As far as metal goes, Metallica is the band that many think of as one of the greats. Their 80's output is some of the greatest the genre has ever seen. They knew how to rock hard, sound technical and elaborate yet gritty and hard. Albums like Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All are masterworks of metal madness. Then they decided to get poppy with their hooks and less thrashy and although their popularity multiplied, their metalness slowly waned. Their 90s efforts had hits and made money, but were weak listens. The last album, St. Anger, was an atrocity as it nearly destroyed the band altogether and everything that was Metallica was almost gone. This year, the much anticipated album, Death Magnetic, was getting much accolades harkening back to their early records and sounding more, well, like Metallica should. This intrigued me being a moderate fan and mainly a fan of the first four albums. The comparisons came in, I heard some clips and was excited. I finally got around to listening to it and well, it falls a bit short. Heres the problem:
Poor Metallica decided to go with Rick Rubin to produce Death Magnetic. Although a production change was needed, as Bob Rock sucked hardcore for them, it wasn't the right choice. The potential this album has is heartbreaking. "Heartbreaking how" you might ask? Rubin, who has revived the likes of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Johnny Cash just doesn't jive with the bombast and grandiosity of Metallica. The main problem I have with the record is its production. The production is basically nonexistent. I see where they wanted to go making it sound grittier or less polished, but when you are underproduced on purpose and not because you can't afford good production, it just comes out sounding very bland and boring.
Is it weird that the songs are bland not because the riffs aren't blistering and rockin' as ever, but the fact that it just sounds bad? This is Metallica, not Beast Worlokk who plays at your local friend's basement show. The opener suffers a lot from this. The song is decent but something in the mixing just is quite terrible. "That Was Just Your Life" is the first step and it's a step in the wrong direction. The rest of the album just follows this suffering with a few moments of glory. The single "The Day That Never Comes" has a good first half and then it just starts falling apart at the seams. Rubin and the band take a song that sounds really great and then just tacks on solos and other riffs that don't fit with the rest of the album. If the last half of the album harkened back to the original riff that the beginning did, it may have been a better song, but instead it's a forced 8 minute epic that could have been a rawkus 6 minute epic. The album is littered with songs overcooked and under produced. It's like they put Rubin in charge of making hard boiled eggs and he didn't boil them long enough. The best moment comes in the shortest track on the record The closer, "My Apocalypse", is a blistering awesome metal song, but even here there needs to be a pit more. Mainly in the drum mixing. It's so stale and run of the mill. It's sad that even the song that I thought has the best moments of the album suffers from this repeating problem.
There is one glimmer of hope: live versions. This album is probably going to sound way better in the arena. The solos, which thankfully returned to Metallica after St. Anger's complete disregard for what makes metal awesome for me at least. I can imagine these songs getting the filled sound that the arena setting will give them. The bass is nonexistent on half the songs and that is something the songs need badly. The album is swiss cheese. Just fill in those holes that Rubin let stick, and you would have a much better record.
Oh and is it just me or does James Hetfield look like Tom Waits a bit?