Being the biggest band the world has ever seen, both in the mind of fans and in terms of success is not all wine and roses. Metallica has taken their fair share of hits in the career from the fans and press at times, casting a fair but unflattering light. One such case is Death Magnetic (Warner/Vertigo), released ten years ago today, on September 12th, 2008. Although the album was considered a return to form musically after St. Anger, production issues sent diehards and haters alike into fits over the sound quality.
For most people, the only way forward was up from the middling St. Anger. The band defiantly invested the time and went back to the wheelhouse to write more straight ahead thrash and classic heavy metal songs such as ‘Cyanide’. That old Metallica crunch was there: uptempo songs with killer riffs and even guitar solos made a comeback, which pleased Kirk Hammett. A throwback to Master of Puppets and And Justice For All…, with less technical polish and shine. Lyrically, the album was really relatable and mature too. James famously remarked that the album title and some song themes were inspired by the loss of their friend and peer, Layne Staley of Alice In Chains.
Death Magnetic, at least the title, to me started out as kind of a tribute to people that have fallen in our business, like Layne Staley and a lot of the people that have died, basically — rock and roll martyrs of sorts. And then it kind of grew from there, thinking about death… some people are drawn towards it, and just like a magnet, and other people are afraid of it and push. Also, the concept that we’re all gonna die sometimes is over-talked about and then a lot of times never talked about — no one wants to bring it up; it’s the big white elephant in the living room. But we all have to deal with it at some point.
Produced with Rick Rubin, but really produced by the band, the album is chock full of rad songs from the opener ‘That Was Just Your Life’, ‘The End of the Line’, ‘Broken, Beat and Scarred’, ‘All Nightmare Long’, and ‘My Apocalypse’ (apologies to Arch Enemy fans) are thrash jams that all hold up well. The huge single ‘The Day That Never Comes’ had some old-school Metalli-prog moments, especially the ending. This song had a video that was in heavy rotation on MTV in 2008! Crazy. Naturally, a lot of fans flocked to ‘The Unforgiven III’ and rightly so. There is even an instrumental track, ‘Suicide and Redemption’ that is still solid.
James Hetfield’s voice and riffs carry the album, as he has done in this era of Metallica. This album marked the writing and recording debut of Robert Trujillo who has put his stamp on the band since joining. Lars Ulrich plays tight and solid on this album, and the snare sound is pretty good. Solid playing from the rest of the band helps push this in the “B+ grade” level, for the most part, not a classic, but an excellent album musically. Of course the now famous terrible mix job and all the clipping, from trying to “out-loud” other albums of this time proved that the band was still a little to trend-conscious, as they were with the previous album. Too bad since Greg Fidelman has become an excellent producer and mixer in his own right since then. If you can get past this (audiophiles and haters won’t be able to) this album is great on repeat and still has a song or two in the setlist live, ten years on.