I've avoided listening to the entire Death Magnetic album (as much as one could with Sirius XM playing just about the whole damn album every hour) for almost a year. The album was released on September 12th, so I figured I'd finally sit down with the album and give it a listen, straight through. I figured since the hoopla about a new Metallica studio release died down, I'd be able to give it a good listen. I borrowed the album from the local library, and proceeded to listen to it non-stop, start to finish. I even put it on my favorite stereo in the CD player to give it every single advantage I could afford the album. I wanted the musical package to speak for itself. The conversation was long, and wandered a great deal, but I gave the album as much a fair shake as I could.
The first album of Metallica I picked up was "And Justice for All", and it continues to be one of my benchmark albums for the band. Sure, "Master of Puppets" is a great album, but "Justice" is where I cut my teeth in the world of Metallica. So I'm not some "Cliff's death killed the band" fanatic. Cliff was long gone by the time I started liking Metallica.
"Death Magnetic" has that feel of a super-group album. It's the kind of album where a bunch of talented musicians get together, bring their pet ideas, and make an album. I've picked up some super-group albums that were absolutely phenomenal (Liquid Tension Experiment, Bozzio Levin Stevens, Attention Deficit) and some that were pretty mediocre. The reason I think some of these albums aren't in the phenomenal category is because the event was worth more to the musicians than the music itself. Sure, getting in the same room with your musical idols and peers is good, but what makes a great album is the music that goes on the album. If the music isn't good, the only people who will care are the artist completionists who just want the privilege of owning the album; they couldn't care less what's on it. The reason I think Death Magnetic is a supergroup album is because there's a bunch of jumbled together ideas on this album, and no clear direction of where to go with the songs. There's no coherent thought or direction or (god forbid) editing on the songs, so they just meander along, collecting riffs and choruses until someone screams "we're running out of tape" and the song abruptly stops. There were several instances where I found myself wishing the song would end, and about a minute or two later, the song just petered out with no explanation or reasoning. The whole album felt like a big incoherent mess.
Whomever was responsible for the final mix on this album needs to never work behind a mixing board ever again. This is the most compressed and unpleasant to listen to music I have ever heard. The louds are too loud, and crescendos turn into a completely muddy mess. I know its just rock 'n roll, man, but seriously this album didn't need this mix to be overdriven like this. Turn it down, maaan.
I have a feeling Robert Trujillo brought in some of his background from Infectious Grooves into Metallica (that's not a bad thing at all). Ive enjoyed Robert's work with Infectious Grooves and Suicidal Tendencies, and I think Robert brings good things to the band. There were some points that reminded me of the funk-metal style that I love. Unfortunately, the rest of the band seems to think funk metal = Rage Against the Machine or Limp Bizkit because that influence was very strong on several songs. And again, once the band got into a groove, there was some little musical collapse that busted up the groove and turned it once again into a muddled mess.
"The Day That Never Comes" sucks. Period. I hate that song with a fiery passion.
"The Unforgiven III" is every single rock-n-roll cliché, done poorly, times three. The song starts with a piano riff that reminds me of Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home", and devolves from there into a song that's three times longer than it needs to be. About the only thing it needed was a 40 something with a Chinese dragon shirt yelling "Freebird" while his Zippo lighter illuminated the night.
"Suicide and Redemption" is the only instrumental on the album, and sounds like one of those Pro-Tool looped instrumentals on your garden-variety guitar-god album. (Think Steve Vai / Joe Satriani but not quite as flashy). I don't think Joe Satriani and Steve Vai have anything to worry about from this song.
What is with the song lengths on this album? I looked down at the CD player, thinking I was on track 7 or so, but was horrified that it was only on track 5. Only Tool and Dream Theater can get away with an 8 minute song, and there's a reason for it called "interestingness". Repeating the same verse / chorus / verse / chorus / verse / chorus / verse / chorus just doesn't cut it.
For all of the bad and mediocre songs on this album there's one absolutely stand-out song: "The Judas Kiss". Its an uncompromising odd-meter song, and was the only song that got me thinking "yeah, this is Metallica. This is thrash metal. This is GOOD". If this was the only song that Metallica recorded and released in the 20 year span between "And Justice for All", I think people would still be vehemently hailing the triumphant return of Metallica. This song would live comfortably at the end of "And Justice for All" right after "Dyer's Eve". Why couldn't there be at least three or more songs of this caliber on this album?
Overall, I'm not terribly thrilled with "Death Magnetic". Its tiring, boring, and doesn't (dare I say it?) rock at all. The songs have a certain paint-by-numbers feel to them that belies a lack of coherency and artistic vision. There's no excitement in this album, just a lot of repeated noise. All through the album I kept forcing myself not to fast-forward to the next song (including "The Day that Never Comes", which was quite a feat). I'm glad I borrowed this album, because I can safely say I wouldn't care to part with the cash to own it. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: there's ar more interesting albums to part me from my cash.