Death Magnetic
Warner Bros.

4 out of 5
:: Pepsi Center :: Nov. 4 ::

Metallica has been a soap opera of a band for the past 15 years. You could say they have had a 15-year slump which started after the “The Black Album” had run its course with 22 million albums sold (25th all-time top seller), and numerous sold-out stadium world tours.  However, in the 15 years following the “The Black Album” (which is actually a self-titled release) Metallica became embroiled in the Napster controversy, which resulted in heavy fan-backlash. They fired bassist Jason Newstead, frontman James Hetfield entered rehab for substance abuse, and they released the borderline embarrassing band documentary Some Kind of Monster. They also managed to release three very lackluster studio albums which all sold less than each previous release.

Metallica had lost their edge and disillusioned their fan base. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them, especially when sitting through Some Kind of Monster, which was filmed between 2001 and 2003. I thought this band was done and was sick of their eccentric personalities.   However, all that has changed with the the release of their ninth studio album, Death Magnetic. They have wiped the slate clean.

If history has shown anything it’s that music can speak volumes above annoying personalities (hell, look at my solo recordings) and on Death Magnetic, Metallica has returned to their mid-1980s metal roots, delivering an album that is a long-awaited return to complicated arrangements, shredding guitars and blistering solos. This is the closest Metallica has come to a true …And Justice for All follow-up, their last true thrash metal album.

Metallica has, however, given much thought to groove and Death Magnetic grooves more like a Rage Against the Machine or Tool album, than their own albums of the past. The breakdown of “The End of the Line” sounds very reminiscent of Pearl Jam’s “Why Go.”  However, even with these influences, evidence of “The Black Album” is nowhere to be found.

Abandoning longtime producer Bob Rock and enlisting icon producer Rick Rubin was a smart, and I am sure, difficult choice for Metallica., but the move paid off. Rubin has gotten artists to create some of their most seminal work including the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings, and System of a Down’s Toxicity. Rubin’s insistence on live tracking and extended pre-studio rehearsal helped fuel creativity and obviously helped the album’s arrangements — seven of Death Magnetic’s 10 songs are over seven minutes long. The other big change is that Death Magnetic also finds Metallica recording for the first time with current bassist Robert Trujillo.

The album’s opening track, “That Was Just Your Life,” opens with a drum pulse and clean guitars. It eventually explodes into an all-out rocker complete with drum and guitar riff double-stops and Hetfield wailing over the top. Track three, “The Day Never Comes,” is very much in the vein of previous Metallica songs “Fade to Black,” “One” and “Sanitarium,” with a soft intro eventually leading to heavy second half. Other notable surprises include the nearly 10-minute instrumental track (their first in 20 years) “Suicide & Redemption” and the powerhouse “All Nightmare Long.”

In all, Death Magnetic is going to give Metallica fans what they want, a return to their hard metal roots. This album shows that bands don’t slow down with age and will once again crown Metallica at the top of the metal hierarchy. A hierarchy they helped create.

— Jonathan Keller

:: Pepsi Center :: Nov. 4 ::

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