Sound — 7
On production and "sound," it's very similar to "Death Magnetic" (if "Death Magnetic" was done better), which is a relief due to the over compression on the last album.
James really stands out to me on this one, delivering better vocals then he has in a very long time, creating some very catch vocal melodies. It sounds like a really good combination between "Reload," "Black Album" and "Death Magnetic." It's a welcome sound that lets you feel very satisfied when listening.
Instrumentally it was a bit of a letdown. Throughout the entire album, there isn't a single guitar solo that sticks in your mind and give you goosebumps after hearing it. The wah pedal I can live with, there are a lot of creative and great things you can do with it (in appropriate amounts), but this is not one of those cases. Every guitar solo feels as if they finished the album, they pulled Kirk in for an hour and did one take improvisations for each song, and called it complete. It's a major disappointment if you're expecting incredible guitar solo.
As for the riffage, there's nothing incredibly memorable here. There's some great points in "Moth to a Flame," and during 1:37 in "Dream No More" is something I really dig. Otherwise they just feel like recycled riffs that "never made the cut" on previous albums. And on that same note, they drag on sometimes longer then they need to be. There will be lots of times where you go "Ah, and here comes the next vocal section," but instead it's just double time of the exact same section, played once again. I have nothing against long songs, I actually really enjoy them, but not when the goal is "Hmm, how can we make this longer?," and then just lazily duplicating sections for the sake of it.
Lyrics — 8
In a world where 85% of lyrics are about heart break and relationship issues, (once again) James doesn't fail to deliver. He always finds interesting things to write about, and if he doesn't, he always find creative ways to express those more simple subjects. Sometimes hearing other bands work, you think "oh gosh, how many different set of words can you deliver the same message but sound different," but James always finds a way to do that, and the end result never sounds cliche or just like another song. Lyrics are solid, not worse then previous albums, but not any better.
Overall Impression — 7
Instrumentally, I feel it's a step back from "Death Magnetic." Despite what a lot of people who are die hard "early Metallica" fans think, that album was a solid 8.5 for me. The only thing holding it back was the production quality. But this time they have the production, but but they failed to deliver in creativity. "Dream No More," "Halo on Fire," "Moth to a Flame" and "Now That We're Dead" are incredible songs, but the rest are just regular "not Metallica kind of level" songs.
Overall, I'm a little disappointed with the final result after waiting 8 years, but I'm not upset with (or have less respect for) the band. These guys are getting close to 60 years old, yet they still insist on playing 2 hour long shows, and putting out an entire album. I admire they're persistence and respect them just doing what they want to do. But hey, they're a legend, and there's always going to be an entirely different populous of fans who love this album through and through, that's just not me though.