Sound — 7
So is this the Metallica album to save the band's legacy from turning into a nostalgia act? Although 1996's Load offered a handful of fine tunes and groovy hard rock, Metallica's last great album was their self-titled smash hit, almost always referred to as The Black Album. Some fans even reckon that the last great Metallica album dates further back with 1988's And Justice For All. With star-knobturning producer, one Rick Rubin, he challenged the band to attempt pretending that they were fighting for a record deal, reinventing themselves more in terms of really finally grasping their treasured works of the mid to late 80s rather than yet again come up with another musical deviation that has been the blueprint of Metallica the last 17-20 years. Thus, Death Magnetic sees Metaliica return to their beloved roots, sounding like the obvious successor of And Justice For All, furthermore Rubin's trademark tightly compressed production suits Metallica rather well after 15 years of working with Bob Rock who, while certainly being an excellent producer, certainly drew the band towards a slightly poppier edge and mainstream approach. However, Lars Ulrich's drum sound is rather iffy at times leaving an expression of a coincidental Thursday jam session at HQ in the Bay Area. Here and there it sounds too flat and the double bass pedal work is not as upfront in the landscape as one may have hoped. As is the case with James Hetfield's voice which has lost a bit too much of it's percussive effect, once too often it appears as though he is talking instead of cutting through Death Magnetic. The sound of the guitars are however quite a joy with a soaring definition of how crunch should be mastered.
Lyrics — 7
James Hetfield returns to form with some of his doomy lyrics which make And Justice For All and Master of Puppets spring to mind. Titles such as That Was Just Your Life would never have appeared on the back cover of anything Metallica have done in the past 15+ years. The lyrics definitely take after the grand tradition of metal lyrics while still maintaining the introspective and cathartic approach Hetfield began to focus on with The Black Album. In context with the music, some of Death Magnetic's lyrics work tremendously well, although lines such as ''bow down, sell your soul to me, I will set you free'' is boring and indicates that Hetfield ran out of stuff to write about, even though it works in rhythmic terms following the riff.
Overall Impression — 5
The songs on Death Magnetic vary a great deal, from long-awaited old school thrash to epic progressive tracks with a much needed twist of the return of soli which brings the harmonies and melodies a lot further back into the Metallica song writing process. Death Magnetic definitely marks a return of a Metallica sound fans have been dying to get their ears on for a long, long time. And some if not many reviewers may see this as enough proof of quality. However, after realising that Metallica finally grasped their metal roots one must start to look at the quality of song writing, and here Death Magnetic stalls. There is indeed a very decent amount of great riffs but they are more scattered across the whole album than continously driving one song after another. One song may have a great verse melody, another may have a cool break-down as Cyanide does. However, the flow of the album is not strong enough and first single The Day That Never Comes is a poor attempt at writing a Fade To Black in 2008 and therefore does little to attract attention to itself as the representative of the album. One can't help but wonder if Metalica have been outmatched artistically by the renaissance of metal these days with newcomers Trivium and Bullet For My Valentine growing more and more in popularity while Metallica peers from the Bay Area, Death Angel and Exodus both have released very strong efforts in the last 4-5 years, Anthrax soon releasing their new album, Megadeth repositioning themselves as the force they were in the late 80s and early 90s and Testament with 4/5 of their classic line up quickly gaining admiration and attracting a whole new audience. Meanwhile, Metallica makes a third edition of The Unforgiven and apparently insist that a new album every five years is sufficient enough. No doubt, there are good things on Death Magnetic, better than heard on the last 4-5 releases (incl. covers albums etc.). But it is nowhere near Metallica's best album and while it's certainly difficult to live up to a legacy made up of Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets, it doesn't really change that fact. The songwriting is much too weak and the hooks too few, but if Metallica fans will just focus on the fact that their heroes have at last embraced their roots they will be satisfied. To my ears, it's a disappoint, not throwing Metallica further into the metal abyss, but keeping them on the very rugged edge, indeed.