Five-years ago, Metallica made an attempt to reclaim their thrown - a thrown they never realized they had fallen off of - over the metal world with technically their first album in six-years. (Garage Inc. was a cover album; not really a Metallica record) Since the beginning of the new millennium, turmoil had surrounded the band. In early 2000 and through 2001, Metallica found that their songs were being downloaded for free off Napster by millions everywhere. By that time, they had sold well over 90-million albums world-wide, grossing amounts of money unimaginable to those of us struggling in today's decimated economy. For a band so laden with cash, Napster didn't seem like a move crying about loss of revenue, but getting a step on the new wave moving through music that was not only losing them money, but everyone else as well, virtually killing the business. (Album sales are down 11% so far this year) Naturally, the only concept that got across to fans was that they were just greedy musicians using their name as a platform. Then, as if things couldn't get worse, inner issues began to boil over - the spark that revealed those problems and set them ablaze was the departure of Jason Newsted, then bassist of 14-years. Continuing the domino effect, James Hetfield's alcoholic problem of 20-plus years was becoming something that was negatively affecting his home life, thus, he was thrown out of his own home. Soon after, he's in rehab, postponing the production of the band's album later to be known as St. Anger. After months in rehab Hetfield returned to his band, their album, their film-project, and the psychiatrist that had been working with them. St. Anger hit number-one in 30-countries, only to be later ill-received for its retched musical styles that included a trash-can sounding snare drum and a c-tuned guitar. It was a very pissed off, primal and heavy on the attitude record that spilled James Hetfield open and revealed the ugly avenues within; so ugly that it nearly killed the band's reputation, which was yet another strike against them with so many others already in the books: Metallica - supposedly selling-out; Load/Re-load - going alternative; Garage Inc. - yet another non-thrash album; and Napster.
In the five-years between the release of St. Anger and lots of touring/shows done, Metallica has returned to the rock universe to give birth to their 10-studio album:
Many questions surrounded the album; would it be thrash? Did they fix the drums? How will James' vocals sound? Will there be any guitar solos? How many tracks? Will the lyrics of old be back? Do they even have anything left in the tank? Questions all posed by metal enthusiasts who've been tracking the band for most of their lives. Metallica has lost followers by the thousands for the past 20-years dating back to when they first made major changes in their style on the Justice album and debuted their first ever music video. The masses remaining who have posed the countless questions of what to expect next are truly die-hards, who live, breathe, and exist through the band's music that has been clouding the airwaves for decades. The millions remaining on the Horsemen's bandwagon are like Cubs or Red Sox fans; they've been through thick and thin, both in their lives and in their devotion to a band that has never been afraid to do what they wanted. Yet, through every trial and tribulation in their lives, and no matter how many times what has always been constant in their lives has changed itself, the music, Metallica's music has always been an unwavering force in their lives. When they woke up to a driving headache and the scars of the past aching inside and out, "Bleeding Me" was there. When questions of faith arose, "Until it Sleeps" and "The God That Failed" was there. When injustice seeped into their living rooms, "Eye of the Beholder" was there. When the day's darkest moments surrounded on all fronts, "Fade to Black" was there. When the sun wouldn't stop shining, "Whiplash" and "Damage Inc." was there. And when things felt uncertain and overwhelming, "The Unnamed Feeling" was there as a constant, mother-like touch. It never has mattered how many times it seemed that they turned their backs on people, because, you see they never really have. Leaving their metal roots left many behind to waddle in their own rotten feces; jumping into alternative rock captured the hearts of millions more. And when many had turned their cheek and crushed CD's, more were found in the darkness with the light of St. Anger. And now, 25-years after their first release via album into the underground metal world, the band that has ruled the world ever since is back, ready to answer questions, erase doubts, and forge a new path for their careers, and in the process, open up countless more avenues and set more paths for the up and comers of the business, that like rock and music as a whole is dying.
