The year was 2003, when our story begins, with the addition of former Suicidal Tendencies bassist Robert Trujillo to Metallica’s ranks. In the past three years the band had lost Jason Newsted, their bassist since the time of …And Justice for All; he’d replaced Cliff Burton (who had died not long after the release of Master of Puppets) as the band was touring behind the album. Jason had big shoes to fill, and he did it well.
Robert, then, had shoes that were about as big to fill, if not bigger. To further add to the downward slant Metallica had taken, they had released St. Anger in 2003, an album which tends to elicit obscenities from even the calmest of individuals upon being so much as mentioned in a conversation. St. Anger suffered from horrific lyrics, uninteresting song structures, a lack of guitar solos, and sound quality that, depending on who you ask, ranged from unlistenable to an abomination against God. Despite this, the record sold extremely well, and the band managed to embark on a year-long “Madly in Anger with the World Tour,” offering a recording of every show for sale on their website for around fifteen dollars U.S. each.
With the world tour out of the way, the band’s activity was mostly limited until 2006, when the band embarked on another world tour, this time debuting two new songs, which never got official names (referred to as “The New Song” and “The Other New Song”), again recorded and re-sold on their website. This tour was important because it lacked almost any material from St. Anger; after the tour’s end, only “Frantic” and the title track received concert play, discounting two fine acoustic performances of “All Within My Hands” at the Bridge School Benefit. Additionally, it reincorporated material from Justice, notably the title track, suggesting that maybe, the album would be a return to the glory days of Master or Justice.
Two years came and went, and Metallica was hard at work crafting Death Magnetic. So much hung in the balance with this album: the band had to prove, first and foremost, that Robert Trujillo was an adequate replacement in the studio for Newsted, as he hadn’t performed on St. Anger (bass parts on that album were handled by producer Bob Rock). Additionally, they had to regain the original fan base somehow or other, and to prove to everyone that they were still an important act — that they actually cared about what all their fans thought, and weren’t selling out to the industry. The album was sold to us as the missing link between Justice and the self-titled “Black Album.”
Actually, at many times the album sounds as if it were written in light of the education gained in the arenas they traveled recording Load and ReLoad. Despite this, the album does have feelings of being a throwback to the 1988 album; it accomplishes this with complex song structures and mammoth song lengths. For most bands outside of progressive rock or metal, a series of songs that average out to around eight minutes long a piece seems ridiculous; however, Metallica have managed to produce an album of such proportions which sounds inspired and thoroughly listenable throughout, as long as you keep a hand on the volume dial.
When the album first saw release, the immediate complaint was that it was mastered too loud, almost painfully loud. This resulted in heavy distortion and tended to make the album a chore to listen to. Despite the assistance of Rick Rubin, who usually seems to have no trouble making an album sound perfectly good, the album sounds kind of crummy, especially the drumming. The snare drums make heavy thuds, but the bass drum sounds like electronic clicks. Despite this, the guitar usually manages to avoid being too heavily distorted, and the bass sounds better than it has in eleven years, or even longer, with any audible distortion serving to make the sound even heavier. (Oddly, the version released for Guitar Hero was spared from this fate.) Some songs are guaranteed to leave a bad taste in the listener’s mouth, but many of them are more inspired than most material in twenty years.
Of course, the obvious question remains: what will this album do for the fanbase? The most likely case is “nothing”; Metallica were thought of as sell-outs for every album from the Black Album on, and this one is no exception, being a throwback to the old days, appeasing the fan base who cried out for this. Additionally, even a hint of anything other than the thrash metal template Metallica invented appearing in the music on the album seems to offend fans. Listen to it yourself and form your own opinion. If need be, pretend it’s a completely different band.
Due to length, an eleventh song, “Shine” was cut from the album. James Hetfield explained that it was “based around a Layne Staley type, a rock ‘n’ roll martyr magnetized by death.” Additionally, two more songs, entitled “Game” and “To Hell and Back” were spoken of by Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich in December of 2008; they were rumored to be released as B-sides (after six singles, neither has surfaced) or on the next Metallica studio album.
