Friday, September 12, 2008

Metallica - Death Magnetic

I've seen a ghost and its name is Metallica. After being a fan for years I wrote them off when they started releasing embarrassing albums full of half baked, unmemorable songs. Not being heavy anymore was one thing, releasing garbage is another altogether. When their self titled album (commonly called the Black album) landed in 1991 I assumed this was their left turn, the departure album. Every artist certainly has the right to experiment and that's what the Black Album sounded like. It was a huge success and turned this once cultish band into a stadium act. 1993 saw the arrival of a live box set and a tour in the summer of 1994. While the Black album was a bit soft it had good and occasionally great songs. Metallica remained an excellent live act. I saw them in the Summer of 1994 and they tore it up, one of the best gigs I've seen them play.

The real trouble started before Load came out. When I heard Metallica was changing their logo it was clear SOMETHING was amiss. Kiss has done some goofy things over the years, but they never messed with that incredibly recognizable logo. Iron Maiden has had three lead singers, but only one great logo. You can't buy familiarity like Metallica had with their logo, but they changed it. Then I heard Load. To be kind, it's terrible. The songs lack imagination, bite and have no heart, soul or really any redeeming value. Still the newer Metallica fans, the ones who discovered them with The Black Album, bought it. A year later they put out Reload. Things actually got worse. By this time it was embarrassing to have ever been a fan. Where were the uncompromising kings of thrash metal? Clearly they were dead. Oh well, they had released 4 classic albums and one decent one, more than many artists.

Four years later, after parting company with Jason Newsted they released St. Anger. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse again, they did. It got to the point that It was hard to remember that this was once one of the greatest bands in the world. For my own part I refused to buy anything after Load and I haven't seen them since 1994, my heart wasn't in it. So it's understandable that hearing they recruited Rick Rubin to produce didn't excite me. I figured they'd ruin his reputation and make another platter of steaming shit. Then a strange thing happened. I was in the car listening to my Sirius Satellite radio and I happened across a new Metallica song. It was hard to comprehend the sound coming from my radio. Simultaneously it sounded familiar and new. The double bass drum hit me first, then the screaming guitar, some bass and then, there it was, Hetfield's voice. He was growling as he should, when he tries to "sing" it sounds terrible. I was so overcome with shock I almost drove off the road. Was it possible Metallica had recorded a good song for the first time in 17 years?

Over the next few weeks I heard a couple of other songs, they were all good. The decision to get the new album, one that I would have considered impossible three weeks ago, was made for me by the songs I had heard. So today, I went out and purchased Death Magnetic. The first time in well over a decade I've put any of my money towards something created by Metallica.

I was immediatly glad to note that they've reclaimed their original logo. Listening to this album was actually an incredibly emotional experience. It never occurred to me that they had such an uncompromising album in them again. Death Magnetic is without question, hesitation or reservation the best album Metallica has released in 20 Years and 6 days (...And Justice for All came out on 9/6/88). This is undoubtedly a very good Metallica album that's likely to please people who are fans of the true, classic Metallica sound evidenced on their first four albums.

Rick Rubin has once again managed to extract a time-warp performance from a band that had lost their way. His knack for doing that warrants his consideration for a host of awards and perhaps even the Nobel Peace Prize.

Death Magnetic is heavy with double bass drums, ridiculous fills and all sorts of other tricks I can't wait to see Lars pulls off live. Kirk's guitar playing is probably better than ever, he's apparently learned some new sounds while they were recording those ill conceived albums. James, when he growls is still the best front man in thrash metal, not to mention a killer rhythm guitarist. And Rob Trujillo does a good and at times impressive job on bass.

This is the album Metallica should have released in 1991. If they had, their path would have remained unfettered and uncluttered by the garbage they've filled it with the last dozen years. As it stands they have returned to form. Not only did I not think it was possible, it never occurred to me they wanted to be this band anymore. Thankfully they have seen the error of their ways and want to reclaim their crown. Welcome back boys, it's good to see you!