I give you... Metallica
James Hetfield acknowledges what transpired in the lives of Metallica in the early 2000's and throughout the entire St. Anger process as a near-death experience for the band. He attributes that idea to this album - not only it bringing them back to the forefront and of importance in the music world, but some of its lyrical themes and the makeup of the record. That idea is brought to life by the heart-beat that begins to strum in the opening seconds of the first song to this album. Symbolizing that Metallica is still alive, well, sane, and still rules the world, the heart-beating leads directly into a blistering wave of modern thrash metal. The bogged down pace of the first minute and a half deceives you, until riffs charge faster, the song shifts gears and fire breaths out of the tail-pipe. After the emergence of some short-lived double-bass drum play, James' updated vocals take the mic' with a strong grip and never release its clamped pressure. As James spits out lyrics at a heightened pace that rather than retain but naturally throttles you with attitude, any wonders of what exactly they were capable of are answered. The riffs: maddeningly good. Vocals and lyrics: bad-****. The solo: THE SOLO! Seven-minutes of this makes you bite your nails for more... and literally "brings you straight down to your knees".
A while back, Metallica debuted a song called "Death is Not the End" somewhere, featuring some of the very same brutally awesome riffs that start off this song. The rest of that song they debuted was miserably hard to listen too; apparently, the band took a hint. They re-worked some things, and as it seems, ripped those riffs and threw them right into a different song. This bad-boy busts out of the gates and finds its groove with daring speed and intensity. James' vocals rip through the speakers and the guitar follows along perfectly. Where other artists would round a song like this off at 3:30 minutes, Metallica rages on, throwing more onto the ship and more hands on deck. Taking a step back in time to days of writing about drug use, "The End of the Line" throttles you with a story of a young-man struggling with abuse, while incorporating not one, but two solos, and a bridge that comes out of nowhere making it sound like a new track has commenced. Then it alters course, directly back to the track it was on, and brings things home to a screeching halt.
Number-three... how important it is to retain the fire of the album that has been going for over 14:00. The opening drum-play kicks you in the shins you so hard, you fail to realize your bobbing your head already. The riff at the 1:00 mark is so bone-crushingly wicked; you remember exactly why you're still listening to this band. James' opening vocals, no matter the morphed chliche, clinch you hard enough to maintain your attention for the last 5:00:
You rise, you fall, you're down then you rise again.
What dont kill you make you more strong.
You rise, you fall, you're down then you rise again.
What dont kill you make you more strong.
Rise, fall, down, rise again.
What dont kill you make you more strong.
Rise, fall, down, rise again.
What dont kill you make you more strong.
Through black days.
Through black nights.
Through pitch black insights.
It continues, heading straight into a classically molded Metallica track unhinging another lightning fast solo... and concludes with the words "We die hard!" being yelled as if it's a slogan. This anthem personifies the mess the band has trudged through in the 21st century, highlighting its near-death experience and the turmoil that surfaced in their own lives and reverberating the idea of getting back up once knocked down. James Hetfield takes the flag for ‘Tallica by roaring out to the heavens and earth that they fell, got back up and came back stronger than ever before, and remind us that they aren't going out with a fight. And to top it off, remind everyone that the things they've spewed about them over the past few years only bounce off their armor - e.g. "Through pitch black insights".
