Review: Metallica’s “Death Magnetic”

It's been over five years since Metallica released their last album, St. Anger, in June 2003. Despite many favorable reviews, many die-hard fans were disappointed, noting the album's down-tuned guitars, lack of solos and tinny snare drum. The album also marked the last collaboration between Metallica and longtime producer Bob Rock.

Fast forward to late 2008:  Metallica's ninth studio album was released on September 10, 2008, titled Death Magnetic. The highly anticipated album features the current bass player, Robert Trujillo, for the first time (he joined the band shortly after St. Anger was completed). It's also the first Metallica album to be produced by Rick Rubin, who has previously produced albums for Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, and many more.

So how is it you ask? As a die-hard Metallica fan, I could not ask for more. I can say without hesitation that Death Magnetic is one of the best albums Metallica has ever released...period. This easily ranks up there with albums like Master of Puppets and The Black Album. I'm also happy to report that guitar solos are back in abundance. The first single, "The Day That Never Comes," is an awesome mix of mellow, melodic Metallica and fast, heavy Metallica. It features great riffs, a catchy melody and a ripping solo. The song is reminiscent of the epic song "Fade to Black."

Other notable songs are "Cyanide," the fast, heavy "All Nightmare Long" and "My Apocalypse," which gives the album a powerful, thrashy end. "Unforgiven III" is the closest Metallica gets to a power ballad, featuring a piano intro and strings throughout the song. There's a great flow between the heavy and soft on the album. Death Magnetic even includes an instrumental song, "Suicide & Redmeption," something which has not appeared since the album ...And Justice For All, released in 1988. The whole album is infused with power and emotion; this album just sounds so big.

The lyrical themes on the album are pretty easy to discern. James Hetfield is pretty upfront with his feelings, sharing his views on things like death, sacrifice, forgiveness and his a troublesome childhood. They're not the best lyrics I've ever heard, but then again nobody really listens to Metallica for their depth of introspective lyrics.

There's one negative critique I can give to the album. It doesn't even have anything to do with anything--creatively speaking--on the album. Unfortunately the album, like many other mainstream albums, suffers from major compression. It just so happens that this time, the compression is very noticeable. For those who don't know, compression evens out the volume of the entire track to give consistent audio levels. While this may sound like a good thing, it is mostly used to make the track as loud as possible. You lose the dynamics of the songs; the drums are distorted on some of the louder parts of the album. It turns out the downloadable version of the album, available as Guitar Hero III tracks, were left uncompressed. A version of this uncompressed audio has already appeared online. Hopefully this is something that can be fixed on future runs of the CD and digital downloads.

After all these years, Metallica has still got it. They've proven they still have the speed, energy and creative power that they had back in the 80s. With Death Magnetic, they were able to tap into the style of their early days, yet still come out with a fresh and exciting take. If you're a Metallica fan, this is a no brainer - get the album immiediately. If you haven't really been digging Metallica's latest efforts, give Death Magnetic a try, you might just find yourself getting back into them.

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