Top of the Pops: Death Magnetic

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May 31, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

Rumors have started to circulate that Metallica will soon be entering the studio to record their 10th album, and first since 2008’s Death Magnetic.  As such, the time for reflecting on their most recent opus, which was five years ago, is now.  For those unfamiliar, a bit of context might be needed to understand the history of Metallica and how it affected Death Magnetic and its place in the band’s discography.  Basically, Metallica spent the past 17 years prior to 2008 trying to suck and alienate their fan base as much of possible in three ways: 1) Suing their own fans, 2) unintentionally lampooning themselves in the documentary Some Kind of Monster, and 3) making shitty albums.

After one decent album (Metallica), one “Is this still Metallica” album (Load), one lame album (Reload), and one crime against humanity (St. Anger), all Metallica had to do with Death Magnetic to make it a hit was to make it not as good as And Justice for All, but better than Load.  All they had to do was make an album that was good enough, and they would be loved again like they were in 1989.  That’s how far they had fallen away from their core, that fans are willing to barter integrity.  But for all intents and purposes, the band succeeded with Death Magnetic.

Is Death Magnetic up there with Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets?  Of course not.  But is it the best album they’ve put out in 20 years? Without a doubt it is.  The reason being is because this is the first real Metallica album in 20 years.  Back are the eight minute epics, back are the instrumentals, and most importantly back are the guitar solos.  This is the album that Metallica should have made right after 1991s eponymous Metallica.  It was smart to go commercial with that album, but they should reaffirmed themselves as the all time heavy metal kings right after.  Death Magnetic comes about 15 years too late, but hey after everything Metallica fans have been through…it’s good enough.

The first two songs on the album “That Was Just Your Life” and “The End of the Line” are the best songs on the album because they feel like they were written between 1984-1988, the band’s heyday.  The pounding heartbeat that kicks off the album is the listeners heart; the anticipation is killing us.  Will we get good Metallica of yore, or shitty Metallica of the present?  By the time Kirk Hammett segues into the solo, we can finally breathe a sigh of relief since at the very least it won’t be a shitty album.  From the very first solo on “That Was Just Your Life”, it’s clear that guitarist Kirk Hammett is going to be spending the next 75 minutes absolutely tearing up his guitar with a ton on pent up frustration[1].

The first ballad on the album “The Day that Never Comes” sums up the album perfectly.  It’s the sound of Metallica shaking off the cobwebs of St. Anger and trying to go back to the band they were in the 80s.  While the lyrics certainly portray a more mature Metallica, the riffs sounds a little tired, almost like a leftover from St. Anger that was (marginally) improved upon.  At its worst the album sounds like Justice era Metallica covering St. Anger.  At its best though, it reminds us of why we love Metallica in the first place.  “The Day That Never Comes” both reaffirms that Metallica is a great band, but also that they’ve kinda slacked off over the past two decades.

The two songs that groove the most (due in no small part to the addition of bassist Roberto Trujillo) are “All Nightmare Long” and “Cyanide”.  The only thing I can say is that these two songs could very well have fit on Master of Puppets.  “Cyanide” is rooted in a deep bass groove that drives the song (even if the bass is overpowered by just about every other sound, as is Metallica protocol).  The chorus riff is like this giant spider that is hunting down its prey until the bridge that serves as the calm before the storm known as a Kirk Hammett guitar solo.

The next three songs “The Unforgiven III”, “The Judas Kiss”, and the instrumental “Suicide and Redemption” all range between being good enough and being plain stupid.  The first song, the third in a loose trilogy offers a cool intro with the piano but little else.  The Judas Kiss is a just a dumb song that you’ll probably skip every time you listen to the album, and “Suicide and Redemption” is a decent enough song thrown in just for nostalgia.  It’s also at this point that you start to realize a crippling problem with the album: almost every song is about one to two minutes too long.[2]  Although I will say “Suicide and Redemption” is aptly named as Metallica has often been recognized for their instrumental compositions.  By ignoring instrumentals during the commercial years of Metallica, Load, Reload, and St. Anger, the band had committed suicide in a sense by ignoring their fans.  Death Magnetic is that redemption, using the past to carve out a future, and doing what made Metallica huge in the first place.  The instrumental track symbolizes the fact that 1) Metallica has been acting like a prick lately, and 2) Metallica is trying to get back into our good graces and redeem themselves via an instrumental amongst other things).

The last track “My Apocalypse”, a dumb down version of “Dyers Eve”, will no doubt leave the listener feeling a bit let down as side two is anticlimactic and inferior to side one.  However it is by no means bad, it’s just not as great as side one was.  But hey, with no Bob Rock, guitar solos, and a somewhat structured attempt at songwriting Metallica has indeed found redemption in Death Magnetic.  It’s not as great as Master of Puppets or And Justice for All, but hey, it’s good enough.


[1] Mainly due from not being allowed to solo on the previous album.  But also from a general lack of respect and appreciation from the rest of the band as shown in Some Kind of Monster.

[2] I have successfully used to, too, and two in one sentence.  Hozzah!

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