It begins with a heartbeat...it could very well be the heartbeat of your average Metallica fan, scared to death, not by the spooky coffin made of iron filings on the cover (see what they did there?) but by the thought that this supposed 'return to form' by the world's once-greatest thrash metal merchants will be lame. Well worry not. After the solo-free St Anger way back in 2003 this is, well, most outstanding.
Never let it be said that Metallica aren't a band of the people, just not the people who file share their back catalogue. You can imagine Death Magnetic blasting out of some tank's soundsystem in the middle east. The closest thing to a ballad is single, The Day That Never Comes, though after a few minutes it descends back into the abyss of raw power. And the only low point comes with the penultimate instrumental, Suicide And Redemption which meanders and has a 'sensitive' solo line at its core that's at odds with the brutality on offer elsewhere.
James Hetfield's lyrics now seem to have become the channel of his post-therapy angst. More cyphers than actual narratives, they come direct from the big book of heavy metal words. Take this example from The End Of The Line, "Need..more and more/Tainted misery/Bleed...battlescars/Chemical affinity/Reign...legacy/Innocence corrode/Stain...rot away/Catatonic overload/Choke...asphyxia/Snuff reality/Scorch...kill the light/Incinerate celebrity/Reaper... butchery/Karma amputee". You get the idea.
But words aren't the major force at work here. It's the irresistible maelstrom of guitars. Kirk Hammett's back to shredding triplets or chiming with Hetfield in Thin Lizzy-esque duels. Balancing vertiginous prog time shifts with chugging power chords, it's amazing how raw and hungry producer Rick Rubin (himself, a thrash connoiseur with Slayer and Wolfsbane albums under his belt) has made the band sound. His greatest contribution is in bringing out the crunch in 'new' boy. Robert Trujillo's bass. On Cyanide he's unstoppable. And, of course, leading the changes is the mighty Lars Ulrich. Possibly the single most erudite expression of metal's paradoxical mix of intelligence matched with dumb, awesome power. If there's a nagging sensation that the drums sound weird, it's because they're REAL. Say what you will about their psychodramas or political leanings, but this is a band that really can play.
Death Magnetic is the sound of a band giving both themselves and their fans exactly what they need. And nothing else matters...