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Death Magnetic Play

Call Death Magnetic Kirk Hammett's revenge. Famously browbeaten into accepting Lars Ulrich and producers Bob Rock's dictum that guitar solos were "dated" and thereby verboten for 2003's St. Anger -- a fraught recording chronicled on the 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster -- Metallica's lead guitarist dominates this 2008 sequel, playing with an euphoric fury not heard in years, if not decades. This aesthetic shift isn't because Hammett suddenly rules the band: powerless to add solos to St. Anger, he couldn't reinstate them without the blessing of Ulrich and James Hetfield, the politburo of Metallica. The duo suffered some combination of shame and humility in the wake of the muddled St. Anger and Monster, convincing these two unmovable forces to change direction. They ditched longtime producer Rock -- who'd helmed every album since 1991's breakthrough blockbuster Metallica -- in favor of Rick Rubin, patron saint of all veteran rockers looking to reconnect with their early spark. Rubin may be the go-to producer for wayward superstars but as the producer of Slayer, he's also rooted in thrash, so he understands the core of Metallica's greatness and gently steers them back to basics on Death Magnetic.
Of course, Metallica's basics are pretty complex: intertwined guitar riffs, frenetic solos, and thunderous double-bass drums stitched together as intricate seven-minute suites. Metallica slowly weaned themselves away from labyrinthine metal during the '90s, tempering their intensity, straightening out riffs, spending nearly as much time exploring detours as driving the main road, all the while losing sight of their identity. This culminated in the confused St. Anger, a transparent and botched attempt at returning to their roots, crippled by the chaos surrounding the departure of bassist Jason Newsted. With all their problems sorted out in public -- including replacing Newsted with Robert Trujillo, who acquiesces to the Metallica custom of being buried far, far in the mix -- the group embraces every gnarled, ugly thing they eschewed in the years since "Metallica." Death Magnetic bounces the band back to the days before Bob Rock, roughly sounding as if it could come after ...And Justice for All. Such a deliberate revival of the glory days can be tricky, as it could make a group seem stuck in the past -- or, just as badly, they can get essential elements wrong -- but Death Magnetic is a resounding success because they hunker down and embrace their core strengths, recognizing that their greatest asset is that nobody else makes noise in the same way as they do.
That's the pleasure of Death Magnetic: hearing Metallica sound like Metallica again. Individual songs and, especially, Hetfield's lyrics -- less the confessional ballast of St. Anger, more a traditional blend of angst and terror -- are secondary to how the band sounds, how they spit, snarl, and surge, how they seem alive. Metallica isn't replicating moves they made in the '80s, they're reinvigorated by the spirit of their early years, adding shading they've learned in the '90s, whether it's the symphonic tension of "The Unforgiven III" or threading curdled blues licks through the thrash. Listening to the band play, it's hard not to thrill at Metallica's mastery of aggression and escalation. There is no denying that the band is older and settled, no longer fueled by the hunger and testosterone that made their '80s albums so gripping, but on Death Magnetic older doesn't mean less potent. Metallica is still vitally violent and on this terrific album -- a de facto comeback, even if they never really went away -- they're finally acting like they enjoy being a great rock band. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Fuel [Japan CD Single] Play

Unlike U.S. label counterpart Elektra, Sony (Japan) offers its Metallica CD singles as longer, more palatable mini-albums. Equipped with demos, remixes, and live performances, these import singles prove essential for collectors but may attract casual fans as well. Fuel, without exception, remains the best entry in Metallica's import singles catalog, spanning nearly 33 minutes in duration. The original, demo, and live version of the adrenaline pumping single surface here, along with three additional live selections previously unavailable in the U.S.. Recorded in Brisbane, Australia, in 1998, the live rarities include blistering renditions of "Sad But True," "Until It Sleeps," and "One," which surpass the sound quality presented on 1992's hefty-priced Live Shit: Binge and Purge box set. As a U.S. import, the CD's price tag averages $22; however, Fuel's numerous perks also include full lyrics in both English and Japanese, and attractive Japanese language packaging. ~ Jacob N. Lunders, Rovi

Beyond Magnetic Play

Following Death Magnetic by three years and Metallica's Lou Reed collaboration Lulu by a matter of weeks, the Beyond Magnetic EP offers the four completed songs from the 2008 sessions for Death Magnetic, presented in rough mixes that nevertheless sound fairly finished. Like the 2008 LP, this EP -- released digitally in December 2011 with a physical edition appearing early in the new year -- hearkens back to the Metallica of the '80s, emphasizing ever-shifting suites of thrash instead of the heavy mock-boogie of the '90s or the piecemeal floundering of St. Anger, and it doesn't feel like a revival as much as a return, an acknowledgment of the band's core strengths. While the breakneck bookends "Hate Train" and "Rebel of Babylon" command the most attention, any one of these cuts could have fit seamlessly on Death Magnetic without diluting its impact. Taken as its own entity, Beyond Magnetic is a potent shot of old-fashioned thrash. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Metallica Play

