Wednesday, September 17, 2008

CD Review: Metallica – Death Magnetic

Release date: September 10, 2008


I’ve been listening to Metallica’s Death Magnetic nonstop since receiving it as a gift—I had no intention of buying it despite the hype about how it was the groups return to its thrash metal roots.

For Death Magnetic, Metallica has brought legendary producer Rick Rubin onboard for the recording of Metallica’s first album on the Warner Bros. label. It has been reported in the New York Times that Rick Rubin informed the band that their ‘86 album Master of Puppets was their greatest achievement. If Rubin did in fact say this, I’m surprised that the individual egos that make up Metallica allowed him into the same building. How demoralizing must it be to have one of modern music’s greatest producers tell you that everything you’ve done in the last 22 years is subpar? And it’s true, with the exception of ...And Justice For All, in the last 22 years Metallica hasn’t been much more than crusty vomit on a toilet bowl’s rim or an excellent Nickleback or Creed.

It’s obvious that Metallica has made the effort to return to something resembling the Metallica that most of us appreciate the most, but not even Rick Rubin and his powers to resurrect dead careers (read Johnny Cash) was able to summon the inner metal heads of James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, or Kirk Hammett for Death Magnet. That’s why the cover of the album, which features an open grave, is fitting.

Death Magnetic’s first single, “The Day That Never Comes,” while compelling with its somber tone, is nothing more than a rehashing of Metallica’s famous “One” from Justice. Take a close listen and you’ll agree that the slow build and the general song structure are identical. Also, some of the vocal melodies and the second guitar riff on “The End Of The Line” sound an awful like a “Some Kind Of Monster” rewrite, only softer and with the inclusion of guitar solos.

Vocally, Metallica can be forgiven for missing the mark in the attempt to recapture their former sound--time is the enemy to any vocalist and there’s no way Hetfield could sound like he did 20 years ago. So, while James Hetfield sounds good, he doesn’t really sound any different than he did on St. Anger. Toddler Lars Ulrich, on the other hand, sounds like he’s still learning the drums and, again, sounds much the same as he did on St. Anger. Robert Trujilo, well, he’s there. The only member to make any major strides is Kirk Hammett, as there are plenty of guitar solos to make up for their complete absence on St. Anger. Still, Kirk Hammett couldn’t write a guitar solo to fight his way out of a wet paper bag. This is one of the major reasons why when reviewers state that this is a return to Metallica’s thrash metal days, and also why it bothers me when Rick Rubin gave the order to Metallica to envision that they were writing a follow-up to Master of Puppets–it can’t be done without Dave Mustaine. Mustaine, Megadeth’s driving force, is a giant guitarist next to the effeminate Hammett and he’s responsible for much of Master’s sound and style.

It’s pathetic that Metallica decided to continue the sad saga of The Unforgiven, but they did with The Unforgiven III, which opens with a thinly veiled rendition of Ennio Morricones “The Ecstacy of Gold.” Metallica has opened their shows with this griping score from the film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, so how Metallica expected to get away with this, I don’t know.

I really wanted to like Death Magnetic; I really wanted Metallica to recapture the sound that established them. But as a supposed return to thrash metal, Death Magnetic falls short and Metallica fails.