magnetic any higher praise than to say that it holds its own next to the two aforementioned masterpieces. Not that it's an album quite like those, mind. There are thrash moments throughout, particularly on the opening track That Was Just Your Life and the closing track My Apocalypse (which has a galloping riff which rather reminds me of The Four Horsemen off Kill 'Em All), and it is overall fast and heavy, but these aspects are well mixed with the kind of funky licks more redolent of Metallica's 1990s albums, particularly on the tracks The End of The Line (my favourite) and The Unforgiven III. Also, ironically, while Ride The Lightning had its Fade To Black and Master of Puppets its Welcome Home (Sanitarium), this release doesn't afford the listener the space to catch breath with a quieter track. The closest we come to that is the first half of the first single The Day That Never Comes, but then the track builds to a furious crescendo with some killer guitar work. And does Kirk Hammett ever shread. Wow. I'm not one of the people who was overly bothered at St. Anger not containing any guitar solos, but still their return is welcome with Kirk playing like this.
Just one quibble, though: the lyrics. One of the most memorable parts of the Some Kind of Monster documentary (rockumentary?) , for me, was the scene of the band members laughing derisively at some truly awful proposed lyrics... which later ended up on the St. Anger album! While the lyrics here aren't quite at that level of corniness, I do wonder if there were any meetings like that during the making of this record, too. Maybe it's personal taste, but I find it surprising that a band with such pedigree at writing anti-war lyrics would pass those up, given the state of the world today, for songs which are positive about suicide and demons. I won't do a detailed analysis like I did in my last album review because I simply don't think they mean it.
All that said, this album comes recommended, at least for all heavy metal fans. And maybe not only them: Metallica's performance on Later With Jools Holland (BBC2) this week made all the other acts look stupid.
- That Was Just Your Life
- The End of The Line
- Broken, Beat & Scarred
- The Day That Never Comes
- All Nightmare Long
- The Unforgiven III
- The Judas Kiss
- Suicide And Redemption
- My Apocalypse