Friday, October 3, 2008

Metallica | Death Magnetic

It's fitting that a heartbeat opens Metallica's Death Magnetic, their first album in five years. It might not be a rebirth, but it's certainly a resurrection. Though their previous album St. Anger attempted a return to their thrash roots, there were many omissions and questionable decisions: insulting to most metalheads, there were no guitar solos; the snare drum sounded like a beat up tin can; the background vocals were unnecessary and often intrusive; and the alt-rock melodies didn't jive with anything. Well, you can forget that mess. Bring on Kirk Hammett's molten light solos, bring on the double bass drum hits, the rapid fire triplets, the abundance of rhythmic switches and time signature changes. After all, this is Metallica in their natural state.

There are ten tracks on the album, but the truth is you can multiply that by three or four, and in some cases six. Most songs are multipart behemoths that continuously pile new riffs, licks, and rhythms on top of each other, until those give way to completely new sections. The previous steps are repeated with new grooves, and then Hammett is unleashed. If there's any revelation in these tunes it's the lead guitarist. In "The End Of The Line," after the second or third groove change, there's a short feedback buzz and out of nowhere, a rumbling, lightning-fast mound of notes tumbles in a frenetic wah-wah haze. A groove change later, the band returns to the main riff, which sounds like a variation on Pearl Jam's "Animal," as guitarist and lead vocalist James Hetfield growls the song's title.

A catalogue of metal riffs is included in "All Nightmare Long." If there's any metal band out there running out of ideas, it might be a good call to jack one of these. Somewhere in these heavy as lead textures I'm sure is bassist Rob Trujillo. The fact that he's basically inaudible throughout the record isn't his fault. With all the tussling between both guitars and Lars Ulrich's drumming the listener is basically asphyxiated, never mind having space for bass. Unlike most bands, the lack of a bass presence doesn't diminish the band's fascination with rhythmic invention.

The song whose sole focus is rhythm and texture is "Suicide & Redemption," Metallica's first classic instrumental in years. There are so many meaty riffs that at times the song sounds like a tape cut at a rehearsal. Ten minutes of this is hardly enough. It's invigorating to hear a band tear into every note and beat they play. At last Metallica has looked at itself in the mirror and accepted its reflection: the greatest metal band of the last 25 years.

NOTE: In a sharp contrast to their Napster days, the band has posted the entire, unedited album on their website for free streaming. Click here to get pummeled.

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