Friday, September 12, 2008

Listening to Death Magnetic on the Way to Work

Not much is making me feel young these days. No pity, please, I'm merely 41.

But this morning I burned a remaining iTunes credit to get the new Metallica album "Death Magnetic," which drops today.

I just finished listening to the first track "That Was Just Your Life," and am feeling all "80's-ish".

I thought about illegally downloading the album for about a second, but I didn't want Lars Ulrich suing me. Plus, I can claim to have my original vinyl pressing of the band's debut album "Kill 'em All". My fandom runs deep.

Pre-release press info has been largely positive for the album that has been hailed by critics as a return to form. Amen to that. The first song is impressive, then Kirk Hammet's guitar solo hits, and it sears a smile across your face. The crispness and speed stir emotions that I haven't felt in twenty years.

"The End of the Line" follows with some great hooks and pounding rhythms, but I am no music critic, so I will just speak like a fan: it kicks ass.

So does "Broken, Beat & Scarred" and by then one assumes the whole album will be lung-searing metallic nirvana. I'm typing this on the train on my "BlackBerry" and I am smiling ("Show...your...scars!). James Hetfield's vocals are grinding and emotional. He doesn't sing "scars," he growls them, almost pirate-like, "scaw-ers". And the beat is relentless. Beautiful.

Then there's "The Day That Never Comes" which I heard previously, of all places, on "This Week in Baseball" a couple weeks back. Oh, how far we've come. To hear Metallica crooning as we watch the plays of the week was slightly surreal. This is their ballad-y song, the 21st century version of "Fade to Black". This is the song that will be getting (probably has already been getting) all the radio play.

It's still surreal to me to go to a Yankees game and have the pleasure of seeing Mariano Rivera pitch. One of the greatest relievers ever, what truly blows my mind is that his entrance song is "Enter Sandman," a Metallica classic that motivates 50 thousand people to sing along "Exit Light....".

Track five is the cleverly-titled "All Nightmare Long". Yesterday, a co-worker sampled four or five tunes online and dismissed what he heard, "The songs all sounded the same...". I liken such comments to someone who might look at a beautiful sunset and dismiss it by saying, "It looks just like the sunset yesterday". The point is, a casual glance may dismiss two views, or sounds, as similar, but that doesn't make them any less spectacular. And if you're a big fan of sunsets, each one is as beautiful as the next.

To beat this metaphor to death, the new Metallica album is a fistful of sunsets. Pounding, rip-roaring, ass-kicking, gut-wrenching beautiful sunsets that make your eyes and ears bleed.

Track six, "Cyanide," was also available as a single prior to today. It's a bone-crushing song (sorry, I'm running out of suitable adjectives). The musicianship on the song is phenomenal, Ulrich's stellar drumming, Hammet's surgical guitar, Robert Trujillo's throbbing bass, and Hetfield's catalog of Metallica lyricism. But Hammet's guitar work doesn't sound only retro,
it's fresh and brutal at the same time.

When "The Unforgiven III" started, I was skeptical. The sequel to the classic song a few albums back was forgettable. This version opens with a little bit of strings and the hint of the chord progression that are so familiar, and then it goes in a different direction. "How can I be lost
when I've got nowhere to go," sings Hetfield. It's an interesting exercise and I don't dislike it, and as I type this while I listen (a mobile review, for sure) that refrain of "How can I be lost...." becomes more haunting and the song comes to a crescendo of fulfillment as it builds into a
mega-blister of layered guitar artistry that carries it to the next level.

Ok, there are 3 songs left, and I'm getting off the subway. Hold on.

"The Judas Kiss" is the eighth track and, for me, it's all about Hetfield's razor-like spitting out of the lyrics like darts. And then comes some freaky distorted guitar work that sounds like nothing else on the album. Fast, fast, fast, until it sounds like the guitar is pushed to its limits. And then it recovers. And shreds some more. Just when you thought you'd heard it all on this album, Metallica gives you something extra.

The penultimate track, "Suicide & Redemption" is a nearly ten-minute blitzkrieg of instrumental metal bliss. Recalling the old days of obligatory instrumental tracks on the early albums (see "Call of Kthulu," for example). First, you think, they won't be able to pull this off. But not only do they pull it off, they pull it off, light it on fire, and trample the ashes. It's an apt title for the band's journey: they nearly offed themselves with underachievement in the late 90's and early 00's, and Death Magnetic brings redemption.

The album ends with the shortest track, which just hops over the five-minute mark. Having gorged ourselves on the instrumentality of the previous track, we are hungry for Hetfield's gravelly voice and he doesn't disappoint.

"My Apocalypse" is a vintage speed metal anthem, as fast as anything Metallica's ever done. It's a perfect coda to a brilliant album and destined to be a concert favorite, as long as the band can maintain its oxygen supply.

I am smiling as I type this. I am not a professional music critic. But I am a fan of a band that has drifted over the years and has just given its older fans a huge gift, a reminder of the band that we fell in love with and suffered with through our teen years.

I am a very happy, greying, headbanger this morning. And I have Metallica to thank for the feeling.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, Bill,

This is the most apt review of DM I have ever read for the past few days (I am a fan like you, but definitely not a fanatic like most how pretend)
No mention of their previous albums, no comparisons, this is a perfect review. I am just having a ball while listening to this album.
Here is my take on the album: Fcuk what anybody says, this is the kinda music I was expecting from 'tallica and I am so happy to have got it. God bless !