Metallica - Death Magnetic
Despite the usual anticipation surrounding the release of a new Metallica album, this one, finally, really is everything the pre-release hype has been promising these past few months. There was general apathy for 2003's 'St Anger' but some of us could at least appreciate what they were trying to do. Ultimately, however, Metallica's Dogme-like approach to re-inventing their own sound on that record proved difficult to take : stripped of both guitar solos and melody, its staccato pummelling drained the listener. But these boys ain't stupid and they're far too aware of their own history (see their 2007 'Sick of the Studio' gig at Wembley Stadium - two and a half hours of fan favourites) to not take note.
So, getting Rick Rubin in to add his famed 'Zen-like' approach to recording was clearly a smart move. Intriguingly, the man who took mainstream acts like Neil Diamond and The Dixie Chicks and gave them a dusting of piquancy and cool, does the opposite here : 'Death Magnetic', despite its unstinting worldview (in short, life's rather bleak and it'll only get worse) is chock-full of crunching riffs, juddering tempo changes and hooks aplenty. Kirk Hammett gets to doodle around the fretboard a bit. This is, as was their best-selling, most accessible album (1991's 'Metallica'), a record that marries its breathtakingly kinetic drive to a feel for melody they've not really captured since. The riff that Hammett lets go half way through instrumental 'Suicide and Redemption' is truly beautiful. The first half of the album, with the stop-start chugga-chugga of 'The End of the Line' and 'Broken, Beat and Scarred' is where most of the big blows are landed. The second half features the aforementioned instrumental and the single ballad, 'The Unforgiven III'. It seems likely that now reviews are confirming the hype was finally justified, Metallica have a genuine hit on their hands. James Hetfield recently commented that the band came together to try to emulate the feel of their first three albums. 'Death Magnetic' is never quite as extreme as 'Kill 'em All' or 'Ride the Lightning' but it welds ferocity and intelligence as well as 'Master of Puppets' did. Other comments of Hetfield's, where he talks about trying to make a record that would "get us a deal" are more presecient : by going back to the drawing board these middle-aged veterans have come out sounding younger than they have in years. 'Death Magnetic', for all of its bleak introspection, sounds gloriously energised and Metallica sound defiantly alive.