Listening to Metallica’s tenth studio album, Death Magnetic, is a bit like going into the crypt (or ‘The Vault’, as Lars Ulrich likes to call his collection of Metallica memorabilia). Unlike its much ridiculed predecessor, St. Anger, Death Magnetic promised to make good on a decade-long promise (Re-load released in 1997-98), and after having heard it several times over the past few days, I’d say it delivers.

Besides the fact that DM is much better produced than St. Anger, the album is a great listen because it’s almost like a trip down memory re-lanes, which is why I mentioned that thing about stumbling into a crypt. Almost each one of the ten songs on the record draws, in one way or the other (and in some instances shamelessly lifting off) from older Metallica material. The purists and naysayers will wrinkle their noses, naturally, but, come on, they’re only lifting stuff from their own songs. And it sounds pretty damn good to boot, so why complain?

So, what does Death Magnetic have in store?

1. Hetfield still has it in him to carry the band along. Not to take anything away from Lars, Hammett, and Trujillo, of course, but Hetfield’s vocals and riffs still march over everyone else (except in certain places, as I’ll discuss later).

2. Rick Rubin’s production team seems to have burnt the midnight oil on DM, and that’s evident in the final mix. Everything sounds crisp and clear, but still retains that meaty, Metallica feel, as opposed to the mish-mash of St. Anger. The sad part is, that even though Bob Rock made a mess of St. Anger, Rubin’s still not able to match up to Rock’s production of the Black Album and Load.

3. DM features some interesting (and sometimes puzzling) time changes in riffs. The idea, apparently, was to revisit the And Justice For All-era sound. This doesn’t really happen, but it does sound like the old, complex Metallica (before they went, um, ‘alternative’ with Load) that we know and love.

4. The band’s songwriting skills are as good as ever. Forget the changes their sound may or may not have undergone over the years. These guys still write some excellent lyrics.

5. Lars has FINALLY ditched the tin-drum snare. However, the snare sound on DM is only a slight improvement. Come to think of it, Lars’s drumming on DM is not particularly impressive. It’s fast, yes, has a lot of double kicks in, and he keeps up with the odd time changes. But nothing earth-shattering, indeed, nothing comparable to what can be heard on Justice.

6. Extremely catchy songs.

And what of individual tracks?

- That Was Just Your Life – The opening track to DM rolls in with a heartbeat, and a single guitar intro, much like Enter Sandman, and then suddenly jumps into a rather grandiose riff, which reminds one of the riff to Jump in the Fire. Since we are talking about going down memory lane, this track is a tip of the hat to Kill ‘Em All, no doubt about it.

- The End of the Line – Anyone who’s been lucky enough to see Metallica live over the last few years will be familiar with the intro to this track, which was played live as ‘The New Song’ (later to be dubbed ‘Death is not the End’ by fans). However, nothing survives of the live version, save the intro, which is a nifty little bass + guitar twin solo. If the opening track to DM was Kill ‘Em All-influenced, then this one’s very definitely one from the Load/Re-load era, with Hammett pushing the envelope with the wah pedal. Listeners with a keen ear will also notice that some of the opening riffs (about a minute into the track) sound suspiciously like the opening bars to Pearl Jam’s Even Flow and Rammstein’s Der Meister. Also, one of the bridge sections takes a leaf from Blue Oyster Cult’s Astronomy.

- Broken, Beat and Scarred – Easily one of my favourite tracks on DM, this one has a nice oriental/middle-eastern feel to it, much like Wherever I May Roam, backed by a fat and muddy riff. This is one of those crowd-sing-along songs, though I really don’t understand why Hetfield wants someone to ‘please rape him’.

- The Day That Never Comes – The first track off the studio recording to be publicly made available by the band, this one’s a ballad in the Sanitarium/One mould, starting off slow and melodic and ending in a lot of crashing, bashing riff-age. It’s also become a ‘war’ song, largely thanks to the music video, which accompanied the release of the song. This song definitely grows on you. Please note the last few minutes of the song, which are very reminiscent of the ending to One.

- All Nightmare Long – This Damage, Inc. inspired track seems to have become a favourite with metalheads. Personally, this is the one song on DM that I don’t like. It has a fantastic riff; something like Damage Inc. meets System of a Down, but there’s something about the vocals and the lyrics which make this one fall flat (for me at least).