Metallica — Death Magnetic: Track-by-track review
1. “That Was Just Your Life”
Starting off with a slow intro again… those of us who have played this game before, we know what’s coming next as the intensity builds, before shooting off into a rapid-fire riff courtesy of James Hetfield. The explosive riff signals to us that, while this album is supposed to be a mix of …And Justice for All meets the Black Album, it definitely leans more toward the Justice end of dealings. Songs like “Holier Than Thou” and “The Struggle Within” wish they could have this much chaotic fervor, tearing up everything in sight for a good six to seven minutes and giving us a taste of what to expect in the most harsh parts of the album (and giving us a glance at what to expect from just about every song: an intro usually very different from everything else in the song, with its own theme change toward the end, followed up by punishing riffs and solos galore).
This is an instrumental album in the sense that the instrumentals are more important than the lyrics, who are told by the power, structure, and soloing to bug off for the next eighty minutes because they had their moment of importance five years ago. The lyrics do sound like they’re just reprising old themes:
Like a wound that keeps on bleeding to remind me not to think
Like a raging river drowning when I only need a drink,
Like a poison that I swallow, but I want the world to die.
Like a release from a prison that I didn’t know I was in,
Like a fight to live the past I prayed to leave from way back then
Like a general without a mission until the war will start again.
Of course, as with other thrash openers (e.g. “Battery” and “Fight Fire With Fire”), the lyrics are not as important as the sound, and “That Was Just Your Life” is just as much the ferocious blast of power as other opening thrash numbers, and just as memorable throughout the rest of the album, hitting harder throughout its seven minute length than almost any of the other songs. Featuring guitar solos from both James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, announcing loud and clear what I’d mentioned earlier, that this is an album based on instrumental prowess.
A complaint was levied earlier against the sound quality on the drums. However, here it is not terribly noticeable, and actually helps, with the rhythm benefitting from the beastly thump of the snare drum, and the double-bass sounding not too far from how it did on earlier thrash numbers.
This song, followed immediately by the second song “The End Of The Line,” was played as the opening number on most shows of the band’s World Magnetic Tour in support of the album.
2. “The End Of The Line”
On Ride The Lightning, Master Of Puppets, and …And Justice For All, the second tracks all had two things in common; first, they were all named for their respective albums, and second, they were all long, technically impressive epics. “The End Of The Line” hits the second of these, and even comes on the heels of a highly-charged thrash number, like the other three songs did. As you can see, already the album has a lot in common with those three classic records.
This eight-minute metal monster comes outfitted with its own massive solo block, featuring almost solely Hammett in the solo, by comparison to “That Was Just Your Life,” which also had a workout from Hetfield. The solo isn’t nearly as blistering, but it definitely has more than enough power to place it on par with Metallica’s better songs. Like those three, “The End Of The Line” has some emphasis on attempting strong lyrics; here, the band sings of substance abuse.
Time, choke the clock
Steal another day
Narcissistic fade away
Twisted, jumped the rail
Shatter the crowd below
Breaker, chase the ghost
From latest high to all-time low
The last line in particular is the most obvious evidence to this. As the addiction progresses, it soon overtakes the addict and gives him his only reason for being, where in the past it was only something that made him happier, and eventually the addiction leads to the addict’s ruin, or maybe even death.
The slave becomes the master
Need more and more
Right now and ever after
Need more and more
New consequence machine
You burn into through all your gasoline
Asylum overtime, never mind
Dead hourglass of time
Sand we will not ever find
We gather here today to say goodbye
‘Cause you’ve reached the end of the line
With this interpretation, we can probably say safely that the “new consequence machine” is the addiction, and the “gasoline” is the drug. Running dry results in psychological problems. For a while it’s not too bad (which is why the earlier choruses have just the first three lines and “You’ve reached the end of the line”), but soon the addiction becomes debilitating, as does withdrawl. As a result, the chorus resembles the final verse, right after the solos:
Drop the hourglass of time
Spilling sand we will not find
As we gather here today
We bid farewell, the slave becomes the master
This is quite definitely the best song lyrically on the album, and it’s one of the most impressive musically, as well; like with the title tracks of the bands second, third, and fourth albums, this is one of the best on the album, and it has great solos. It’s certainly not single material, thanks to its length and the fact that removing anything from the song would probably make it fall in on itself.
