Saturday, September 13, 2008

Metal up your ass

Gather 'round children and I shall tell you a tale. Once upon a time, there was a band, and they were so wonderful that they made all us angry kids shout

FUCKING METALLICA!


Then they went away for awhile and when they returned they had cut their hair and we said

Fucking Metallica.

I won't even begin to explain their last album.

We all have those bands, the foundations that don't merely comprise the 'soundtrack to your life' cliché, but become a tangible part of existence, of growing up, of finding your place in the world. Yeah, that's also a cliché, but it's fucking true, no? Unless you hate music in which case kindly go Cheney yourself. For those of you older than I, the Beatles or the Stones or Zeppelin or Bowie or Elvis Costello or Miles Davis or whomever held -- and may still hold -- that coveted throne, remaining a touchstone. For me it was these guys. Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, ...And Justice For All. I've spun those four albums more than the rest of my collection combined. Believe me, as much as I love music, that's a lot of spins. Hell, I'm listening to Metallica right now as I type this. The only difference is that it isn't one of those hallowed, precious slices of anger and frustration and release, but their new one, their supposed return to form after the what-the-fuck boogie rock of Load and Reload and the metalized primal scream therapy of the universally panned St. Anger, Death Magnetic.

And I'm speaking of the music alone. You'll find no ham-fisted Napster bullshit, no sellout speak -- for the record, shifting genres this much isn't selling out, quality of the music be damned; tracks like Ronnie and 2x4 were what the kids were jonesing for in the mid-90s? Really? You fucking sheep. How come you never bitch about painters trying new shit? -- no Lars the out-of-touch Basquiat collector nor the running gag that the band became after the Some Kind of Monster documentary. I don't give a fuck about any of that garbage. We're all dickheads and assholes in our own way, we all fuck up at one time or another. Hell, I just corrected two typos in the last sentence alone.

Hmm. I'm getting dangerously close to not following my own dictum.

"Heh, heh, he said dick."

A heartbeat starts the album before eerie, single notes are plucked, the slow, brooding intro that the band used to perfection so many times, leading into the galloping thrash riff of That Was Just Your Life. The not-Rick Rubin production -- is there a more hands-off producer? -- is dry and the guitars are sharp, but there's slightly less of a bite than there should be, at least when compared to the Flemming Rasmussen jobs back in the old days. At least a buzzsaw with gently rounded edges can still cut through flesh. James Hetfield is, thankfully, singing less and barking more than on recent efforts -- St. Anger truly proving to be, in retrospect, even more of an anomaly than once thought, both musically and lyrically -- and, what's that? someone found Kirk Hammett! Actual guitar solos! A lot of them! Both pre- and post- solo, there are oodles of Justice-style parts-consciousness and, architecturally, that is the album that Death Magnetic most resembles.

Texturally, the band runs the gamut of their catalog, second track The End of the Line melding a sinewy, Load-style groove with choppy thrash runs and staccato drumming. Yes, Mr. Ulrich isn't, and never has been, in the same class as true percussion masters such as Slayer's Dave Lombardo, ex-Sepultura drummer Igor Cavalera and Charlie Benante from Anthrax, but for some reason, his rudimentary skills seem to fit the riffs -- most of the time. Not that I wouldn't mind a drummer who could actually hit the skins quickly without sounding sloppy when the band shifts into third gear. At least the drums don't sound as clicky as on Justice -- though they certainly don't crack as on Metallica -- but I'd wager they're a bit too high in the mix, at least for my tastes. Hetfield's vocals, with their jagged, intermittent intonations, remind me a bit of Death Angel's Mark Osegueda, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It does indeed get harder to scream the more grey hairs one collects.

Broken, Beat & Scarred takes a rubbery, black album aesthetic and fills in the gaps with bits and pieces of mid-paced thrash. The jackhammer repetition of riffs and vocal lines, though perhaps slightly overdone in the bridge, keeps the song glued together, enabling it to beat you over -- okay, finish the joke yourself.

First single The Day That Never Comes has far more in common, despite both what some knuckleheads will tell you and the song's subject matter gleaned from the lyrics, the video and various interviews with the band, with Fade to Black than One. Somber, dreamy chords and vocals trade licks with heavier measures before giving way to a Maiden-esque guitar duel before blowing up with the obligatory machine-gun climax.

