I gotta be honest here – a new Metallica album isn’t something that makes my world start turning. That makes my heart beat faster. That puts me in a euphoric state. That… well, you get my drift. It was a long, long time since Metallica put out anything worthwhile and I haven’t spent any money on that band since Load (1996) and frankly, everything they have released since that album has pretty much sucked. When it comes to Metallica, I was a late bloomer. Back in 1983 when they released their debut album Kill ‘Em All, I hated them. Back then, thrash metal was the most extreme stuff in metal you could listen to and I thought that album was just full of noise – I couldn’t hear any melodies, no clear arrangements and no songs, just a useless screamer for a vocalist and three other guys that seemed to race each other, playing as fast as they could. The first time I realised that Metallica might be something worthwhile was when MTV played the video for the song “One” (…And Justice For All, 1988). But I didn’t become a fan then either, it would take me – like with so many others – up to 1992 and “Enter Sandman”. I bought the self titled black album and it hit me in the gut right away – and that was when I started to look back to their old albums. Today, the black album still holds a place close to my heart, but my favorite Metallica album is Ride The Lightning (1984) with the black album and Master Of Puppets (1986) as a tie for second place. Song wise, …And Justice For All is absolutely awesome, but the production really blows so hard it’s actually hard to listen to it. By Load, Metallica had become huge stars and millionaires and they had changed, not only musically but mentally as well. The underground us-against-the-world metal band had become a part of the system and commercial thinking was now their thing. Load is a really good album, although a bit uneven and it couldn’t hold a candle to the previous three albums. Kill ‘Em All? Yeah, well, I still don’t like it.
The half-arsed left-over album Re-Load (1997) was mediocre, to put it mildly and the follow-up, St Anger (2003) is the band’s true walk of shame – a big musical turd. They tried to get back to their roots and give the fans what they wanted with the underwhelming Death Magnetic (2008), but it only sounded luke-warm, forced and lacked both good songs, spirit and conviction. The mastering on that record is also so high, it’s unlistenable. Of course, the album sold by the pound – it was a Metallica release after all – but the band still bit off more than they could chew with that one. That’s why my hopes for this album wasn’t exactly sky-high. As a matter of fact, I had lost all interest in the band and wasn’t even that keen on listening to what they had come up with. But. A new Metallica record is a big thing, they are a huge band and therefore it deserves to be checked out and reviewed – with an open mind. So that is what I did my best to do here.
To be honest, the two first tasters from the album, “Hardwired” and “Moth Into Flame” felt ominous and some kind of Death Magnetic on repeat. But on the other hand, I only watched the videos and didn’t listen all that carefully. But I’m getting ahead of myself here – a couple of close listens through my head phones was needed here before the final judgement could be written. So, the album kicks off with the title track “Hardwired” and it is obvious that the guys are determined to get back to their old thrash days with that one. It’s a fast, aggressive and heavy riff monster but to me, this sounds more like the harder edged songs on Load than anything from their hey-days in the 80’s. The song is better than the first time I heard it but it’s still only OK to these ears. But “Atlas, Rise” brings hope. This upbeat, heavy, pumping metal track brings the black album to mind, without the overblown Bob Rock production (which I liked). The song strikes hard and it sounds just like the Metallica I dig. Hell, I’m not the world’s biggest Kirk Hammett fan, but even the solo parts are catchy and enjoyable. What an ace song! The seven minute hell raising thrash number “Now That We’re Dead” (which apparently, they’re not!) comes with a heavy and catchy rhythm and a melody that sticks right away. It sounds like a less polished black album track and this is very much an album track without any single potential – which I consider a good thing. A great track and it feels like Metallica really are on to something here.