After the muddled production and ultracomplicated song structures of ...And Justice for All, Metallica decided that they had taken the progressive elements of their music as far as they could and that a simplification and streamlining of their sound was in order. While the assessment made sense from a musical standpoint, it also presented an opportunity to commercialize their music, and Metallica accomplishes both goals. The best songs are more melodic and immediate, the crushing, stripped-down grooves of "Enter Sandman," "Sad but True," and "Wherever I May Roam" sticking to traditional structures and using the same main riffs throughout; the crisp, professional production by Bob Rock adds to their accessibility. "The Unforgiven" and "Nothing Else Matters" avoid the slash-and-burn guitar riffs that had always punctuated the band's ballads; the latter is a full-fledged love song complete with string section, which works much better than might be imagined. The song- and riff-writing slips here and there, a rare occurrence for Metallica, which some longtime fans interpreted as filler next to a batch of singles calculated for commercial success. The objections were often more to the idea that Metallica was doing anything explicitly commercial, but millions more disagreed. In fact, the band's popularity exploded so much that most of their back catalog found mainstream acceptance in its own right, while other progressively inclined speed metal bands copied the move toward simplification. In retrospect, Metallica is a good, but not quite great, album, one whose best moments deservedly captured the heavy metal crown, but whose approach also foreshadowed a creative decline. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi

Cliff 'Em All! Play

Metallica's 1987 video debut Cliff 'Em All pays tribute to their original bassist Cliff Burton, who died in 1986 when the band's tour bus crashed in Sweden. Footage of home movies and concerts, personal photos, and unused television footage combine to paint a portrait of Metallica's early years and how important Burton was to the band's sound and identity. Though the DVD is lacking in special features, Cliff 'Em All is worthwhile for Metallica fans, particularly those into Master of Puppets and previous releases. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi

Year and a Half in the Life Of... Pts. 1 & 2 [#1] Play

Year and a Half in the Life Of... Parts 1 & 2 documents the recording and promotion of the group's 1991 self-titled, Grammy-winning effort, aka the Black Album. The first part of the documentary follows the group in the studio, writing and recording songs like "Enter Sandman," "Sad But True," and "Unforgiven," and also covers the music video shoots for the album's singles. The second part gives a warts-and-all look at the band's marathon tour around the world supporting Metallica and includes clips from their appearances at the Grammys, the MTV Music Awards, and the Freddie Mercury tribute concert. At four hours long, Year and a Half in the Life Of... is meant for hardcore fans only, but for them it provides a remarkably extensive and candid look at all the aspects of Metallica's existence. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi

Six Feet Down Under EP Play

Released to commemorate their 2010 tour of Australia and New Zealand, the Six Feet Down Under EP offers eight live tracks recorded in Australia between 1989 and 2004. The kindness of this gesture may be undercut somewhat by subpar sound -- a handful of cuts are bootleg level or worse -- but the music itself is solid, if not quite worth seeking out. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

The Videos 1989-2004 Play

Though they spent the beginning of their career being outspokenly opposed to making music videos, Metallica changed their tune by making a plainly stated seven minute video for "One" from their 1988 album ...And Justice For All and kept going from there. Their DVD collection Videos 1989-2004 gathers together a chronology of their videos beginning with "One" and continuing through to those from 2003's St. Anger. Highlights include hits like "Enter Sandman", "Nothing Else Matters" and bonus footage in the form of out takes and alternate video versions., Rovi

Garage, Inc. Play

For many years, Metallica's 1987 EP Garage Days Re-Revisited was the most sought-after item in their catalog; it was constantly bootlegged in the '90s, and often supplemented by a host of covers Metallica had released on singles and compilations throughout the years. By 1998, the band had understandably grown frustrated with this situation and decided to confront the problem head-on by reissuing all these rarities. Savvy businessmen that they are, they also realized they needed to give hardcore fans who already owned all the covers a reason to purchase the new set -- hence, the expansion of the Garage Days EP to the double-disc blowout Garage, Inc. The second disc's rarities are balanced by the first disc's new covers, the bulk of which were recorded following the Reload tour. It shouldn't come as a surprise that these covers recall the blooze 'n' boogie heavy rock of the Loads, but what is a surprise is that Metallica seems to have found their footing in this style through other people's songs. Whether it's Bob Seger, Blue Öyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, Nick Cave, or the all-star jam on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone," the band effortlessly makes the songs seem like their own, through a bizarre mix of respect and ballsy irreverence. Sure, it may not be nearly as raw as early Metallica, but it is a better listen than either of the Load records. And if raw is what you want, the equally diverse disc two provides all the thrills you could hope for. At one time, it might have seemed a little odd that Metallica would cover Budgie, Diamond Head, the Misfits, and Queen, but if Garage, Inc. proves anything, it's that the group's musical instincts, risks, and sense of humor have made them the greatest metal band of the '80s and '90s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
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