CD Review: Death Magnetic

I bought a CD a couple of weeks ago — an actual physical CD! How quaint! I have bought my share of music from both iTunes and, and as convenient as digital music is, for some albums I still prefer having the actual CD for the liner notes. iTunes has its advantages, the main one being convenience. It’s absolutely brain-dead simple to buy stuff from iTunes; from the time you say “I think I will buy this”, you could have it downloaded and available on your iPod within a couple of minutes. However, the music is DRM’ed up the wazoo. I tend to prefer over iTunes as they sometimes have DRM-free MP3s available, but if they don’t, you get fully-protected WMAs. Either way, though, you can burn a CD from the iTunes files or the WMAs, and then rip the CD to clean MP3s. If you use a rewritable CD and then erase it when you’re done, you don’t even waste a CD, which begs the question: why do you need a physical CD to do this? You’re using software to convert the files from protected MP3/WMA to CD format, then using software to convert from CD format to unprotected MP3. So why can’t the software just do both without writing to a physical disk in the middle? It just blows my mind.

But I digress. The CD I bought was the latest from Metallica, “Death Magnetic”. I have been a Metallica fan since 1991, thanks to the Black Album. I still remember buying it (and Nirvana’s “Nevermind”) at Tower Records in Redmond, Washington during my work term at Microsoft. It wasn’t long before I picked up all of Metallica’s previous albums, and “Master of Puppets” and “…And Justice For All” quickly became two of my favourite albums of all time. I wasn’t that thrilled with “Load” when it came out, but it grew on me after a while and now I really like it. “Reload” never grew on me at all and I rarely listen to it. It should have been called “Filler from the ‘Load’ sessions”. It just seems too, I don’t know, gimmicky, for lack of a better word. “Garage, Inc.” was good, but obviously a little different since it’s all covers. Since it’s mainly covers of bands I don’t listen to (Motörhead, Mercyful Fate, Misfits, Killing Joke), I don’t listen to that album often either (though their cover of Bob Seger’s Turn the Page is seriously kick-ass). For whatever reason, I had high hopes for “St. Anger”, but was sorely disappointed. I’ve listened to it many times since in the hopes that it too would grow on me, but while Frantic isn’t a bad song, the title track annoys the hell out of me and much of the rest is simply forgettable.

Which brings me (finally) to “Death Magnetic”. In a nutshell, this is easily the best Metallica album since (at least) “Load” — though given my comments above about the albums since “Load”, that’s not saying much. There are actual guitar solos, something completely lacking from “St. Anger”. Jason Newsted was a decent bassist, but his bass playing in Metallica kind of sat unnoticed in the background. You can really hear Trujillo’s bass playing, and that combined with the sometimes unconventional drumming of Lars Ulrich makes for a powerful bottom end. James Hetfield is one of the most underrated guitarists out there, probably because he isn’t flashy and doesn’t generally do the solos — Kirk Hammett plays the solos (and nothing else) on the recordings — but Hetfield is his usual solid self here. He is also one of the better metal singers around, in that he actually sings. He can growl with the best of them when necessary, but isn’t afraid to actually use his voice for more than just belting out words.

Some other miscellaneous comments:

  • Broken, Beat & Scarred has the same problem that annoyed me about St. Anger (the song): excessive repetition. “What don’t kill ya make ya more strong” is not only bad English but is said about a hundred times in the song. It’s still a better song than St. Anger though.
  • the beginning of The Day That Never Comes sounds uncannily like Fade to Black.
  • The Unforgiven II on “Reload” had some obvious musical nods to the original The Unforgiven. The Unforgiven III on this album does as well, but isn’t quite as obvious. The music is different, but the vocal melody during the verses is reminiscent of the original.
  • Parts of All Nightmare Long are almost radio-friendly but not as blatantly so as Escape from “Ride the Lightning”. But don’t expect to hear it on Top-40 radio anytime soon.
  • Suicide & Redemption is the first Metallica instrumental song since “…And Justice For All”. I’m not a huge fan of To Live Is To Die, but I love the other instrumentals (The Call of Ktulu and Orion), and this one is up there with those two.

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