“What don’t kill ya make ya more strong”.
So sings James Hetfield on Broken, Beat & Scarred, the third track on Metallica’s unrelenting new album Death Magnetic. Good news, considering the disaster that was their previous release.
Let’s get something out of the way: every song on Death Magnetic is better than anything that was on 2003’s virtually unlistenable St. Anger. Longtime producer Bob Rock is gone and in his place is Rick Rubin, the man who resuscitated the studio careers of Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash, and who knows a little about metal thanks to his past work with Slayer. Having a pair of fresh ears has clearly reinvigorated Metallica for their 9th studio album.
Many critics and fans are calling Death Magnetic a return to form, a comeback after Metallica spent the 90’s shortening both their songs and their hair in supposed search of acceptance from alternative music fans. And while there’s a lot of quality music on Load and Reload, there wasn’t much in the style of metal that helped Metallica make their name in the 80’s. Death Magnetic rectifies this situation in spades. Of the albums 10 tracks, only one of them is less than 6 minutes long. There are hooks and riffs aplenty, and some fairly spectacular guitar solos from Kirk Hammett. Lars Ulrich is still a monster drummer, and James Hetfield is in fine voice. As for bassist Rob Trujillo, he sounds great when you can hear, but that’s rare since the band still seems like their bass buried.
What about the songs? The best of them are as good as Metallica gets. Opening track That Was Just Your Life begins with a heartbeat and an ominous riff, demonstrating that there’s still life in this band of 40-something metal masters. Cyanide is proof positive that metal can be catchy. Meanwhile the nearly 10 minute tour de force All Nightmare Long twists and gallops and takes you on a pretty amazing musical journey that never overstays its welcome.
Of course, Death Magnetic isn’t perfect. The final 15 minutes of Suicide and Redemption and album closer My Apocalypse just bring it down a notch. Neither are offensive, but they’re not particularly memorable either.
Ultimately, if you loved Metallica back in the day but strayed over the past few albums, Death Magnetic will bring you back into the fold. And if you’ve never given them a chance, this just might be the perfect place to start.