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Metallica - Death Magnetic CD (album) cover




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3.34 | 380 ratings

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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Welcome Home

To me, Death Magnetic is, silly title apart, what Metallica should have released in the early 1990s - this is the album that is in every way the rightful successor to the incredible ...And Justice For All.

This is an album that is more progressive in a real sense, and in the traditional sense of what Prog Rock is than almost any Progressive Metal album I've reviewed, particularly the tracks All Nightmare Long and The Judas Kiss, which I recommend to all Proggers.

I see there are a couple of spiteful Poor ratings already - don't be put off by those, there are sub-standard moments on this album for sure, but there's bona fide real Prog and a couple of great moments too. Even if you didn't like this album, you would have to grudginly admit that it's not poor, in any sense of the word - unless you blanket hate heavy metal as an entity or Metallica as a band.

This is none of your I've got a Mellotron so I sound a bit Like Pink Floyd, none of your quiet/loud = Prog nonsense, and none of your crowbar in the silly time signatures, use a mode no-one except a rabid musicologist can detect, then play a simple song and call it Prog - this is genre-defining progressive metal music.

For Metallica and their fans, who probably don't care if it's progressive or not, this album is a very welcome return to form, but a bit late, as sadly, the music overall sounds dated, and, while there is Progressive writing a-plenty in these grooves, most of the writing is in the same progressive style that Metallica themselves pioneered in the late 1980s rather than Progressive per se as it was back then. It's a historical thing.

There are also the ballads to consider - although your average Barclay James Harvest album tends to be stuffed with ballads, so I suppose I really shouldn't hold that against the fearsome foursome. The Unforgiven III is actually *gulp* very good indeed.

On to the music;

The Prog connection is made immediately, in That Was Just Your Life, with the heartbeat recalling Dark Side of the Moon. The sinister guitar picking lets you know what's coming - any moment, you expect the slam... but when it comes, it's still unexpected, and throws you back in your seat in terror. Metallica tease with heavy riff portions, then career off into two more riffs that twist, turn, grow out of and feed off each other like untamed monsters in true ...Justice style.

There's little predictablilty here - the riffs change tempo and root, giving a satisfactory feeling of harmonic progression in places, while using the anchored technique to sustain dramatic tension between sections - e.g. just before the guitar solo. The solo itself isn't particularly remarkable, but a simple token because this is where a solo belongs.

Like Justice, however, it does feel over-long in places, as the riffs occasionally seem over-settled in. But the final instrumental section is a triumph of pulse-racing timing and changes with satisfying pathos.

The riffs and tempo changes are unrelenting in The End of The Line, growing ever more spiky and angular, and the song carries reminders of Metallica's earlier material, such as Creeping Death and even more Sad But True - but here Metallica experiment a little with harmonies, introducing some very creepy notes into the chords to create edgy clashes. Underneath, the riffs continue their twisting and turning, borrowing snippets from each other, building layers, creating an overall texture that only gives up its little secrets over time - repeated listening is ESSENTIAL to get the most out of material this dense in creativity.

Kirk really turns up the Nigel Tufnel for the guitar solo - I suspect it's completely deliberate, as I get a feeling of someone laughing in an extremely disturbing way - and the opening notes are quite shocking at full volume. This is a solo of malicious intent, not the throwaway Wah-Wah over-indulgence it first appears to be.

The song drops very unexpectedly into a more mellow section that sounds almost unlike anything Metallica have ever done before, and Hetfield uses the phrase The slave becomes the master as a carry-over into the next section, which seems entirely built to convey the lyrics rather than hey, I've got a riff - can you fit some words to it?. This is masterful and Progressive writing fully worthy of the Prog Metal moniker.

While the songs themselves have pathos, the same can't be said for the album as a whole. Broken Beat and Scarred seems like more of the same, as it's in a similar tempo frame and key - even the riffs are similar in style, to begin with. I found it useful to take a break before listening to this track for the first few times.