“Moth Into Flame” has also grown since I first heard it. It’s fast, hard, angry and very in-your-face and I’m getting a big classic Metallica feel from the arrangement. Both the bridge and the chorus is very memorable and it feels like this could turn into a future classic, but the verses feels more like a transport route to the bridge/chorus and it fades into oblivion pretty quick. That said, I have grown to like the song quite the bit. But it is “Dream No More” that gives me the goose bumps here. It’s a slow, dark and heavy beast that throws me back right into “Sad But True”. The heavy catchiness of both riffs and vocal melody makes the tune a real monster and a real winner that proves the Metallica still have the ability to deliver the goods in an impressing way. Way to go, guys. Way to go! And they keep the good work up with “Halo On Fire”, the closest we get to a ballad on disc one. It’s somewhat reminiscent of “Until It Sleeps”, but since the tune is eight and half minute long, It also changes color a few times and it builds up a heaviness that soon turns into a bona fide melodic thrash rocker that has classic Metallica written all over it. Disc one has taken me from being a jaded Metallica fan to one that can’t wait to get into disc two.
Disc two opens with “Confusion”, a punk laden metal groover that surely has its influences back in the early days of the band. There is some sinister riffing here and the song really feels honest and true and yes, I really dig this one. “ManUNkind” is heavy, tight and robust and shows off some bad-ass bass playing from Trujillo, but unfortunately it never takes off and it doesn’t stick at all. It doesn’t suck, but the train never leaves the station, so to speak. “Here Comes Revenge” is much better, though. It comes with a catchy rhythm and a catchy, classic Metallica melody and the whole thing sounds like a mix of Metallica and Load. “Am I Savage” rocks a slower pace and the doom vibes tells of an obvious Black Sabbath influence. It’s ok, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. It might grow on me, though. Apparently a tribute to the late Lemmy Kilmister (the name dropping of old Motörhead songs kinda gave it away…), “Murder One” is a real beast. It’s slow, heavy and driving with both punch and bite. The catchy riffing and the ace chorus strikes right away and again, this proves that Metallica still got what it takes – great. The album ends with the most classic Metallica sounding track on both discs, “Spit Out The Bone”. This is fast and furious thrash metal which brings stuff like “Battery”, “Fight Fire With Fire” and “Trapped Under Ice” to mind, which should make old fans of the band real happy. It’s just one problem – the song couldn’t hold a candle to those oldies and to these ears, the tune is mediocre. I know that people will love it if only just for its pure rawness, anger and heaviness, but to me it’s one of the weakest moments on the album.
There is also a third disc if you choose the limited deluxe edition, but after only one spin, this disc is only for the diehards and collectors. The album includes one new song that isn’t included on the other two discs, “Lords Of Summer”, a seven minute heavy rocker that has a big black album feel, heavy, yet memorable and I believe it’s a really good song. Other than that one, the album contains a whole bunch of live tracks and covers – Iron Maiden’s “Remember Tomorrow”, Deep Purple’s “When A Blind Man Cries” and a Rainbow medley called “Ronnie Rising” (featuring “Tarot Woman”, “Stargazer”, “A Light In The Black” and “Kill The King”), all of which is pretty cool to listen to once but unless you’re a hardcore Metallica fan, this third disc is something one could easily live without, but I guess it’s worth the green if you have a few extra bucks to spend at the end of the month.
As a whole, this album is not the back to the golden era that fans might have hoped it would be, but it is without a doubt the best album Metallica has released since the black album and it stands pretty clear that the band is back on track again. I really liked Load even though I found it a bit uneven at times and this album is, if not better, than equally as good. The huge over production that Bob Rock gave them is also a goner and it feels a lot more down to earth. While the loudness war completely took over and made Death Magnetic more or less unlistenable, this album doesn’t suffer as much from that, but it’s still pretty damn loud. It’s not sonically overblown like Death Magnetic but thankfully it doesn’t sound like a bad demo like St Anger did. I’m looking forward to live with this album for a few years and it’s gonna be interesting to see how I – and everyone else – will view this album in a year or so. But for now, thanks guys for a job well done!
2. Atlas, Rise!
3. Now That We’re Dead
4. Moth Into Flame
5. Dream No More
6. Halo On Fire
3. Here Comes Revenge
4. Am I Savage?
5. Murder One
6. Spit Out The Bone