Speaking of climaxes -- not that, perverts -- side one -- dating myself, ain't I -- climaxes with the spiritual successor to Enter Sandman, the superior All Nightmare Long, which severely ups the aggression meter with a barrage of Disposable Heroes-esque measures bookending the chorus through judicious use of tempo changes.

The album's first misstep is Cyanide, a track that sounds like a Reload leftover with better production and demonstrates what I'm sure is a common complaint: the songs are too long. This is actually one of the shorter works, clocking in under seven minutes, but its hefty bridge and solo is weighed down by slightly unfocused verses. Cut off a couple of minutes of fat, et voilà, instant okayness. I'm a big fan of long songs, and for the most part, the ones here seem to have been recorded at their natural length, but every ear is different, so varying mileage and such.

When I first saw the track listing, I audibly groaned when I read The Unforgiven III. Unfounded worries, so rest easy, young man. Not as good as the stellar original, it's markedly superior to the Hetfield-as-blue-eyed-crooner pseudo-sequel on Reload, mainly because it forges its melancholy using different -- for Metallica -- sparser elements, the song commencing with piano, understated strings -- hear that, Michael Kaman? Oh, that's right, you're dead -- and even a few bars of brass for color. Unlike the traditional metalli-ballad, it never catches fire and may bore the fuck out of the 'dude, where's my thrash?' crowd, but the progressive whole is better than the sum of its parts. This is what Nothing Else Matters should have been instead of the insipid dreck that it was. Fuck, I hate that song.

Recalling any number of past works, Harvester of Sorrow and Holier Than Thou above all others, The Judas Kiss mines that midtempo territory where lost souls go to brood. Like Cyanide, this is another track that could probably do with a shave and a haircut -- laugh, you bastards, laugh -- but it has its moments.

The nearly ten-minute instrumental Suicide & Redemption is less The Call of Ktulu epic mythologizing or an immortal hymn to despair à la To Live Is To Die, but a multi-layered, brick-by-brick jam that is the emotional kin to Orion. A meandering, dare I say it, joyful -- in that 'ha ha we're crazy but we don't care!' way -- riff slowly mutates into further riffs building upon each other before cycling back to the original, now-thickened, chords.

My Apocalypse concludes the album the way Damage, Inc. and Dyers Eve did so many years ago, with relentless pummeling, which is what I imagine the song's subject matter, a horrific car crash, might be like. At least until your charred body burned up in the gasoline explosion.

Death Magnetic is as much a return to form as one could expect from metalheads on the wrong side of forty. If they had continued down different, non-thrash paths, they would've been panned. By returning to their roots, they're panned. Believe me, many of their musical steps I questioned -- St. Anger is indeed 9/10ths crap. I would've loved Justice parts two, three and four. But I'm a fan, I'm not a member of the band. We all pick our favorite album by a group and secretly wish they'd repeat that formula over and over and over and over. Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujillo -- as new guy, does he really count in this equation? -- have aged, they have families, perhaps they've mellowed a bit. None of us have remained the same over the years, and the stories about Rubin having the band harken back to the thought process around the writing of Master of Puppets only exacerbated already existing disdain for whatever these guys would do. Fuck, that album was recorded in 1985. Most of you bitching internets jokers weren't even born yet or were still shitting in your Huggies --

Too 'get off my lawn?'

Even Metallica knew they couldn't repeat it. Did the Stones figure Tattoo You would be another Let It Bleed? C'mon.

At last, the bottom line: is Death Magnetic an A+ triumph of cutting-edge metal craftsmanship? Hell no. They're 45-year old rockers, not Beethoven or Mahler. And though never a master lyricist -- though he was exceptional on the overtly political ...And Justice For All -- Hetfield has gone back to the darker side of things, thankfully shedding the psychiatrist's couch blatherings of the last platter. Is it brutal? Um, Metallica wasn't the heaviest metal band around in 1987 -- just the best -- so if your basement is full of Xasthur demos and bootleg Mayhem concerts, no. Is it in the same league as those greats from over twenty years ago? Impossible. Those albums carry decades of emotional resonance, not to mention musical importance within the genre itself. But you know what? For a bunch of old dudes, it's surprisingly good and I'm glad they're again playing what they're best at.