On August, 21st from Metallica's website, their first single was released: this song. Out of all the song titles that I saw early on when the track listing was debuted, this one drew me in the most. And I'm sure it was chosen as the debut song off the album nearly a month prior to its release for a reason. So far, this album is generating a lot of energy, utilizing their thrash metal roots and churning it with a modernized sound; The Day That Never Comes is at this point in the album the best representation of what Metallica was trying to accomplish. The opening melody brings back memories of "To Live is to Die", one of their most vividly creative and emotional tracks, and my favorite song off the ...And Justice For All album. It slowly bridges into a soothing guitar sequence that holds the mood for the vocals, which are soft and making it clear that this is a ballad. From what I can gather, the song is about abuse, and the will to hold on and wait for the warmth of love. But as I've read it more, it seems open to interpretation. Like so many songs in the past -- Bleeding Me, for example -- the vocals help guide the music perfectly with the effortless amount of emotion used. Hetfield takes his heart punching lyrics and take them to another level with how he approaches and finishes them. When the song hits the 3:55 mark, it's leaving the depths of sorrow and raging its way down the path of promise and determination. The beat hits you in the gut, and the last scream of "This I swear", where Hetfield is speaking out to the person in the song that he'll make the day brighter one day for her, is all you ever needed to be uplifted and released -- or maybe it was the last 3:00 minutes of the song, which have the effect that the guitar portions in "To Live is to Die" after the only stanzas of lyrics were uttered. Kirk Hammett and Hetfield take center stage in the final few minutes, which musically, were as brilliant, and even more empowering as the introductory angelic riffs. "The Day That Never Comes" is a slow-bounding emotional roller-coaster that hits its stride late, and like a horse in the Preakness, never slows down until it hits the light at the end of the tunnel.
The duo of strumming bass and slowly tapping drums creates a building sensation from the get-go of this one. Guitar enters, figuratively slamming heavily on the gas pedal and abruptly quickening the pace. The guitar soars over what sounds like air, creating even more of a sensation of gaining speed. And then, it becomes clear that this "Damage Inc."/"Enter Sandman" look-alike means business. In times of Metallica's career, they substituted the usual metal song-themes for very political and personal messages. On albums like Master and Justice, they incorporated politics, war, religion, and injustice. And occasionally, they'd throw in a few songs just to get the juices flowing, where listeners wouldn't have to worry about any hidden messages or statements being made - they could just lose themselves in the music and never let it go. This is that time on Death Magnetic, yet again. And as the song flies by, it doesn't forget that it's supposed to be musically complex - it throws in a second solo, before closing with the same unforgettable verses that will make you come back to this song so many times in the future. Note: Next time you want to taunt someone, quote this song.
Personally, after hearing this song I thought it could've been discarded, maybe even spliced and cut into other songs, so that "All Nightmare Long" was the perfect bridge to what will most definitely be an amazing ballad at the seven-spot; but nah, ‘Tallica had different ideas. "Cyanide" gets going with a foot-stomping bass line and trudges on through a wasteland forged by the Horsemen at a very smooth pace. Then, Rob enters again, then exits only to be a rumble in the distance. For what is the heaviest song on the album, it never really takes flight with me. It has its moments of classic-quality - the Trujillo's bass-play, some of the lyrics and riffs - but never really soars like the other songs before it. This album is very loud, very in your face... "Cyanide" sort of gets lost in a world of sameness. For others, it's one of the best on the record, maybe because of how it slows mid-way through to a melodic speed, featuring some soft to the touch vocals. And I can dig that - there's other people that I've seen say "The Day That Never Comes" is utter crap, where I'm one to say it's one of the best on the album. But playing fair isn't always part of the game - Mac says "Cyanide" is alright, so it's alright. Alright? Alright...
