Spotlight: Metallica, ‘Death Magnetic’ (2008)
BY ELIOT JOHN HAGAN
Listening to the once-great Metallica’s newest album, “Death Magnetic,” I can’t help thinking, “I wish I were listening to ‘The Black Album’ or ‘Master of Puppets.’” Sure, it’s better than “St. Anger,” but then again, so are nails on a chalkboard.
The album starts out with Metallica’s usual slow build into a driving riff before becoming a cacophonic mess of repetitive guitar licks and repetitive drumming. The song switches between rhythms and tempos typical of speed metal with the verses punctuated by an abrupt and brief shift.
This is characteristic of the entire album, which, though largely mediocre, offers brief glimpses into what made us love Metallica in the first place.
The first single on the album, “The Day That Never Comes” starts out like “One” and, musically, is quite good. However, this being a softer track and lacking the veritable assault of Ulrich’s drums and Hammett’s guitar work, we’re left with nothing but Hetfield’s now stale lyrics.
The next track starts out promising enough with a slight Eastern feel to it, but it ends up becoming a dissonant and distorted mess, as if the band was trying to see how fast they could play before they start missing notes.
Fortunately, the tempo and rhythm change once and a while, but it’s the kind of song whose good parts are eclipsed by the bad.
Another single, “Cyanide” is the first track to showcase newcomer Robert Trujillo’s bass playing, but there’s nothing amazing here. The song is adequate, but nothing spectacular.
“The Unforgiven III” is what I was looking forward to, with the original “Unforgiven” being one of my favorite Metallica songs.
The first minute goes well with a reminiscent acoustic guitar and familiar drumming, but then it starts going downhill, mostly because the average fan was expecting something amazing.
“The Judas Kiss,” another single, and “Suicide & Redemption” show off Hammett’s and Ulrich’s skills, respectively, and both are definitely some of the better things that “Death Magnetic” has to offer.
The closing track, the widely publicized “My Apocalypse,” sounds just like the rest and doesn’t distinguish itself from anything.
The thing is that nothing in this album sounds new. The riffs and lyrics seem recycled from either Metallica’s back catalogue or from other music.
It’s not exactly explicit, but an experienced listener will have an overwhelming sense of déjà-vu.
The album seems schizophrenic, with the thrasher side trying to overpower the softer side. Songs rarely have any cohesive structure but are instead more of a back-and-forth between the two main styles of Metallica.
Some would argue that this is how all of their albums have been—attempts to strike a balance between the melody and the metal, and this is true to some extent, but “Death Magnetic” falls short of almost everything they’ve ever done.
However, despite all of this, it’s better than most modern metal. No, Metallica hasn’t redeemed itself fully for putting out “St. Anger,” but “Death Magnetic” is a valiant effort to win back the original fan base.