Metallica - _Death Magnetic_
(Mercury Records, 2008)
by: Jackie Smit (8 out of 10)
Before I sink my teeth into the soft chewy centre of Metallica's ninth opus, let me address the two thousand pound elephant running amok in the room. Yes, I was one of the few who didn't demand that everyone involved in the creation of _St. Anger_ be publically flayed. Has my optimism held fast over the last five years? Not quite. In retrospect, I would probably drop the rating I initially awarded to a more sensible six out of ten. Listening to it now, _St. Anger_ strikes me as a fascinating failure; an album that, despite its myriad flaws, had good ideas that ultimately went to waste amidst the turmoil that the band found themselves in at the time.

That being said, if _Death Magnetic_ has one thing in common with its predecessor, it's that it has already thoroughly divided public opinion. The cyber community has been abuzz with complaints about the overly distorted sound (a fair criticism, it should be said), while others have levelled accusations of Metallica going through a mid-life crisis. Then there are those who maintain that the latest 'Tallica platter, while not without its faults, makes up for its niggling inconsistencies with the sheer thrill of hearing the biggest metal band on the planet finally firing on all cylinders once again. I concur wholeheartedly.

The notion that the Bay Area foursome have gotten their acts together is highlighted nicely by a fiery trio of opening tunes. Starting with "That Was Just Your Life" -- which sounds as though it could very easily have made it on to _...And Justice For All_ -- snaking through the low-end grooving of "The End of the Line" and culminating in one of the album's most impressive moments on "Broken, Beat & Scarred". Compared to Slayer by a few over-zealous journalists in other reviews, it's not exactly the brutal beatdown you may be expecting, but with a chorus that's practically spewing acid from the loudspeakers and a pummelling, mid-tempo hook that continuously ramps up the song's intensity, it is easily one of the heaviest songs to come out the Metallica camp. Ever.

"The Day That Never Comes" is next, and if its war-themed video didn't give it away as the spiritual successor to "One", then the music almost certainly will. Contrasting a clean chorus with a heavy verse and an explosive, lead-laden second act, Metallica follow a familiar formula and manage to pull it off in fine style. It's almost impressive enough to deflate the ambition in "All Nightmare Long" just a tad, but by the time "Cyanide"'s ludicrously catchy lead riff has taken over the soundwaves, _Death Magnetic_ is back on track. "Judas Kiss" reaches a similarly stunning pinnacle to "Broken, Beat & Scarred", at times even eclipsing it thanks to a standout vocal hook that is classic Metallica. "The Unforgiven III", on the other hand, is a more pensive affair; in part a tribute to Ennio Morricone's paeans to the Wild West, it has proven to be one of the album's most divisive numbers. In my opinion, it tops its two predecessors by a significant margin.

Which leaves us with the final two, and ironically the least inspiring of the bunch. With rumours of nearly twenty songs having been written during the sessions for _Death Magnetic_, you can only wonder what could possibly have inspired the idea to include an instrumental -- particularly one as half-baked and shoddy as "Suicide & Redemption". Sounding distinctly like a drunken jam session more than anything else, it is a far cry from the emotive strains of "Orion". Likewise, "My Apocalypse" has the pace and speed of vintage thrash, but absolutely none of the aggression or the danger.

It's a shame that it all should end on a slightly bum note, as the sheer sense of occasion present on _Death Magnetic_ virtually demands a fireworks finale. But whether they peter out at the end or not, the good news is that Metallica are most definitely back to doing what made them famous, rather than infamous. And as far as I'm concerned, they do it very well.

[You can read Jeremy Ulrey's review of _Death Magnetic_ here.]


(article published 18/9/2008)

9/18/2008 J Ulrey 7 Metallica - Death Magnetic
6/30/2003 J Smit 7 Metallica - St Anger
7/17/1996 A Bromley 3 Metallica - Load
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