Metallica’s ninth studio album, Death Magnetic, drops next Friday. I pre-ordered a copy forever ago, but through the magics of the internets and some eager pre-sales in France, I am able to listen to it today.
The album has been produced by Rick Rubin, one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people and the greatest music producer of the past 30 years (and I’ll fight any man who says otherwise). Rubin has a reputation for “stripping down” bands – reducing rather than producing. He has successfully revived the careers of many artists through the act of reminding them who they really are.
In the 1985, Metallica was one of the most important things in my life. I must have listened to Ride the Lightning two or three times every day for several months, and the release of Master of Puppets in 1986 solidified them in my canon of “desert island” artists. Then came …And Justice for All, which might as well have been the soundtrack to my senior year of high school.
Then things started to get wonky for the band. They seemed to have lost the hunger and the edge. Partly this was due to sudden and phenomenal success: they were being played on MTV constantly (with the release of The Black Album), were winning tons of awards, growing up, getting married, having kids, buying expensive art.
The next two studio albums, Load and ReLoad were a massive departure from the angry, hard-drinking, head-banging crew we knew. They’d cut their hair (something I didn’t care much about at the time, honestly), and had obtained a more polished sound (courtesy of Bob Rock). There were some good tracks on there but for the most part the music felt. . . watered down. Limp.
It was the documentary, however, that served as a nutpunch to me. It was all about the band members undergoing therapy and such. There was a scene where they fucking apologized to Dave Mustaine. He was crying, saying how bad they’d hurt him, etc. It was just fucking painful and I remember screaming at the television: “WHAT THE FUCK! YOU GUYS ARE FUCKING METALLICA! YOU DO NOT HUG MUSTAINE; YOU COCK PUNCH HIM AND CURB STOMP HIS ASS!”
This is the low point.
I am pleased to say that Death Magnetic heralds the return of the “Alcoholica” sound. It is raw. It is brutal. It is thrashy. It is angry. There are no power ballads. It sounds almost like it should be the follow up to Justice instead of the Black Album. It is shows the kind of musical sophistication that Justice had as well as the raw engine sound of that same album.
Rubin returned them to their roots.
I have to listen to it another twenty times, I think, before I decide what I like best. Cyanide, one of the released tracks, is actually one of the weakest ones on the disc. So don’t judge it by that.