3. “Broken, Beat & Scarred”
Slowing down in pace but keeping up the power, “Broken, Beat & Scarred” (the album’s sixth single) can be seen as an analogue to “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” “The Thing That Should Not Be,” and “Eye Of The Beholder.” It’s probably closest to “Eye,” thanks to its guitar intro. The song keeps a nice, moderate pace that doesn’t overwhelm the senses and makes it easy to listen to; this is another song where the heavy snare drum sound gives it a boost in power; it avoids severe thrash elements.
The song is James Hetfield’s declaration that he won’t let the world tear him apart.
Breaking your teeth on the hard life coming
Show your scars
Cutting your feet on the hard earth running
Show your scars
Bleeding your soul in a hard luck story
Show your scars
Spilling your blood in the hot sun’s glory
Show your scars
Breaking your life, broken, beat and scarred
We die hard
No matter what damages the world wants to force on Hetfield, he doesn’t give up. Furthermore, he welcomes his scars not only as signs of how strong he is, but as a part of him that adds to his strength.
You rise, you fall, you’re down then you rise again
What don’t kill you makes you more strong
Rise, fall, down, rise again
What don’t kill you makes you more strong
A lot of great bands have had a lot of personal struggle in their members’ lives, and this often becomes inspiration for several of their best numbers (though many of the more personal numbers that Metallica wrote, some fans tend to argue, are not very strong). Regardless of how one views these songs, Metallica has learned from them, and this album would probably not exist without them.
The song has another fairly long Kirk Hammett guitar solo. Like other songs on the album, the solo section is complex, and the tones suggest that James also gets a solo after Kirk’s. It’s a fast-moving guitar solo, standing in contrast to the slower-paced solos of “Eye” or “The Thing.” Unfortunately, the song lacks the epic feel of most other numbers on this album, or “Eye,” “Bell,” or “Thing;” however, it makes up for this in pure listenability, as it’s a largely unpretentious number that is probably the best suited for airplay on the album, next to “Cyanide.”
4. “The Day That Never Comes”
The first and most immediately obvious misstep is this, the first single, “The Day That Never Comes,” originally entitled “Casper.” This song is basically just a rewrite of “One,” combining the structures of that classic Justice-era track with the questionable songwriting that’s been cropping up since Load, as Hetfield pens a lyric about an abusive father (or perhaps another figure?).
Mouth so full of lies
Tend to black your eyes
Just keep them close, keep praying, just keep waiting
Waiting for the one
The day that never comes
When you stand up and feel the warmth
But the sunshine never comes
Anyone could write a song about this, really, as was the case with Load-era material. The narrator is an abused figure (possibly Hetfield himself), who sees himself as unable to escape. Despite this, he vows to escape.
Love is a four letter word
and never spoken here
Love is a four letter word
Here in this prison
I suffer this no longer
I put it into
This I swear, this I swear, the sun will shine
This I swear, this I swear, this I swear
I’m fine, really, with a “One” clone, as this isn’t too far from “Fade To Black” or “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” — all three of these were great songs. The problem is, with the “neo-Metallica” feel to it, it actually does sound like a song we’ve grown to know and love on earlier albums. At heart, it becomes a guitar solo vehicle to a far greater extent than “One,” and the guitar solo isn’t even as unique. Remember, though, that out of four tracks so far, this is the only real misstep, and because this album is, at heart, in structure, a repeat of the “Holy Trinity” of Ride The Lightning, Master Of Puppets, and …And Justice For All, it’s very possible that you couldn’t care less about a song sounding like a re-make of an old song.
About half of the song is dedicated to the guitar solo. It’s a decent guitar solo, but far from the best on the album, especially because it’s overlong and nowhere near as impressive now as it might have been twenty, twenty-two, twenty-four years ago. Of course, when radio stations got hold of it, they had no problem cramming it down the throats of their listeners. This probably colors my opinion of the song, and I might just be bored with it more than actually disliking it. For now, though, I’ll stick to “One,” “Sanitarium” or “Fade.” The intro’s pretty nice, at least, on par with the intro for all of those, so you do have at least one piece that is quite definitely up to par.
