Monday, September 29, 2008

DRK Presents: Death Magnetic -- A Review

Five-years ago, Metallica made an attempt to reclaim their throne – a spot they never realized they had fallen off – over the metal world with their first true metal record in 12-years. Since the beginning of the new millennium, turmoil had surrounded the band. In early 2000 and through 2001, Metallica found that their songs were being downloaded for free off Napster by millions everywhere. By that time, they had sold well over 90-million albums world-wide, grossing amounts of money unimaginable to those of us struggling in today’s decimated economy. For a band so laden with cash, Napster didn’t seem like a move crying about loss of revenue, but getting a step on the new wave moving through music that was not only losing them money, but everyone else as well, virtually killing the business. And an attempt to put a collective foot-down to try and regain control of everything, so that it wouldnt snow-ball to what we have today. (Album sales are down 11% so far this year) Naturally, the only concept that got across to fans was that they were just greedy musicians using their name as a platform. Then, as if things couldn’t get worse, inner issues began to boil over – the spark that revealed those problems and set them ablaze was the departure of Jason Newsted, then bassist of 14-years. Continuing the domino effect, James Hetfield’s alcoholic problem of 20-plus years was becoming something that was negatively affecting his home life. Soon after, he’s in rehab, postponing the production of the band’s album later to be known as St. Anger. After months in rehab Hetfield returned to his band, their album, their film-project, and the psychiatrist that had been working with them. St. Anger hit number-one in 30-countries, only to be later ill-received for its retched musical styles that included a trash-can sounding snare drum and a c-tuned guitar. It was a very pissed off, primal and heavy on the attitude record that spilled James Hetfield open and revealed the ugly avenues within; so ugly that it nearly killed the band’s reputation, which was yet another strike against them with so many others already in the books: Metallica – supposedly selling-out; Load/Re-load – going alternative; Garage Inc. – yet another non-thrash album; and Napster.

In the five-years between the release of St. Anger and lots of touring/shows done, Metallica has returned to the rock universe to give birth to their 10-studio album:

Many questions surrounded the album; would it be thrash? Did they fix the drums? How will James’ vocals sound? Will there be any guitar solos? How many tracks? Will the lyrics of old be back? Do they even have anything left in the tank? Questions all posed by metal enthusiasts who’ve been tracking the band for most of their lives. Metallica has lost followers by the thousands for the past 20-years dating back to when they first made major changes in their style on the Justice album and debuted their first ever music video. The masses remaining who have posed the countless questions of what to expect next are truly die-hards, who live, breathe, and exist through the band’s music that has been clouding the airwaves for decades. The millions remaining on the Horsemen’s bandwagon are like Cubs or Red Sox fans; they’ve been through thick and thin, both in their lives and in their devotion to a band that has never been afraid to do what they wanted. Yet, through every trial and tribulation in their lives, and no matter how many times what has always been constant in their lives has changed itself, the music, Metallica’s music has always been an unwavering force in their lives. When they woke up to a driving headache and the scars of the past aching inside and out, “Bleeding Me” was there. When questions of faith arose, “Until it Sleeps” and “The God That Failed” was there. When injustice seeped into their living rooms, “Eye of the Beholder” was there. When the day’s darkest moments surrounded on all fronts, “Fade to Black” was there. When the sun wouldn’t stop shining, “Whiplash” and “Damage Inc.” was there. And when things felt uncertain and overwhelming, “The Unnamed Feeling” was there as a constant, mother-like touch. It never has mattered how many times it seemed that they turned their backs on people, because, you see they never really have. Leaving their metal roots left many behind to waddle in their own rotten feces; jumping into alternative rock captured the hearts of millions more. And when many had turned their cheek and crushed CD’s, more were found in the darkness with the light of St. Anger. And now, 25-years after entering the underground-metal scene, the band that has ruled the world ever since is back, ready to answer questions, erase doubts, and forge a new path for their careers, and in the process, open up countless more avenues for the up-and-comers of the business.

Within the first three-days of the album's release back on September 12th, the record sold over 490,000 copies, and in its second week, is still number one in 28-countries across the world, including Canada and the United States. When you listen to it, you know why. Guitar World hails James Hetfield and Metallica as "DOING IT OLD SCHOOL!" No matter how many times I refrain from comparing newer works by them to their past near-flawless classics, and slamming other's for how they "are still living in the past and can't see the beauty of what's two-inches from their face", I can't help but label what I hear in the first 7-odd minutes of this album as a modern day spin on classic thrash metal. Like a rapper spits his rhymes, James Hetfield spits chunks of red-apple, aka lyrics out of the speakers, with the battle cry of raging guitar and thundering double-bass snare drums playing in his wake. The opening heart-beats to That Was Just Your Life signify the rebirth of Metallica, The End of the Line solidifies this new-found truth; and Broken, Beat & Scarred becomes an anthem the quality of Dutch's glorified beating of his chest in the newly set battlefield of a jungle with the Predator laying in wait. The first three-tracks give Metallica fans of old something to cheer about, and new fans something to cling to for what I can only figure another 20-years, much like the same diehards who flocked to small gigs in San Francisco back in the days when Mustaine and Hetfield shredded side-by-side. Hetfield sounds rejuvenated, Hammett has been let out of his cage, and Rob Trujillo can be seen through the speakers dancing around on stage in his monkey stance, plugging away on bass, fulfilling his purpose of that drone in the distance. The first singe The Day That Never Comes comes along, providings its tasteful half-ballad, half-thrash blitzkrieg, not to mention Hetfield's awful pun "son shine" and Captain Obvious worthy lyrics "Love is a four-letter word!" Ignore the lyrics, and "The Day That Never Comes" is just one more home-run by 'Tallica, keeping Death Magnetic barreling on at reckless speeds.

