I remember when “Master of Puppets” was the new album, I had played my cassette of “Whiplash EP” to the point where it was worn and wobbled. I won’t say “Master” wasn’t awesome, but I was always partial to “Ride the Lightning.” So when every new Metallica has come out in the last 22 years and people keep comparing them to “Master” I just say, chill out and let it stand on its merit.
What’s hard is that Metallica will admit that “Load” “Re-Load” and “St. Anger” where not high-points in their career. Infighting, bickering, the firing / quitting of J. Newkid left the band “Broken, beaten and Scarred” Unfortunately with the exception of the exceptional “Symphony” disks and “Garage Inc.” those three records represent in years, over half of Metallica’s career. Is it any wonder then, that with Uber-Producer Rick Ruben at the helm “Death Magnetic” has become the single most anticipated Metallica Album ever?
As for the album, those of us who grew up with “Ride” “Master” and “Justice” will recognize the song pattern. While “Death Magnetic” has two more tracks (being it was recorded for 80min CD world, not the 45min vinyl one) the placement of the songs is very telling and familiar to those older records. The first track “That was just your life” starts quiet (heart beat, wobling guitar) and then suddenly burst in your face. The second track is about addiction and death (master = addiction, ride = death). The third track slows it down and is more grinding and heavy (“Bells” “Thing” Sad but True”) and the fourth track is a ballad with a heavy second half (“Fade” “Sanitarium” “One”) The second to last track is an instrumental (“Orion” “to live is to die”) The last song is a ripper (“damage inc.” “Dyers Eve”).
Unlike “Load” and “Reload”, “Death Magnetic” avoids the bluesy, dirty grinding songs, and unlike “St. Anger” this one aims for strong hooks, harmonies structure and flow.
“Death Magnetic” is not a new “Master” but rather a culmination of everything these guys have every done. While many songs will remind listeners of “Justice” “Broken, Beat and Scarred” is reminiscent of “St. Anger” with its chants of “what don’t kill ya, makes ya more strong” and riffing rather than solos. “Unforgiven III” is far closer to “Unforgiven II” on re-load than the original. The Guitar has that same bluesy, flowing feel and the eastern influence that gave the original its greatest strengths are completely washed away by familiar metal riffing. Not to say the song isn’t good, but without the late Michael Kamen the orchestration just doesn’t life the song the way it should and the chorus builds and builds but doesn’t crest, it keeps feeling like there should be more, some kind of heavy release that never comes. “My Apocalypse” closes the album by channeling “Slayer” as Metallica tries and fails to go back to “Kill `em All.” Not that the song doesn’t rock, it’s heavy, fast and awesome closer, but the feel is forced and the song feels tacked on to a mostly mid to fast-mid tempo album.
The biggest shocker here may be the 10 min (and longest song) “Suicide and Redemption” the bands first instrumental in 20 years. This is the best they’ve done since “Ktulu”, it’s got more energy than “Orion” or “To live is to Die” but lacks the kind of expressionist solos you’d expect from such an epic. However, the ten minutes goes by fast! I had listened to the CD four or five times before I realized the song had no lyrics!!!
If there’s one thing missing in all these loooooooooooooooooooong songs (only one song under 6 min) is a true epic. Yes, “All Nightmare Long” “The Day that Never Comes” and “The Judas Kiss” are all brilliant (so is the Black Sabbath inspired “Cyanide”) but nothing comes close here to the epic feel of “master of puppets” “Just for all” “Outlaw torn” or “Fixxxer.” those songs had such a deep, complex feel with so many ups and downs and such a perfect flow (ok, “justice” is the least of the four) that nothing on “Magnetic” quite get’s there.
I am not in love with packaging, it looks cool with the coffin cut-out but the cut the lyrics out. That’s annoying.
In the end “Death Magnetic” is just what it needs to be. It’s everything Metallica’s done better than anyone else for over 25 years, it’s most of the best parts of all the albums to date and it’s 100X better almost anything out there. Plus, these guys are in their 40’s, and are harder, faster and more intricate and intelligent than anything these Kids half their age are putting out there. Buy this CD.
It’s been confirmed by several sources that the Guitar Hero III version of this album has not suffered from the brick-wall compression of the CD / Vinyl release. Apparently someone decided MP3’s sound better mixed as loud as possible and then clipped of the highest and lowest ranges. So, the retail CD / Vinyl of DM have been mixed with heavy dynamic range compression (meaning they’ve eliminated the difference between soft sound and loud sound) the album now sounds like a wall of noise. This is a too common recording industry practice, it ruins the experience and removes the subtleties of the music. You may notice this CD suffers from a lack of bass guitar, that the guitar is flat, the drums do not resonate, the cymbols are thin and the vocals are often drowning in the music mix. Also, there is a lot of noise, you can not only hear distortion in the music, but their is noise at the beginning and end of every track, which, a CD should not have.
There are multiple petitions and blogs as well as thousands on Metallica’s own website begging for an uncompressed re-release.
If you hear the GHIII versions, you may never go back.