27 comments:

Distributorcap said...

are you ready for this?
i like metallica

Unconventional Conventionist said...

Metal in ass? No.
Metal in head? Yes.

I actually had The Scorpions on for a while yesterday, believe it or not.

Christopher said...

Randall,

I can't wait to hear this CD. I love Metallica. Always have.

They ROCK!.

Frederick said...

I've listened to a couple of tracks...two words. Death Craptastic.

Non, Je ne regrette rien said...

makes weird hand signal and flips hair wildly. *Rawk on*

ok so no I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about but when has that ever stopped me?

oh and by the way, I was 2 taggees short and since you were whining ... you're IT after all!

Freida Bee said...

I wonder if my vagina looked like a coffin like that if I could nail down, er, a fine metal head such as yourself...?

Ok, I'll try it. I liked oldskool (that didn't spell school like this -> skool (which is too close to skoal)) Metallica that time I tried it, but I'm more prone to liking what 45-year old rockers have to offer anyway, so maybe I'm in their demographic now.

Randal Graves said...

dcap, funny, I didn't notice the sky falling.

UC, I never got into them. Didn't like Meine's vocals, mainly. Which I blame on you!

christopher, despite what our dear frederick says, it's a good record. It ain't great, but so fucking what.

frederick, I believe it was a traveling band of minstrels who once said, 'go to hell you old bastard.' Diff'rent strokes, my man.

JNRR, I could feel the evil all the way across the Atlantic.

If we could only talk about what we know, would any of us even have blogs?

I didn't whine, merely expressed my sincere concern.

FB, ohhh, I get jokes! If you're convinced you're part of the 45-year old set, you might want to check out Load/Reload instead. But try this. A little speed metal in the home brings lots of joy.

DivaJood said...

Oh, god, I feel so fucking old now. For me, it was The Who, and The Kinks, and yes, The Beatles. Not so much the Stones after Brian Jones O.D.d. And Hendrix. My god, when Hendrix played guitar, you KNEW something was going on. And, of course, Bob Dylan. And all I can think of musically right now is "Mr. Jones."

Mary Ellen said...

I swear I could still hear the Metallica screaming from the bedrooms of my kids rooms...I didn't listen to it then and to be honest, don't plan on picking up their music now. I imagine they may have something tucked away that I may like, but it's not worth going through the rest of it to find out.

I was also pissed when the Beatles seemed to shift course and put out Sgt.Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band...but then I learned to like it and the rest of their stuff, so I guess music doesn't have to hit you like a lightening bolt when he first here it...a new sound could be an acquired taste, like fine wine...or a good stash.

But hey, who am I to judge anything? I'm not supporting Obama, remember? Doesn't that put me in with "the other crowd"? ;-)

Diva Jood/Nunly '08.

Mary Ellen said...

when he first here it.

Supposed to be: "....when you first hear it."

Oh...the imperfections are just ooozing out of me today. I have no excuse but to say..."Who the fuck cares? It's Saturday and it's raining buckets."

Scarlet W. Blue said...

I love Metallica.

For me, though, it was Queen and AC/DC.

American Hill BIlly said...

damn blogger!! SH#t. Much shorter; Metallica rocks, and I'm glad their continuing to create good music.

La Belette Rouge said...

I have never heard Metallica and I never hope to hear them, but let me tell you anyhow I'd rather not.;-)
I don't think I have actually ever heard a Metallica song.

When I worked at a newspaper I had an opportunity to interview Metallica and I blew it off. I have friends who will not let me forget that choice. But, I have never felt any regret about it.

Randal Graves said...

diva, all quality acts. Mr. Jones the Counting Crows song? I'm not up on what you young hep cats are listening to these days.

ME, hell, some of my favorite albums only became favorites years later. You can never predict when something will or won't click.

The other crowd? Everyone other than me is in the other crowd. You're all fucking nuts. ;-)

And thanks for the rain. Two straight days of no Jermaine Dye for fucking fantasy league playoffs. I always knew I hated Chicahgo.

SWB, two more quality bands, though I was quite underwhelmed by AC/DC's new single.

AHB, blogger has been giving me crap recently, too, taking multiple clicks to save anything. If you dig their 80s stuff, you'll dig the new one.

Randal Graves said...