And if tracks one-through-four werent "pedal to the metal" induced enough, in comes All Nightmare Long, truly a thrash instant classic that will surely have any 80's metal fan bowing down and foaming at the mouth. It's a fantastic molding of "Enter Sandman" and "Damage Inc." packed into just a smidge under eight-minutes of music, which features not one, but two guitar solos that are intoxicated with the wah-wah pedal by Hammett. The lyrics "We hunt you down without mercy! We hunt you down all nightmare long!" forever will be enclosed in the vault of memorable lyrical moments provided by James Hetfield -- and it must be noted that that vault is already pretty jam packed.

After another single that was released prior to September 12th, a filler that bumbles down and about going nowhere in Cyanide, the final song of the trilogy that began in 1991 begins, being The Unforgiven III. A soft piano intro, rather than the almost iconic horn starts the song off, shedding some light on the band's remaining creativity, with a bit of a symphonic touch of violin and other instruments to boot. It's a nice song, believe me -- it just seems out of place on such a "F*CK 'EM ALL!" album that has been bleeding out of the speakers for the past 40-plus minutes. It features some quality imagery and soothing vocals, and a dazzling moment when Hetfield utters the final syllables to "forgive me" and the guitar overtakes him in a moment of oozing emotion. Even though it seems like it bogs the record down with its major change of pace, it is quickly forgiven (hehe) and accepted as just one more memorable song when the opening riffs to The Judas Kiss begin to blare. Continuing the re-metallization process of Metallica and especially James Hetfield's lyrics, "The Judas Kiss" forces you to sell your soul to them with a menacing power, before releasing you into the hands of the Horsemen's sixth instrumental, Suicide & Redemption.

After many four and five star songs, we hit what is to me either the second or even best moment of Death Magnetic. Nearly topping 10-minutes like the second to last original instrumental "To Live is to Die", this one is like an onion: slowly but surely, it unravels riff after riff. Unlike an onion, though, it is never too strong that it makes you cry. The song's transition and flow is perfect, and as the guitar begins to whine, heighten its pace, and charge into a thundering roar of guitar work, we're reminded of why we listen. Of why we love, cherish and pride ourselves in the name and history of Metallica. They nearly committed suicide in their careers and in many ways their lives; Death Magnetic is redemption.

Before leaving us for what is surely going to be a few years after relentless touring, "My Apocalypse" shreds its way to the finish line in just over five-minutes. There are some "air drum" moments, some brutish and catchy lyrics, and what feels like a "Dyers Eve" quality pace to it, but overall, it's a let-down. Although the album finishes on what I figure to be a hit-or-miss track, the 70-minutes of music that preset it is enough to leave a very positive taste in one's mouth.

After 75:17 of Metallica, one needs to cleanse their palate a bit, eh? For an album hyped up so much, it definitely leaves a pleasing taste after its conclusion. Although bloated in its size (it still had three more demo tracks that could’ve made it a double-album) it flows smoothly in regular Metallica fashion that the minutes fly by as you’re swept up continually by its riffs, bellows and screeches. For a long time now, Metallica has been surrounded by negative energy. Jeers of selling out and being washed up have clogged message boards and Youtube comment sections for some time now, leaving a nation of fans divided more ways than you can point out. There’s the life-long diehards, who, although have issues with a lot of the turns the band has made during their trip, still find ways to love everything they’ve accomplished, and will truly be there forever as a fan. There are those who label themselves as old-school Metallica fans, and nothing else. Others who came in 1991 and feel as if what they’ve done since is just them delving into their own musical abilities, searching for the limits of their talents. And after that, there’s so many in-between and mixtures of it all. One thing that most have suffered from is the inability to move on from the past, realize that it’s still rock n’ roll, and that metal isn’t everything. Realize that people move on, no matter how perfectly crafted their past works were or how much of a high they were riding during their so-called “glory years”. And that the best way to make your legacy last is to expand and experiment in your styles, so that you can reach as many people as possible, while still living by your own call and doing what you feel is best. Metallica, driven by the desire to make it and become rich and famous like every other band out there, did alter their course for that purpose, but also because they wanted to see how far they could go. And now, after doing so, they’ve returned. Returned to their roots, yet, not forgetting but channeling what they’ve done in the years they’ve accumulated on the trip that has led them to today. Death Magnetic is a testament to a band’s resolve, both in their own lives and their careers. Whether it’s the last record they ever produce or not, it has extended their legacy another 10-20 years. They continued their own trend of never sticking with the same thing twice, and giving the public just one more stash of songs to obsess over for the next few decades. Despite it’s obvious flaws that include James Hetfield doing his best to re-metalize himself lyrically, and Lars Ulrich’s less-than fantastic drum-play, and veteran Rick Rubin’s inability to mix the album well enough to give it justice, Death Magnetic recharges Metallica’s battery so much that it extends their reign for a long time to come. It’s said that the best way to make people turn the other cheek and forget is to continue doing what you do best – Death Magnetic, if not entirely for some, erases a lot of the past that clogs their legacy. While it is definitely not the best album of the 2000’s, or even of the year 2008, it will forever be a landmark in Metallica’s careers for what it means to them personally, and for the millions abroad that awaited it so faithfully.

Notable Tracks
Overall Rating


Chrono said...

That picture at the end is pretty cool. Is that a promo poster or something?

Cole said...

"The Day That Never Comes" pisses me off. The first half is fantastic and then Metallica just goes on autopilot and in my opinion ruins the 2nd half. Just becomes a mess.