In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Death Magnetic isn’t bad. It’s even better than good. But I think it ushered in the stage of Metallica’s career where new music just doesn’t really matter all that much.”
This binge on Metallica’s discography has been fun, but it hasn’t really delivered any surprises. I knew their early years were raw and a little undisciplined. I knew Metallica was filled with ground breakers that are still played constantly today. I knew the double shit bombs of Load and Reload would be a slog. And St Anger proved why it’s the one Metallica album I’ve listened to more than any other.
But here, with their most recent studio effort, I have no idea what to expect from Death Magnetic. I listened to it once, when it came out eight years ago. And that’s it. But that’s not a condemnation, like I didn’t like it was even underwhelmed by it. I think I liked it. I just never got around to it again. So now, as the band continues their longest hiatus ever between albums, it’s time revisit Death Magnetic.
And it straight away gives me high hopes when I hear the extreme tempo, fight vocals and noodling solo of That Was Just Your Life. This is more structured and precise than the early years, while remaining dirtier and more dangerous than anything the late 90s version of this band had to offer.
The End of the Line is a more standard hard rock sound than the heavy or thrash metal usually associated with this band. It’s main even sounds like an amped take on Pearl Jam’s Why Go off their 1991 debut, Ten. Until the closing out riffing and screaming starts to sound like their own Some Kind of Monster. And I’m totally fine with that, because I love both songs just referenced. They might even both be my favourite from their respective records.
Things unfortunately veer into The Unforgiven territory with the plodding, blandness of The Day That Never Comes. It’s almost like The Unforgiven was such a big hit, Metallica almost feels obliged to have a song like this on every record. It’s a theory unfortunately strengthen by the success of The Unforgiven II. But like those, the format is just as boring and unnecessary here. Even more so later when they insist on including The Unforgiven III. Like most trilogies, each entry is less essential than the last.
Cyanide is another great melding of Metallica’s early thrash days, with Lars Ulrich’s constantly pumping double kick pedal, combined with a more deliberate, classic, heavy rock guitar riffing driving it all the way. Cranking that approach up a little gives you The Judas Kiss. Which, as it begins, might be the coolest intro Death Magnetic has to offer. Which is good, since it’s over eight minutes long. When you’re gonna subject your listeners to eight minutes of anything, it had better start strong.
Death Magnetic isn’t bad. It’s even better than good. But I think it ushered in the stage of Metallica’s career where new music just doesn’t really matter all that much. Like AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and even the afore mentioned Pearl Jam, new music from these guys will be obsessed over by the obsessives. But for most of us, the best thing about a new record from Metallica, or any of those bands, is the tour that comes with it. We’ll respectively bide our time while they play two or three tracks from the new record, but the vast majority of the audience is there to hear the hits, classics and old favourites.