LBR, ever? Really? That's just odd because I've heard stuff I don't like.

Do you wear earmuffs all year?

You can add me to that list of friends who will never let you forget that choice. But don't worry, I likely would've turned down a chance to interview Morrissey. ;-)

okjimm said...

Fuck Metallica.... too discordant for me. I am on an Fleetwood Mac revival...cira 71,,,, god bless Peter Green& Danny Kirwan and Spencer Davis&Bob Welch....Blues rules....

La Belette Rouge said...

I have managed to never see the Sound of Music. I never heard a Grateful Dead song until I was in my 30's. And, to my knowledge I have never heard a Metallica song. I listen to my Morrissey a lot and don't listen to much radio other than NPR. I don't think Ann Taylor or Corey Flintoff have ever done a story on Metallica.

And, you are cruel! I just cannot imagine anyone turning down an opportunity to meet Morrissey. You are just trying to hurt me. Aren't you?;-)

DivaJood said...

Randal, I told you I felt old. I meant Ballad of a Thin Man, "Because something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?"

As MUCH as I like Counting Crows, that was not who I had in mind.

Tom Harper said...

Interesting description of their new album. St. Anger sure sucked; I'm glad the new one is better.

I'm old enough that Metallica isn't "imprinted" on me or anything, but they're great. I like a lot of other metal groups better, but Metallica are great and they've influenced a lot of bands. I don't know what happened with St. Anger; maybe they don't function unless they're high on whatever drugs they get high on.

MRMacrum said...

I always wondered how the Head Bangers from back then would turn out. Now I know.

I have a couple of Metallica CDs in the collection. When making a mix CD, I sprinkle them in when I need a break from the edgy biting sound of The Osmonds, or Myron Floren's hard hitting accordian solos. You remember Myron, he came to Acton once. Played the Acton Fair under the bright lights. Boy, Guy Lombardo knew talent when he saw it.

Check it out - Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians and their hardhitting hit "Boo Hoo"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMmx0ICrFgE

Fucking Metallica - Right.

Our Juicy Life said...

We were in REI (a sporting goods place) here in Santa Monica and I was waiting in line to check out and 2 of the guys behind the desk we talking and one said "dude, did you hear the new metallica CD" and the other said "yes, it's nuts, i love it".

I don't dislike Metallica, don't have their music on my IPOD though, but they are not bad, not good, but not bad.

The first time I ever saw a black american express card was when we were having burgers at this famous hamburger place on the North Shore of Ohau 8 years ago. The guy next to us was the guitarist from Metallica and he paid with his black american express card, i think that basically means no limit, although his bill was probably only 10.00, but he was cool.

autumn said...

is this for real? oh my, i love metallica. i was in highschool when i started to love 'em and their songs. cool. ^^

Randal Graves said...

okjimm, the blues are good so come on, you old hippie, expand your mind, groovy and far out!

LBR, never saw the Sound of Music? Aren't we lucky. I had to see it during high school German class. Shudder. Um, the movie was in English.

Cruel? Moi? Jamais. ;-)

diva, okay, that makes more sense. See how easily I'm thrown for a loop? Must be the blond hair.

tom, St. Anger was from another planet. I'll be more than happy if they don't push any more envelopes and concentrate solely on thrashy stuff.

mrmacrum, the Osmonds? You live on the edge, man. I heard that family would've given the one from Texas Chainsaw Massacre a run for their money.

When I hear accordions, I think of being forced to watch Frankie Yankovic on teevee by grandparents when I was younger. Probably why I dig Weird Al Yankovic.

OJL, see, and people doubted that story about metalheads being gentle.

autumn, it's very real. Buy! Stimulate that economy!

autumn said...

i would really buy it once it has been released here. =]

Spartacus said...

Sorry man...but you lost me at Metal....

autumn said...

Randal, i have to tell you this. I got a CD. a friend/co-worker gave it to me as a bday gift. i love it. thanks for your blog. can i have the pic of that Metallica album, please? i want to post it.

and you know what, i dreamt of meeting you just to talk about this album. haha. i know it might sound weird. lol.

Sal Kilmister said...

If you have XM, check out XM 51...24/7 Metallica. I once slept in a parking lot for 24 hours to get Metallica tix, and I got front row in 92.