- Cyanide – The first track from DM to be played live (Ozzfest ’08), this is the sort of track which can make people dance, even though it is a heavy metal track. No kidding! As a moonlighting DJ, I’ve seen this with my own eyes. Long, rollercoaster solos, excellent drumming, it’s got it all. An interesting piece of trivia about this track – The intro is the Morse code for S.O.S, played a la Metallica.

- Unforgiven III – The most awaited track on the album, and I was curious to see what the band would churn out to follow-up on parts I & II. Installment No. 3 is, well, an odd song. Not a bad one, no, but where Unforgiven II drew a bit (lyrically) from the original masterpiece, Part 3 is musically and lyrically completely different from Parts 1 & 2. The intro is surprising; a piano and horn arrangement, that sounds a bit like Ennio Moricone’s Ecstasy of Gold. The oddest bit about the song, something which I didn’t like, is Hetfield’s vocals. For some inexplicable reason, the man ends up sounding like Billy Joe Armstrong. To tell the truth, though I like this song, it doesn’t sound like a Metallica song. It sounds halfway between Megadeth and a Green Day ballad.

- Judas Kiss – Here’s where DM becomes really interesting. This song is guaranteed to blow you away, especially with the chorus. It’s fast, furious and fucking angry. All I’m going to say about this one is that it’s a shoo-in for a Grammy, this song.

- Suicide and Redemption – Metallica’s first instrumental since To Live is to Die is a 10-minute long opera, wavering between the turbulent and the serene.

- My Apocalypse – DM wraps up with this absolute truck-collision of a song. This song, which draws from the galloping riff of Battery is a pure and simple headbanger’s paradise.

One could say, I suppose, that the band was taking a big risk with this album, considering the teasers, the Fly-on-the-Wall video clips and free downloads on the Mission: Metallica website, and the accompanying publicity campaign (free ticket contests, a special edition which comes in its own little coffin-shaped box with other Metallica merch). After having lost a sizeable part of their fan-base after the poorly produced St. Anger and the Napster controversy, Death Magnetic was being looked on as a make-or-break record for Hetfield & Co.

Rest assured, they’ve done a kick-ass job of bouncing back.

7 Scallywags have walked the Plank |:

Perakath said...

So that's where Sarthak gets his 'Vault' from :)

Could you email me a couple of choice songs from the album please? If I download the whole thing I'll end up never listening to it. I can only listen to albums when they're burnt on CD-- and my cd writer is on the blink.

Mister Crowley said...

Per: Haan, sure...I'll mail a couple over, no worries.

Thanatos said...

Yep, they're back alright. I think a portion of my face melted off after the first listen.

Thanatos said...

Interestingly, as much as I liked the album, my reasons and observations are almost different from yours'. Ha!

Anonymous said...

yes!

shame about hetfields voice though, its clearly over and done. some great riffs although not ground breaking or anything, the fact that this doesn't suck (like all their past 20 years of work) is something that i still cannot quite get comfortable with.

i like metallica! after 10 years of hating everything they put out! yessss there is a God!

Mister Crowley said...

Thanatos: Naturally. Different strokes :)

lokintomais said...

well .. have been listenin to the whole album again n again .. it is a supercharged delightful metallicious trip down the old lanes ..

every song according to me is lined in gold .. and they seem hungry -- you can feel their ferocity with every song playing, they are baying for blood like a hungry werewolf on a full moon night lolz...

well .. but i think a lil differently on some of the songs .. unforgiven III is my fav in this album and i jus cant get enuf of it somehow ..

another thing,, i ve always felt/strongly believed/vehemently argued that hammet is quite an overrated guitarist for the worth of metallica somehow .. and this album doesn really change my perception/opinion/prejudice(!) .. his soloin seems forced down our throats somehow .. most of em don fit .. and i cant help but make a face listenin to the solo interludes and wait for them to get over ..

ulrich .. ok .. i think he is fine .. i won go too much into the merits of his drummin .. this time he doesn really disappoint like last time .. st wanker..

on production i do agree wit ya .. wit all the super producer rubin's wprk .. it doesn really match up to the prodn of bob in the 3 albums he worked previously .. not takin away anythin from rubin tho..

the new bass player .. trujillo is awesome .. wateva u get to hear sounds top notch .. he adds a gud shade to the album without alterin anythin ..

in the end i ll say .. u gotta love hetfield man :-) .. for all its worth he is the spearhead/drivin force for this band .. which is back ..

so like a simpsons episode gag .. let me hold up my lighter and scream ... 'metalllicaaaa ruuhhlezzzz....'

\m/