Because of what I consider a track-ordering fop a, there is a sense of urgency at this point in the album. In years past, number-seven meant that you were only one away from being home and done, ready to dig into mom's home-cookin'. Enter Number-Seven: When I first read the letters of each word and put those words together to form the title of this song, I was a bit shocked, scared and hopeful all at once. Why? I'll tell ya: It seems a bit pretentious and unoriginal, taking the name/idea of two songs from the past and trying to continue it into a series. That makes me scared because it may end up being made into a big part of the record, and then be a major bust. But then there's hope. Ah, hope. Hope that their creative juices are still flowing. Hope that the series now revealing its third part will be one of the best pieces to this puzzle. For hell, the songs of the past always were very intuitive lyrically. They were always some of the better songs on the albums they were on. That right there gave me hope that Metallica had dug deep yet again and had given me yet one more song to listen too from my countless list of others. Oh, how they succeeded. It starts with a suttle, yet direly effective piano intro, further solidifying the fact that Metallica are the Kings of coming up with new and creative introductions to each and every song they've ever created - regardless of how the song ended up being. The first two Unforgiven songs carried some weighty themes and were generally around the same spot in the album as the third-installment is. The first on 1991's Metallica album was written about the idea of living your own way, and not letting yourself become oppressed by others. The concept of it is personified in the music video, helping it become clearer that it's about a young man driven down as a boy, suffers through adult-hood and grows old, living in regret for never casting the shackles beset about his wrists by society and that he never was able to satisfy others, leaving emotional scars. Number-two was from 1997's Reload, carrying a much bluesier feel to it. Lyrically, it picks up where the first left off, adding love into the mixture. James, who personally has admitted he didn't know how to get close to people, directly relating it to his life growing up at home, lyrically channels that past and incorporates a thematic element of a man seeking to no longer be alone, but only if the love he sees is true. Yet again, the music video that accompanies the song articulates the theme beautifully. This time around, the one to be forgiven is himself. Always living in remembrance, fighting the fear and searching for more, the character, whether it's James or not - although, to me the three-part song series has to be centered around James - struggles within himself. The 7:47 long track breaks away from all songs before it in getting very personal to the author and musician, and sheds the burden of being Metallica, and just being James Hetfield. Like so many songs done in their careers, the emotion foams out of the speakers and spills into your lap; and to me, if they can't do anything else, that's all I want them to do: Exit Number-Seven.
Think real hard for me here... think of all the songs you've ever heard that had lyrics that were insanely hard to not laugh at, but were so damned bad-to-the-bone that it made you wanna hear them again and again.
The eighth track to this record is just another great example of that. The attitude that seethes out of this song takes away any blame for James even having picked up a pen and jotting some of the things down that are included in this song. And when the time is right, those devilish lyrics devour you... prime example:
Or my goodness, here:
And don't lie -- those wa-wa fests of a solo clinches your soul and never let's go. Unless of course, you already sold it to them, then... well...
In 1988, roughly two-years after the death of bassist Cliff Burton, Metallica released the album ...And Justice For All. The second-to-last track - like this one - was an instrumental in dedication to their fallen friend and band-mate. With their new and 10th installment to their album collection nearly in the books, Death Magnetic at least to me decides to make a payment to its fans. After about two-to-three minutes of very intoxicating filled music, featuring heavy riffs, it becomes perfectly clear that they've dished out their fifth-instrumental. And like the last one they did, this one nearly tops out at 10:00. 9:58 of a modernized, fully-energized, metal instrumental that in on itself could create a mosh-pit without the assistance of a few growls out of the Mighty Het. Around the middle when the guitars start to whine, it just makes me laugh at how they're almost toying with everyone who has doubted them over the past 18-years. I'm dead set on the idea that this song was supposed to accomplish a number of things: show Metallica fans everywhere that their gas-tank isn't empty; touch on the old-flame they used to have; give Rob Trujilo his day in the sun as the now full-time bassist; and give a fat middle finger to those who abandoned ship over the years. And as I listen to this song more and more, I to give all that aren't still on Metallica's bandwagon - or even ever were -- a big, double-barreled symbol of rebellion and cockiness. Out of all the songs on this album, this is my favorite. It's bar-none the most intelligently crafted and creative piece of work on Death Magnetic.
