Music Review: Metallica's Death Magnetic

by Hayden Alfano

1988 is just 100 seconds away.

Cue up Metallica’s newest release, Death Magnetic, turn the volume up, and wait. Feel free to rock out a little bit. And in one hundred seconds, you’ll be transported back to 1988.

That was the year that the heavy metal icons released … And Justice For All, the last true thrash metal album for the most important thrash metal band in history, if not the inventors of the genre. And while Metallica has put out some very good stuff in the last two decades, it’s inarguably been more accessible and mainstream. This has left many devotees of the band longing for the good old days.

One hundred seconds in to “That Was Just Your Life” — the first track on Death Magnetic — and the machine gun guitar that once was the band’s signature kicks in. Also back are the guitar solos that were notably absent from their last studio release, St. Anger, from 2003. Most fans will agree: The less like St. Anger, the better.

That’s not to say that you should pick up Death Magnetic expecting Kill ‘Em All, Metallica’s first studio release. This newest album takes the raw elements from the band’s early days and mixes them with the fuller, more polished sound that originated out of 1991’s self-titled “black album” and carried on through Load and ReLoad. It’s thrash metal within a more accessible framework. It’s those three albums, played faster.

Fans of the really heavy stuff will particularly enjoy the frenetic tempo of “All Nightmare Long” and “The Judas Kiss.” But even the album’s token ballad —“The Unforgiven III” — features a heavy guitar solo. (Yes, there’s another installment in this “Unforgiven” series. No, I don’t know why the band insists on sequels. At least they changed the chorus this time.)

James Hetfield’s voice no longer has quite the depth it once did. Still, on “Cyanide,” when he growls “An air of freshly broken ground / A concrete angel lit right down / Upon the grave which swallows fast / It’s peace at last, peace at last!” it’s easy to remember that he’s the ideal metal frontman.

Death Magnetic contains well over an hour of music. Only the tenth and final track, “My Apocalypse,” runs less than six minutes long. On the other end of the spectrum, “Suicide & Redemption” — a return of the instrumental, another of the trademarks that separate Metallica’s early albums from their later ones (and most others in the genre) — clocks in at just two seconds under ten minutes.

It’s a fitting reward for 20 years of waiting.

(The photo shows Metallica performing in London earlier this year; the photo is by Mishka Gaikin who has released the rights for the photo into the public domain. For at least a limited time, Metallica is streaming Death Magnetic on its website. To see Metallica's video of "The Day That Never Comes" from Death Magnetic, please check below. Metallica continues its world tour with a performance tonight, Sept. 12, in Berlin, Germany.)

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