5. “All Nightmare Long”
Early reporting about the album cited “All Nightmare Long” as reminding of “Enter Sandman” from the Black Album; despite this, it seems to be more grounded in “Disposable Heroes,” from Master Of Puppets, though the slower-moving bass-heavy intro sounds grounded more in “The Thing That Should Not Be” (also from Master). Those were some of the heaviest songs on that album, and this is one of the heaviest on this album, and one of the strongest arrangements.
Luck. Runs. Out.
Crawl from the wreckage one more time
Horrific memory twists the mind
Dark, rugged, cold and hard to turn
Path of destruction, feel it burn
So, what is this song about? It sounds like it’s about some kind of monster (not the song), but can we tell what? Fortunately, James Hetfield explained it to us.
“It was an attempt to get back to the H.P. Lovecraft mythos with ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’, ‘Call of Ktulu’. This was about the Hounds of Tindalos, which was another crazy mind fuck about these wolves that hunt through their nightmares and the only way you can get away from them is stay with angels. You can’t even escape through sleep.”
The song has a complex structure that is based heavily on repeated verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus structure on other songs like “Broken, Beat & Scarred” and “Cyanide.” The song features a strong, fast, well-performed guitar solo that does take away from the unnerving feel of the song after a short period, because it winds up being significantly higher in tone than the sound of the other three instruments as they continue to lay down their furious patterns, recalling the first part of the song after the intro, prior to the introduction of the main riff. However, it is technically proficient; you can’t really fault Kirk Hammett here, nor anyone else in the band. While the solo would be better-suited elsewhere, it’s a very good solo.
Once we get past this, though, we revive our first theme from after that intro before heading for the finale of the song.
Then you crawl back in
Into your obsession
Never to return
This is your confession…
Hunt you down without mercy
Hunt you down all nightmare long
Feel us breathe upon your face
Feel us shift, every move we trace
Madness has descended upon our protagonist, as we come to the close of an impressive song. The song is one of the best they’ve written in years, perhaps because they’re returning to old themes and old structures while dodging several bullets associated with revisiting the style of early albums after entering a phase marked by a gigantic departure in style; this song could probably have fit on one of the classic-era albums without too much issue. It wasn’t much of a surprise that this ended up as the fifth single; response to this song was very strong, which is not much of a surprise considering that it seems closer to the style of metal displayed on older albums better than anything else on this record.
In addition, the song had a very unusual music video made for it, depicting an alternate history surrounding the Tunguska Explosion in 1908. Soviet scientists discover extraterrestrial micro-organisms at the blast site, which they soon discover can re-animate dead tissues, and they are scattered across the U.S., resulting in the dead rising and attacking the citizens. The USSR’s military intervenes to distribute humanitarian aid; the final result of the events in the video is that the USSR takes over America, and a hybrid US/Soviet Union flag is shown.
Kirk Hammett explained that he purchased the source video from a Russian fan many years ago for five dollars, and forgot about it. Upon digging the film up again, he sought a friend’s Russian girlfriend to help him translate it as he researched its background.
As it turns out, though, this story was not true, and Kirk made it up to raise interest in the video. It certainly looks like it could have been true, though; the video’s live-action sequences appear in a grainy style meant to simulate footage from old documentaries about the Tunguska Event. Video director Robert Schober (also known as Roboshobo) confirmed this in an interview, and also explained that the subtitles were part of the video’s concept.
The third single from the new album, and the first to be played live, “Cyanide” is the third-shortest song from the album (just about fifteen seconds longer than “Broken, Beat & Scarred”), making its live debut on August 9, 2008, at Ozzfest, in Dallas, Texas. Initial reviews of the song stated that it was one of the stronger numbers at its single release, and indeed it is a good song, but for different reasons from the others.
The songs most easily compared to this one from earlier albums are “Escape” or “Leper Messiah,” particularly the former, though it seems to borrow from the latter a lot in terms of structure. The link back to “Escape” comes from the fact that “Escape” is seen as a fun little pop-metal number, and “Cyanide” is definitely one of the most easily-listenable numbers on the record, essentially a series of hooks re-filtered into thrashy heavy metal. This isn’t really a song worthy of speaking much of the lyrics; it’s a song about a man who wants to end his life.
