Metallica certainly have a lot to prove with Death Magnetic, the follow-up to 2003’s St. Anger, an album which divided the critics and the band’s own audience.
Metallica certainly have a lot to prove with Death Magnetic, the follow-up to 2003’s St. Anger, an album which divided the critics and – more importantly – the band’s own audience. It was also crucial for the group to learn how to collaborate effectively once more, following the fraught sessions for St. Anger, a period captured to stunning effect in the acclaimed documentary Some Kind Of Monster.
Wisely, Metallica have this time around opted for a stripped down sound that returns them to their mid-’80s thrash metal roots. They could scarcely have chosen a better producer to help them attain their goal than Rick Rubin, a man who specialises in helping artists get back to basics. Still, while the band’s no-frills approach yields some excellent results, it also has to be acknowledged that Death Magnetic conspicuously lacks an obvious monster hit a la ‘Enter Sandman’ or ‘Nothing Else Matters’, and as such is unlikely to return James Hetfield and co. to their commercial peak.
What Death Magnetic does have – in spades – are abrasive guitars and machine-gun drum beats. Wracked song titles such as ‘The End Of The Line’ and ‘Broken, Beat & Scarred’ tell their own story – these are hard-riffing tunes with an appetite for destruction. The first real point of departure is the single, ‘The Day That Never Comes’, which slows the pace down a notch. Built around a melancholy guitar riff and a mid-tempo drum rhythm, the tune eventually erupts into a powerful chorus.
The band kick out the jams once more on the bruising one-two of ‘All Nightmare Long’ and ‘Cyanide’, both of which are scorching rockers that pummel the listener into submission. Indeed, if there’s a central problem with Death Magnetic, it’s that in their enthusiasm to restate their metal credentials, Metallica have jettisoned some of the qualities that made them massively popular in the first place.
There isn’t a classic, sinister riff like the one that propelled ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’ (a tune which Kurt Cobain was known to include on mixtapes), nor is there a menacing, tuned-down number a la ‘Sad But True’ (which could have slotted in quite comfortably on Nine Inch Nails’ Broken).
One of the few concessions to sonic diversity is ‘The Unforgiven III’, which opens with piano and foreboding guitar. As noted in last issue’s interview with James Hetfield, there’s an interesting thematic departure in this installment of the saga, with the song’s narrator focusing on his inability to forgive himself, as opposed to others. Elsewhere, aside from the epic instrumental ‘Suicide & Redemption’ (which has touches of post-rock about it), relentless, skull-shattering rock is the order of the day on both ‘The Judas Kiss’ and the closing ‘My Apocalypse’.
Winding up after a concise ten tracks, Death Magnetic sees Metallica systemically removing all traces of production bombast to see what lies beneath. One or two moments of tedium aside, this approach has resulted in an album that’s dark, intense and impressively uncompromising.
Key track: ‘The day that never comes’
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