The chorus is superb, the changes well-crafted, but over-repetition still manages to creep its way in - while Metallica are using the same riff-writing principles that drove the amazing trio of albums that set them on the way to world domination, the buzz is missing, which was the biggest problem with ...Justice.

Then we have the first of the ballads.

Now, I'm not against ballads per se - I adore Barclay James Harvest's epic and symphonic-sounding constructions - but I have almost without exception despised every ballad that Metallica have ever written, and The Day That Never Comes is no exception.

I can't help hearing Echo Beach (Martha and the Muffins) in the opening bars, and the overall stiltedness off the riffs and misplaced angles jar horribly against my musical sensibilities. This simply means another trip to the bar the next time I see them in concert.

I quite like the middle section, though, based around the phrase Love is a 4-letter word - all of a sudden we're no longer in horrible ballad territory, but creative and unpredictable musical territory, with some machine gun riffs and Maiden style twin lead lines making it all very interesting. Pity the bass simply follows the guitars the whole time - if it hadn't, then I'd have to say that this is the full-blown prog metal thing, right here. It's not - but it's very, very close.

A Diamond Head inspired solo, reminiscent of that in Am I Evil, and peppered with Tufnelisms makes this section longer than it really needs to be, but Metallica sound like they're having fun, and this comes across.

All Nightmare Long follows, and what an intro - Halloween, here we come! Perfect punctuation leads to rapid-fire riffs and splendid boom-tish thrash drumming guaranteed to put a grin on your face. Again, the riff ideas split into a cosmos of fragments around your head until it becomes very difficult to focus on a single idea - this is excatly what I was hoping for from Metallica... back in 1991 - but nevertheless makes a nice change - a piece of metal music that's unpredictable and inventive for the sake of expressing the nightmare inherent in the musical logic and lyrics, rather than complexity for its own sake.

For this is an almost hideously complex piece - and I'm loving every second of it. On an album absolutely stuffed with 7- minute plus tracks, this one feels too short, clocking in at a mere 7:58.

My favourite song is, sadly, the least progressive (but it still contains very progressive writing): Cyanide opens with a riff so infectious it should be illegal, and pans out to changes so satisfyingly headbangable and scream alongable that it's an instant classic, putting Enter Sandman and One into the shade. The bridge features an over-Antaresed Hetfield over some brain-scrambling riff flurries and mellow picked sections which seamlessly feed into each other, and the multi- part instrumental section puts other Prog Metal bands to shame, inventing its own logic, which it rabidly persues all the way back to the final vocal section.

Metallica then do the unthinkable. I should really hate The Unforgiven III - I hated the first one and the second one, and I can hear the musical links - the melody hearkens back to its predecessors, but this is no carbon copy - and it's not a bad song either. OK, it gave me goosebumps on my first listen, despite myself - I really, really wanted to hate this like I do the other Metallica ballads. But it's really good. Damn their eyes.

Prog Metal fans - fill your boots. This single track puts Opeth's entire Watershed album to shame. Hetfield may not be the greatest singer ever, but his unmistakable tones are really put through their paces. Hammett may not be the greatest lead guitarist, but he squeezes emotion like a tube of squeeze cheese into the heart of his solo. The same can be said of the other two guys - you feel like every band member is playing this piece of music, not simply their little bit in their own little universe, and the elusive fifth member appears - the song itself.

The Judas Kiss is up next, and here the riffs get crazy - at first, it seems like it's for the sake of doing something complicated, but the sense comes with repeated listens, and the feeling of polyrhythms, crazy time signatures and dense complex modal harmonies pervades.

The instrumental section is a real tour de force, although I can sympathise with those who get fed up with Kirk's over- use of the Wah-wah as a vehicle of expression - and I do wish he'd learn a few more chops.

There are all manner of surprises in this piece - and there's no doubt in my mind at all that this IS Progressive Metal of the best quality.

I won't cover the last two pieces, as the overall style is more of the same - but that's not to say that it's the same music over and over, because Metallica play with the textures, twist riffs inside out, back to front, upside down and inside out - and THAT IS WHAT PROG IS ALL ABOUT.

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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