Empty they say
Death, won’t you let me stay?
Empty they say
Death, hear me call your name
Call your name!
Suicide, I’ve already died
You’re just the funeral I’ve been waiting for
Cyanide, living dead inside
Break this empty shell forevermore
The more important part is that this song is a nice, terse number, with the exception of the midsection. Blistering riffs and pounding drums populate the number, making it perfectly listenable for fans of the more accessible material from the 1990s and for fans of the 1980s thrash material — this makes the number very unusual, and undeniably remarkable. They even throw in a passage with a few acoustic guitars toward the midsection. Of course, they don’t make the song more beautiful, or more impressive, or even more listenable, despite being some kind of minor breather. They just add to the overall atmosphere a bit. Additionally, before the pre-verse riff, it sounds like Lars Ulrich is playing a cowbell, though it may just be a heavily-distorted cymbal which sounds like a different instrument, due to the clipping brought about thanks to the super-loud mastering of the album.
The song managed to top Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, the second from the album (after first single “The Day That Never Comes”); this makes it the second album in Metallica’s history (the first being Load) to do this. This isn’t terribly surprising, though.
7. “The Unforgiven III”
Somehow, this song seemed like the one to most readily become the first single, starting from the title (re-revisiting thematics of an early-1990s hit for the band) and the piano-and-orchestra intro, setting an appropriately depressed tone for what is surely the album’s biggest down trip.
How can I be lost
If I’ve got nowhere to go?
Searched for seas of gold
How come it’s got so cold?
How can I be lost?
In remembrance I relive
And how can I blame you
When it’s me I can’t forgive?
The same themes come up from the other two, especially the first, James telling how the world has started to fall away around him (in-character, at least); the sailor runs out of sea in his quest for “seas of gold” (happiness), and “it’s got so cold;” the narrator tried to find happiness, but has found only pain. He blames the world when he knows that it’s largely his own fault that he’s so depressed.
Was he the one causing pain
With his careless dreaming?
Been afraid, always afraid
Of the things he’s feeling
He could just be gone
He would just sail on
Compared to other songs on this album, this is quite a breather, however, emotionally speaking, this song carries a lot of weight, which will probably make it even harder to listen to than most of the other numbers on the album. Curiously, six singles later, this had not been issued as a single anywhere. Additionally, this is the only song from the album to not yet have been played live.
8. “The Judas Kiss”
Another heavy, long, complex song intro, before shooting into another song. Unfortunately, this is one of the less-interesting parts of the song, even if parts of it to resemble classics that, if duplicated by Metallica, could be even more impressive, e.g. the part of the middle section with lengthy, sickly-sounding guitar solo which sounds like the sax solo in Van Der Graaf Generator’s “Pioneers Over C.” There’s also the part which sounds rather like it was drawn from “War Pigs,” with the vocals accompanied only by hi-hat and followed up with a harsh guitar chord or so. Specifically, this part:
Judas lives, recite this vow
I’ve become your new god now
The lyrics focus on one who plants evils in the hearts of men.
Followed you from dawn of time
Whispered thoughts into your mind
Watched your towers hit the ground
Lured the children never found
Helped your kings abuse their crown
In the heart of feeble man
Plant the seeds of my own plan
The strong and powerful will fall
Find a piece of me in all
Inside you all so
Sell your soul to me
I will set you free
Pacify your demons
Surrender unto me
Sanctify your demons
You don’t exist
Cannot resist the Judas kiss
Lyrically this is one of the stronger songs on the album, but unfortunately, it doesn’t have an interesting enough arrangement to back it up. However, it does have a very good guitar solo (even if it’s not one of the best on the album) and makes an acceptable listen over the course of its eight minutes. One issue with the song comes in the introduction, and this problem is that the themes change too abruptly to be very pleasant to listen to. Despite the fact that this became the fourth single for the album (and last to be released prior to the album), it was one of the least-played songs from the album, perhaps because it was not well-received by fans or critics.
