METALLICA’S DEATH MAGNETIC (AXL ROSENBERG’S TAKE)
For seven glorious minutes and eight fantastic seconds, I thought that Death Magnetic might be the record that Metallica should have released after the Black Album – a record that melds the pop-metal sensibilities the band adopted in the 90s with the thrashier, proggier Metallica of the 80s. That’s exactly the length of time it takes the opening track of the album, “That Was Just Your Life,” to play out, full of enough monstrous riffage, catchy hooks, and blistering solos to make up even for Lars Ulrich’s distractingly mechanical drumming. And if the nine songs that follow were as good, Death Magnetic might actually have been the album that restored Metallica to something at least resembling their former glory.
Instead, the nine songs that follow are a mixed bag – not even from song to song so much as within each song.
Don’t get me wrong – there are some songs on this disc that just plain old suck, the way everything on Load, Re-Load and St. Anger sucks (And let’s get one thing straight here: those albums don’t suck because they took the band in new musical directions, which I’m all for; they sucked because the songs were crap for any genre. Period.). “The Day that Never Came” is the village idiot’s “One,” and “My Apocalypse” never goes anywhere you’d want to follow. (As Vince has observed, the worst songs are the ones the band released first. Go figure.) And the less said about “Unforgiven III,” the better… but I just have to vent for one second: THERE IS NO FUCKING REASON FOR THIS SONG TO BE CALLED “UNFORGIVEN III.” THE CHORUS IS NOT BASED AROUND THE WORD “UNFORGIVEN.” NO ONE EVEN SAYS THE WORD “UNFORGIVEN” IN ALMOST EIGHT ENTIRE MINUTES, HETFIELD JUST SAYS THE WORD “FORGIVE.” THE TITLE IS JUST A CYNICAL MARKETING PLOY TO STIR UP FOND MEMORIES OF THE RADIO HIT “UNFORGIVEN,” WHICH IS MORONIC, BECAUSE ANYONE OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER AND POSSIBLY LIKE “UNFORGIVEN” DIDN’T WANT THIS THREEQUEL IN THE FIRST PLACE. WHAT TOTAL FUCKING BULLSHIT.
Mostly, though, the songs are good-but-not-great in and of themselves. On songs like “The End of the Line,” “Broken, Beat & Scarred,” “Cyanide” and “The Judas Kiss,” a cool (albeit usually recycled) riff will eventually lose out to annoying vocals or laughably retarded lyrics (“What don’t kill ya make ya more strong” is this year’s “My lifestyle determines my deathstyle”), or whatever the fuck Ulrich thinks he’s doing will detract from a killer Kirk Hammett solo.
There isn’t a song that wouldn’t be 150% better with any number of drummers who aren’t Ulrich, and/or with any singer who didn’t sound like Load-era James “I’d Rather be in a Country Band” Hetfield. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with melodic vocals – it’s just that Hetfield has no talent for them, as the abundance of auto-tune used here demonstrates (to say nothing of how terrible the dude sounds in recent concerts). In fact, the Slayer-esque “All Nightmare Long” would be the heaviest, coolest Metallica song in two decades if not for the fact that Hetfield has never sounded douchier (What the FUCK is that vocal shimmy he’s doing during the chorus?). Little wonder that an instrumental track, “Suicide Redemption,” is one of the album’s undeniable highlights.
But when the album – or, more accurately, certain parts of certain songs – are working, man, does it rock. It may not feel like 1986 all over again, but sometimes it does feel like 1991 all over again, and I’ll quite happily take that, thank you very much.
It will surprise no one that Hammett, pussy though he appears to be in interviews and documentaries, in Death Magnetic‘s MVP; allowed to run wild in the woods of guitar masturbation, the guy will nail his moment in the spotlight each and every time, even if he never exactly reinvents the wheel. What a nice reminder of why the band ever needed this dude in the first place.
I think someone said Rob Trujillo plays on this album, too. I guess I’ll have to take their word for it.
And I don’t know what to say about Rick Rubin. The guy has produced some undeniably great albums and some undeniably terrible ones. The fact that he’s apparently never around makes me wonder if said albums wouldn’t be great or terrible regardless of whether or not Rick Rubin had ever been born.
So, where does all that leave Death Magnetic? It’s a good but not great album, which, really, is a far greater achievement than I ever thought Metallica capable of in 2008. If the album ends up being a gateway drug for young listeners to discover older, better Metallica records and/or metal in general, then Death Magnetic will have served its purpose. And, at the very least, it’s nice not to feel completely embarrassed by Metallica for a change.