10. My Apocalypse
Now, at the 10th and final spot on the album, we arrive at an attempt to recapture the fire of the past with "My Apocalypse". In years past when Metallica really was metal, and thrash metal at that, they loved to end albums with a fiery burst of a speed-demon, testosterone induced song. On Master of Puppets, it was "Damage Inc". On ...And Justice For All, it was "Dyers Eve". Now we have "My Apocalypse", a song stealing lyrical themes from Slayer in the cover of a 45-year old James Hetfield. A song of 5:00 minutes to its length, and one that starts off with a thundering amount of attitude. You can feel the air of Seattle '89 reemerging in the first few seconds. The hoof-pattering drums add a ballsy touch, and the cymbals seem to cry out in laughter. And like the rest of the record, are a bit too loud and the tone a bit aggravating. But it's all okay once again when James comes in. Unlike on St. Anger when it seemed like he was trying to find words to make rhymes and it not coming out in classic Hetfield-style, the lyrical scheme works perfectly, keeping with an olden 80's Slayer ideological theme and a full-blown new-age Metallica attitude. A thrash fan of any age can't help but love it at the 1:51 when James dishes out a grunt and a speedy burst from Hammett ensues. Showing no sign of age, James rages on with great speed vocally and the guitar/drum duo never relents either. The quick start-stop sound never even gets old as the song blisters its way on, and Metallica reminds you that they aren't in the 80's anymore despite any similarities, as they don't succumb to their old habits of just letting a song finish itself with a blitzkrieging guitar solo; they let the guitar/drum/vocal trio do the closing. After the first listen the song fulfils its purpose and then some. Listening to it repeatedly can become a bore, and the start-stop style and lacking of a good solo downgrade it. But, that was just how the songs it modeled from the past ended up being like. So, in a twisted way, it was a recapturing of the old flame -- a solid, much less than great way to finish this new installment to the Horsemen's careers.
After 75:17 of Metallica, one needs to cleanse their palate a bit, eh? For an album hyped up so much, it definitely leaves a pleasing taste after its conclusion. Although bloated in its size (it still had three more demo tracks that could've made it a double-album) it flows smoothly in regular Metallica fashion that the minutes fly by as you're swept up continually by its riffs, bellows and screeches. For a long time now, Metallica has been surrounded by negative energy. Jeers of selling out and being washed up have clogged message boards and Youtube comment sections for some time now, leaving a nation of fans divided more ways than you can point out. There's the life-long diehards, who, although have issues with a lot of the turns the band has made during their trip, still find ways to love everything they've accomplished, and will truly be there forever as a fan. There are those who label themselves as old-school Metallica fans, and nothing else. Others who came in 1991 and feel as if what they've done since is just them delving into their own musical abilities, searching for the limits of their talents. And after that, there's so many in-between and mixtures of it all. One thing that most have suffered from is the inability to move on from the past, realize that it's still rock n' roll, and that metal isn't everything. Realize that people move on, no matter how perfectly crafted their past works were or how much of a high they were riding during their so-called "glory years". And that the best way to make your legacy last is to expand and experiment in your styles, so that you can reach as many people as possible, while still living by your own call and doing what you feel is best. Metallica, driven by the desire to make it and become rich and famous like every other band out there, did alter their course for that purpose, but also because they wanted to see how far they could go. And now, after doing so, they've returned. Returned to their roots, yet, not forgetting but channeling what they've done in the years they've accumulated on the trip that has led them to today. Death Magnetic is a testament to a band's resolve, both in their own lives and their careers. Whether it's the last record they ever produce or not, it has extended their legacy another 10-20 years. They continued their own trend of never sticking with the same thing twice, and giving the public just one more stash of songs to obsess over for the next few decades. Despite it's obvious flaws that include James Hetfield doing his best to re-metalize himself lyrically, and Lars Ulrich's less-than fantastic drum-play, and veteran Rick Rubin's inability to mix the album well enough to give it justice, Death Magnetic recharges Metallica's battery so much that it extends their reign for a long time to come. It's said that the best way to make people turn the other cheek and forget is to continue doing what you do best - Death Magnetic, if not entirely for some, erases a lot of the past that clogs their legacy. While it may not be the best album of the 2000's, or even of the year 2008, it will forever be a landmark in Metallica's careers for what it means to them personally, and for the millions abroad that awaited it so faithfully and with an immense amount of hope.
That Was Just Your Life, The Day That Never Comes, Suicide & Redemption
Released Worldwide September 12th, 2008