9. “Suicide & Redemption”
“Suicide & Redemption” is the longest song on the record. Originally it was entitled “K2lu,” in reference to “The Call Of Ktulu” on Ride The Lightning, and this is certainly an apt name; this giant song is an instrumental epic! Much like the aforementioned “Ktulu,” “Orion” from Master Of Puppets, and the similar “To Live Is To Die” from …And Justice For All, “S&R;” takes full advantage of its gigantic length to show off the band’s capabilities.
Newbies who haven’t bought RTL, Master, or Justice are not familiar with this territory, and it functions as a good introduction to the bass playing of Robert Trujillo, especially for those who haven’t heard albums by any of his previous bands, e.g. Suicidal Tendencies. We got a taste of it earlier at the intro of “All Nightmare Long.” All around it’s a strong performance, and one would have a difficult time giving a good reason why it should be discarded from the album.
Despite its strong performance and impressive arrangement, the song was the least-played song from the album in live settings. This is perhaps because the song, while well-received, was usually not preferred to either “Orion” or “Ktulu,” both of which appeared often enough in setlists. Naturally, therein lies the problem of “S&A;” — for as technically impressive as it is, and how incredible it is to see that the band can still pull off a song like this, we’ve heard it before, at least twice, maybe even thrice, if you count “To Live.”
10. “My Apocalypse”
Okay, this is it, end of the line… five minutes left. As with Master and Justice, they decide to cap the album with a speed-metal piece. Immediate comparisons were made to “Damage, Inc.,” but these quickly faded and were replaced with complaints that Metallica didn’t have “it” anymore, and couldn’t really create a new “Damage, Inc.” or “Dyers Eve,” or a re-creation of any of their other thrash masterpieces. Despite this, “My Apocalypse,” the second single, is not a bad song, and certainly a grower. It features a rather lengthy instrumental intro before we get into the song itself.
Crawl out of this skin
Reaching, pull that pin
Feel thy name extermination
Desecrate inhale the fire
The exact theme of the song, if it’s based on something specific, is hard to pin, but the lyrics present mostly just a series of unpleasant imagery, themed around death.
Crushing metal, ripping skin
Tossing body mannequin
Spilling blood, bleeding gas
Mangle flesh, snapping spine
Dripping bloody valentine
Shatter face, spitting glass
Split apart, split apart, split apart
Spit it out!
The album’s title appears here for the first time; the band explained that it deals with the nature of death, in that some are attracted to it and some pushed away by it, like magnets.
Even if the song doesn’t live up to many of the classic thrash numbers from the band’s first four albums, it’s hard to say the band didn’t try. The harsh, fast rhythms, complex structures, and strong guitar solo from Kirk Hammett make it clear that a shot was taken at re-creating old glories. In particular, the riff coming in right after the solo (starting before “What makes me drift a litter bit closer”) sounds impressive and punishing.
In recent times, the band added a new intro to the song in the live setting. To quote Lars Ulrich, “We’ve been enjoying playing ‘My Apocalypse’ out here on the road but felt like it could use something extra. We decided that it needed a cool intro to set the mood so James wrote one.” It will probably remind, at least distantly, of “Black Sabbath,” from the eponymous band’s eponymous debut record from 1970, what with the sounds of rain and the bell. Included in this is a somber piece of music played on a keyboard of some kind. This is not all that dissimilar to earlier thrash numbers, which often had slow, quiet intros, so old fans will probably like this version more.
The song was not one of the more successful singles of the album (it was released as the second single), presumably because its style was forbidding to many audiences. However, it did win the Grammy for “Best Metal Performance,” the sixth time they won that particular Grammy, out of eight nominations. They’ve only lost one of these awards to Jethro Tull and to Nine Inch Nails. The other nominees that year were DragonForce’s “Heroes Of Our Time,” the title track from Judas Priest’s Nostradamus, Ministry’s cover of “Under My Thumb,” and Slipknot’s “Psychosocial.”
Death Magnetic by Metallica
“That Was Just Your Life”
“The End Of The Line”
“Broken, Beat & Scarred”
“The Day That Never Comes”
“All Nightmare Long”
“The Unforgiven III”
“The Judas Kiss”
“Suicide & Redemption”