Metallica – Death Magnetic Reveiwed Track By Track

So, after all the fussing and fighting, we finally get to hear Metallica's tenth album. Was it worth the wait? Yes, says a surprised and pleased John Doran

‘That Was Just Your Life’

The album is heralded by the sound of a heartbeat pounding in the listener’s ears. But is this the sweaty pulse of millions of rockers anticipating the tenth studio album by the world’s biggest metal band? Or is it the caffeine throbbing temples of the armies of backroom record company people who have been working on the cataclysmically large marketing campaign – officially dubbed Mission: Metallica – for this release? Or is it the high blood pressure of Metallica Ltd. itself, four musicians who have been through more public ignominy of late than probably any other group? The pounding gives way to a guitar line that could have been pilfered from their commercial high point, the self titled ‘Black Album’. This is soon augmented by the kind of crunchy riffola that would have been straight at home on . . . And Justice For All. This is a bold statement of intention that declares: "We are going to rock; rock hard; and rock hard with plenty of units shifted." Initially though the first thing that strikes you is how expensive this album sounds compared to the last effort. By comparison this sounds like it was recorded on a space ship. Or at the very least it sounds like it was recorded on instruments in a studio rather than on bales of hay in a shed. (Full disclosure: I actually like St Anger and find it exciting enough by its own merits to judge as difficult rather than just shit and it definitely is a compelling snapshot of a disintegrating band. Although it could have done with being much shorter.) At five minutes the first of Kirk Hammett’s shredding hoves into view. It pretty much just lunges out of the speakers at you, like he’s been coiled like a spring waiting for this moment for nearly the last decade.

‘The End Of The Line’

Well, if they learned anything from St Anger, it certainly wasn’t brevity. This album is an epic clocking in at a mammoth 75 minutes but on the strength of the first two tracks this is no bad thing. James Hetfield has rediscovered his love of speed picking. Lars Ulrich, always a slugger rather than a naturally gifted drummer plays with ferocity and abandon. The soloing is epic, technical fretwork that kicks off with a futuristic piece of atonal shredding before settling into a more classic rock sounding twin guitar assault which in turn gives up a melodic death metal break down.

‘Broken, Beat & Scarred’

The riff here does what it says on the tin. It’s a nuts and bolts thrasher to bang your head to – which isn’t a bad thing of course. Like with everything in life, there is no real way to go back to something that you have left behind but the band’s decision to give a nod to their auspicious past has been perversely granted a sheen of modernity by fashion’s fickle finger. With any number of bands such as the Master of Puppets referencing Trivium to the Kill ‘Em All loving neo-thrashers Municipal Waste, Metallica have never had so many devotees releasing records. Their currency has once again become the dominant modern currency.

‘The Day That Never Comes’

The lead single that came out on August 21 opens with an almost daintily lilting riff, slowing proceedings down to ‘The Unforgiven’ tempos. A stout breakdown gives way to a sunburst of an intricately multi-tracked guitar solo. If we’ve not heard much from Hammett on disc in the last nine years then he patently hasn’t been resting on his haunches. He has been expanding his palette of styles and his work on this track alone takes in the styles of Iron Maiden, Steve Vai and, believe it or not, The Michael Schenker Group.

‘All Nightmare Long’

This is designed purely and simple for moshers. Hopefully legions of young metallers will hear this and smash their bedrooms up with cricket bats, happy at last that their generation has a Metallica album that cuts muster. It is the second time that the monolithic presence of . . . And Justice For All makes itself felt. It’s as if they’re trying extra hard to make up for the terrible name of this song.


It has been quite obvious that a lot of reviewers preparing to hear this record are acting like they wish they had a tooth sized capsule of the handy Nazi-suicide juice in their mouths when entering album playbacks. This suggests that some people have reached their decisions before giving the album a fair hearing, which is a shame as I’m happy to report that even by the 6th track this is still rollicking along at a fair old gallop. This song in particular is a Motorhead flavoured rabble rouser with an arms aloft chorus. The lyrics aren’t up to much but then going to Metallica for good lyrics is a bit like going to see a drug dealer and then complaining when he hasn’t got any cod-liver oil capsules.

‘The Unforgiven III’

Perhaps the strongest link to their self-titled album this opens with a simple Michael Nymanesque piano refrain before a string section is added with understated elegance. Then a brass section lends the whole thing (purposefully)the unmistakable air of Ennio Morricone and spaghetti westerns. A diesel powered stoner groove makes an odd but satisfying accompaniment for all of this neo-classical backing.

‘The Judas Kiss’

To cover more classic rock territory this song should be renamed ‘The Deep Black Iron Judas Kiss Zeppelin’. This, is the first time the album really stumbles for me. Nothing about the song serves to distinguish itself here. Yet again Hammett’s solo (which is not in intrinsically noteworthy or innovative) keeps this just about on the right side of mundane.

‘Suicide & Redemption’

Guess why Death Magnetic isn’t a straight up tribute to . . . And Justice For All? Because you can actually hear some bass guitar on this record. Arf! Robert Trujillo, crab walking bottom end provider, lays down a beefy and clanging bass riff, which anchors this grinding instrumental in place. This weft certainly helps to visit much foot propelled pressure to the glutinous maximus. It might not be ‘Orion’ but what is these days?

‘My Apocalypse’

I guess personally I just wanted an album that would rinse away the painful memories of watching Some Kind Of Monster, showing Metallica as a bunch of whining, apron tied clowns with no social skills. This it has and then some. It ends on this furious thrasher which contains some of whatever it is that intangible thing that sometimes makes this band great.

_Death Magnetic is released on all manner of different formats on Vertigo on September 12. Read Joel McIver’s interview with Lars Ulrich here.

Also read a classic Metallica interview from the release of ‘. . . And Justice For All’.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today