What used to be good is good again!

Apologies, kind REVERB readers. Between ATP, REVERBfest and other obligations, I have had to put off the


Yes, the new Metallica really is good, Pt. IV


What used to be good is good again!

Apologies, kind REVERB readers. Between ATP, REVERBfest and other obligations, I have had to put off the conclusion of this series for much longer than originally anticipated. However, I haven't stopped thinking about it, or blathering about it to anyone who questions the audacity of my hope for this band's future. Well, at least my prediction for Metallica's contemporary redemption, based on the reality that they have recently released what I previously felt was utterly impossible: a top-notch metal record that doesn't contribute more rust to their esteemable thrash legacy.

Part one of the series is here, part two is here, and part three is over here.

My friend Andrew and I have a weekly ritual loosely referred to as "Metal Mondays", a mildly juvenile, but entirely satisfying routine based upon the fact that we are A) neighbors who love metal, shooting the shit, and trading arguments about pop culture and politics, and B) our respective domestic partners (who think we are annoying dorks when we start splitting hairs about the intricacies of Dave Lombardo's drumming technique) are otherwise engaged in their night time gigs as bartenders. When Angela and JJ leave at 8 pm every Monday, it is actually 4:20 in our world, and thusly, time to listen to the new Melvins record and perhaps watch some old After School Specials.

Andrew is damn good at locating new metal releases online, even before I've snagged an advance, so I shouldn't have been surprised when he showed up one Monday with a burned copy of Death Magnetic three weeks prior to its release.

We threw it on, and waited patiently to see which one of us would make fun of it first. We had both heard references to unfortunate lyrics ("Love is a four letter word!"), and had doubts about RIck Rubin's much hyped, return-to-form seance over the recording precedings.

Talk about the day that never comes...

Opening your record with a faux heartbeat that gives way to watery, finger-picked minor chords could be both cliche and prematurely self-aggrandizing, but in the case of "That Was Just Your Life", it was a benign pre-amble to an unexpected onslaught of classic Metallica. As far as opening tracks go, sequencing doesn't get much smarter than this. Shades of Kirk Hammett's guitar that we hadn't heard since the opening strains of "Master of Puppets" hit our ears and we raised our eyebrows with optimism.

Lars Ulrich's drumming has been a bone of contention for some time, reinforced by his most recent audible offense of sounding like he was a robot playing on typing paper stretched onto pickle barrels on St. Anger. Blech.

Ulrich used to be one of my favorite drummers; he held the tension of James Hetfield's vocals in one hand, dared it to joust with Hammett's scissoring, exploratory guitar lines in the other, and then utilized Cliff Burton's bottomless bass to both undermine and uplift the argument. It was rather fucking brilliant, but that touchstone technique had been lost for some time, thanks to what appeared to be a lack of overall creativity and a weakening of dexterity. Given the budgets these cats possess now and the obvious magic that Rubin appears to wield, I'm not sure who to congratulate, but both the tension and flourish is back.

Hell, maybe significant partial credit needs to go to the new(ish) bassist, Robert Trujillo. I wouldn't go so far as to call the guy tasteful, but he knows when to lean in and step out, yet keep his eye on the ball, which are the essential hallmarks of a smart rhythm section partner. He's also stopped slapping his strings mercilessly like some knuckle-dragging, Claypool wannabe, which means his true technical skills are much more on display. He rumbles beautifully from back to foreground with exceptional craftiness on the album's ten-minute closer, "Suicide and Redemption".

As far as Hetfield himself, there is no Poet Laureate distinction in his future, but I appreciate the fact that his reach isn't exceeding his grasp. Crooning and heartfelt resolutions never worked for him in the past (and in that regard, the first single, "The Day That Never Comes" is the exact point where Death Magnetic starts to temporarily sag, saved only by its final three minute ballroom blitzkrieg by Hammett). Still, he's rediscovered what his lungs and vocal chords are best at: shouting at the sky with the desperate power of someone who wants more, knows the universe is capable of better, yet is clueless about the answers. That sounds like a bit of a backhanded compliment, but really, that's what the thinking metalhead often wants. We don't need someone to deliver a revelatory screed; we just want someone to vocalize something that echoes our confusion and curiosity at the same time.

In many respects (and I never thought I'd say this, especially after watching hilarious shit like this), Hammett is the star here. I wonder if being purportedly told to dial back from soloing on St. Anger simply concentrated his ambitions in reserve, because he's splintering diamonds left and right throughout this record, most notably on "All Nightmare Long", an eight-minute juggernaut of riffs that shoot down every imaginable corner, soloing like Randy Rhoads' ghost and slicing into Ulrich's time changes like some metal-mad forensic scientist. Shit is undeniably tight.

If you've read this far, well, you care, and bless you for that. And if you've ever cared about what Metallica used to be, you should definitely give your ears the chance to absorb where they are now. I'm very much looking forward to their appearance here in Seattle on December first.

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