The Metallica debate has been one of the most hotly contested that music has ever seen. Pro or Anti. Sellouts or one of the few bands of the people and for the people. There’s an argument for both sides, to be sure, but in the end, if you’re not for them, you’re probably against them. If we’re going to throw down about it and have an intelligent, healthy discourse, it’s always good to know where the other person is coming from.
I am what would be categorized as an “OG” fan. I have very clear memories of going to the small local record shop in my hometown back in Canada, the serial killer capital of Canada, no less – though nothing to do with me, mind you. The year is 1984 and as a young lad of fourteen, I had saved my loonies (the Canadian dollar, I shit you not) for my monthly purchase. There, on the new release rack were two albums. Slayer’s Show No Mercy and Metallica’s Ride the Lightning. I bought both. Loved one (Slayer). Really loved the other (Metallica). I was a fan from that moment on and remain a fan to this day.
Even though I call myself a fan, I am not blind to the criticisms. Some have merit – the most important one being the songwriting, usually summed up with “Jesus, they suck now!” This is narrow minded. Yes, there hasn’t been an album as consistent from start to finish since ...And Justice for All. Each subsequent album has really only had four or five strong cuts surrounded by mostly forgettable ones. But I’ll still put those four or five tracks against 98% of what’s passed for “metal” the last fifteen years. This includes St. Anger, without a doubt the most ridiculously vilified album in heavy music history. While not the start-to-finish motherfucker we always hope for, there was still those four or five songs……
Other arguments from the anti camp are not valid and, many years later, still hold no weight:
The Sound: No they don’t play as fast. Fast doesn’t equal heavy. Fast doesn’t equal good. Grow the fuck up.
The Image: Yes, they cut their hair. Yes, some of them are even going bald. This happens as you get older. It will happen to you. Grow the fuck up.
The Downloading This is where there is no argument. This is where there is no gray area. When the Napster shit went down, you may remember those people that were all “Fuck Lars, man! Fuck Metallica! Rich fucking assholes wanting me to pay for their music. Fuck those guys.” You may have known someone like this. You may have even been someone like this.
If you were one of those people, I’m sorry, but fuck you. You think just because music is available for free (albeit illegally), that makes you entitled to it? You think you actually have a good reason to complain because the teat you’ve been suckling at for years completely free of charge has suddenly run dry? Fuck. You. You’re like one those freeloading bastard kids that live at home until you’re thirty and get all pissy with your parents when they ask you to chip in for the cable bill. Grow the fuck up. The ones that make the music are the only ones who should have a say in what happens to that music. Everyone else should shut the fuck up.
It’s been almost ten years since then, and I actually thought all that shit might have fallen to the footnotes of history but then, lo and behold – streaming previews for tracks from Death Magnetic are released, and all the parasites come crawling out of the woodwork, from under the rocks, off the tops of ponds and actually have the unmitigated audacity to complain about the sound quality. Pay some money, and then complain, you fucking douchebags. You’d probably win the lottery and complain about the yearly increments. Dick. But I digress……
Death Magnetic is the band’s strongest, most consistent slab of original material since ...And Justice for All. And before you ask - no, it’s not as good. As specious as the arguments about success spoiling the band have always been, Metallica have never been a band to rest on their laurels. They’ve put 100% in everything they’ve ever done but there’s something different in the execution of this new stuff – the band sounds more rejuvenated then they have in years. Partial credit can certainly go to new(ish) bassist Robert Trujillo, making his recording debut with the band he’s been a part of for five years. His bottom-end presence is felt on this one album more than on every Jason Newsted album combined.
Of course, this was never Newsted’s fault. Despite being in Metallica for almost fifteen years, we’ll never really know what he was fully capable of. Maybe it was the dire circumstances with which he joined, filling the formidable shoes of Cliff Burton, killed in the band’s bus crash only three weeks previous. When the three remaining members have that kind of trauma bond, not to mention probably hefty loads of survivor guilt, being the “new guy” isn’t an enviable position to say the least. Clearly, they wanted to start off on better footing with Trujillo, allowing him to show off his abilities, of which there are many. And really – take a look at the man. He carries himself like he’s been a member since the band’s inception.
Partial credit can also go to producer Rick Rubin. I say “partial” because as legendary a producer as Rubin has become – he is now also legendary for never being in the studio. He’ll show up every couple of months, let the band know what’s shitty and what isn’t, give them an Anthony Robbins ‘Be yourself” speech and take off again until the next autumnal equinox. Granted, this approach seems to work for the bands he’s made untold fortunes from, and it certainly works for Death Magnetic. But in all fairness let's also give some due to engineer Greg Fidelman who actually put in all the overtime for thirteen months of recording. As always, it all comes down to the music. The St. Anger haters will be happy to know the solos are all back in place and that there is a more commercial drum sound with no more ping, so all you babies can quit yer crying.
The album is bookended by two songs, “That Was Just Your Life” and “My Apocalypse,” that stick to very much the same structure as ...And Justice for All. The latter has a quick, crisp riff structure in keeping with “Dyer’s Eve” and the former, an all-destruction-all-the-time tempo, both musically and lyrically as “Blackened” – in fact, listen close to the lyrics to hear Hetfield’s homage to...well, himself.
Death Magnetic is indeed the most riff-heavy album the band has released in twenty years. Each track has all the quick tempo-changes of old – with classic-thrash guitar work, “The End of the Line” could just as easily have been written in 1985. There really isn’t a bad song on the album – each song is worthy of repeated listenings. Some of Hammett’s best work in twenty years appears on here as well – check out “Broken, Beat and Scarred” and “The Judas Kiss” for proof.
Also included on the album seemingly as an homage to classic Metallica albums is the ubiquitous penultimate instrumental. Unfortunately “Suicide and Redemption” is not “Orion” or “To Live is to Die” or “Call of Ktulu,” but one of Death Magnetic’s few weak links, sounding little more than a ten minute soundcheck jam, albeit with some great shredding from Kirk Hammett, who, now that he’s been let out of the solo closet he’s been locked in for years is more than ready to make up for lost time.
When all else is said and done, this could very well be the album to finally silence the haters, of which there are seemingly legion but make no mistake - Death Magnetic was not an album made to appease the disgruntled or to kowtow to those who would piss and moan for half the band’s career. Metallica’s fans are legion too, and this album serves as a strong reminder of why we stuck around in the first place.
Posted Dec. 16, 2012, 7:08 a.m.
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