Sound — 7
This month, heavy metal giants Metallica celebrated their 30 year anniversary as a band. To commemorate the occasion, the band played four shows at the historic Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. The shows were littered with special appearances, such as former members Dave Mustaine and Jason Newsted, as well as King Diamond and Marianne Faithfull. Lucky fans got to hear some never-before-played-live songs, like their 1988 instrumental "To Live Is To Die". But not only were these shows filled with old fan favourites. Every night, Metallica played a song recorded for "Death Magnetic" that didn't quite make it on to the 2008 album. The following day, MetClub members were given a download code to receive the studio recording of the song. The result is the 4-song digital EP known as "Beyond Magnetic". Obviously, seeing as these tracks are taken from the same recording sessions as "Death Magnetic", the instruments and vocals sound just like they do on their 2008 release. Fans of Robert Trujillo will be disappointed once again, as his bass is barely audible on most tracks, while fans of James Hetfield's guitar tone should be pleased. However, while these songs sound the same as "Death Magnetic", some of the styles explored are certainly not. Given that this EP consists of only four tracks, a song-by-song review seems appropriate: 01. "Hate Train": The song starts off with a bit of an awkward intro before James comes in with a simple, very "Metallica" riff. For those who remember watching the "Mission Metallica" videos back in '08, the little solo beginning every video kicks in soon after. The song continues just as you'd expect before a nice, clean tone breakdown. More riffage, and cue the solo. Kirk Hammett's fingers dance across the fretboard with what sounds like little wah pedal before another riff that "Mission Metallica" fans will remember. More soloing before a VERY heavy riff that would make Pantera proud. The track soon returns to the intro riff before Hetfield hits his high note, ending the track. 02. "Just A Bullet Away": Most fans will recognize this one as the song "Shine", from the "Death Magnetic" sessions. The song starts with a D-standard riff with an almost Opeth-like quality before going into a galloping rhythm. While the intro features some catchy riffs, it does come across as a little repetitive, but soon the song launches into what fans will recognize as the "Shine-riff". The song goes back and forth between the intro and verse riffs before abruptly hitting a haunting clean riff, complete with harmonizing guitars. Next up, Kirk begins a great solo before the song returns to the main riff and wrapping up. The song may be a tad repetitive for some fans, though it is undeniably one catchy riff. Some transitions, mainly the riff to clean bridge, are a bit awkward, but the largest complaint for this song is, unfortunately, Lars Ulrich's mediocre drumming throughout. It seems he didn't really know what to do with the song. But still, that riff... 03. "Hell And Back": The EP's third track starts with a nice clean riff while Lars and Rob add strange, though interesting accents. Another catchy main riff that will make you bob your head follows, before returning to the clean riff which becomes the verse of the song. About 4 minutes in, the guitars fade, leaving the drums to pound out a rhythm similar to "One" or "The Day That Never Comes". Soon, the guitars enter with a simple E power chord riff. In typical Metallica fashion, the song turns into riff central before Hetfield yells "YEAH!" and Kirk's barrage of notes help the main riff finish the song. While the song isn't exactly the band's most original, the energy of the song is simply astounding. 04. "Rebel Of Babylon": Another clean riff starts the final track. It doesn't last long, however, before a chromatic riff comes crashing through. Next thing you know, the song enters thrash metal heaven, tremolo picking and power chords fast enough to rival Whiplash. The song soon enters a mid-tempo beat before returning to the fast-paced riff and repeating the cycle. Kirk's solo in this one begins as just noise over another very catchy riff, and soon, James and Kirk are duelling again. Lars gets a mini solo before he and Trujillo enter an oddly-timed breakdown and yet another heavy riff. Soon, the song returns to the trash riff before finishing. The song features so many riffs and tempo changes, it sounds almost like a Megadeth song. The key point is, this is the most "old-school" the band have sounded since "...And Justice For All". (For those of you who are not MetClub members, all four songs can be found on YouTube.)
Lyrics — 7
It should be stated at this point that these tracks are demos, not final recordings that would have appeared on the album. That being said, the vocals are not perfect, nor are the lyrics. James Hetfield's voice stays in his regular gutteral growl for most of the EP, though in songs like "Hate Train" he does hit some high notes. His delivery, however, is not always perfect. Some of the lyrics themselves aren't great either: the "suck on the barrel, suck until it's gone dry" lyric from "Just A Bullet Away" is sure to cause laughter amongst the people who believe James Hetfield is a table. However, some of the more memorable lyrics include "You took away tomorrow / Still I stand" from "Hate Train" and (this reviewer's personal favourite section from the EP) "I become two / We become one / Unbridled... unequaled... unholy... undone" from "Hell And Back". The EP's vocals leave something to be desired, but contain some memorable moments, for sure. Not bad for unfinished products.
Overall Impression — 8
The "Beyond Magnetic" EP, to some, will simply be a "please forgive us" from the band after the entire "Lulu" debacle. For those who watched Mission Metallica, it acts as a cool flashback to some catchy riffs and allows fans to finally hear where those riffs ended up. In some ways, it acts as a celebration of the many styles Metallica have gone through: If you want a more modern, "Death Magnetic" tune, pop on "Hate Train". If it's heavy you're after, go for "Just A Bullet Away". "Black Album" energy? Try "Hell And Back". Or, if you want thrash, Rebel of Babylon is the obvious choice. "Beyond Magnetic" is simply a band having fun, and while the arguing over which song from the EP should replace which song from "Death Magnetic", there really only remains one thing left to say: Happy Birthday, Metallica.