Monday, December 19, 2011

Metallica Goes Beyond Death Magnetic

As the preeminent heavy metal band on the planet with only a handful of challengers, not much can be added to the 30-year legacy of Metallica. But this year is different.

While some people are still divided over the well-conceived but  ill-executed Lulu album with Lou Reed, there is no division over the never-before-heard outtakes from Death Magnetic. The four songs that make up the new 29-minute Beyond Magnetic EP drown out months of ardent defensiveness and lighthearted aloofness over Lulu.

Instead, all anyone can hear now is the unrelenting rolling buzz of four rough mixes originally produced for Death Magnetic. They were introduced at a pace of one song per day over four days at the San Francisco Fillmore as Metallica celebrated their continuing epic run with their most ardent fans. And those who did not attend found the EP in their e-mail. Happy holidays. 

Beyond Magnetic is a reminder why metal means Metallica. 

The EP soared to number one on the same day of its release for a reason. The opener, Hate Train, bulldozes into aggressive old school trash metal that makes everyone wonder why they locked it up in the vault. Much like the lyrics tell it, the song thunders aimlessly through your head with great riffs and mind-bending solos that aren't as fast as speed metal but still separate the wheat from the chaff. 

Originally called Shine, Just A Bullet Away conjures memories of And Justice For All as a mid-tempo thrasher with a clean bridge. The brilliance is in the melodic solo in the middle of the song. Most fans are saying that they wished it was on Death Magnetic, even though the song was likely cut because it sounded too much like a throwback to earlier times.

The lyrics in Just A Bullet Away are well thought out and timed perfectly. The instrumentals are sold, with subtleties throughout. If any of the four songs on the EP can be called full-package Metallica, it's this one with James Hetfield picking up lead guitar.

"We're pretty excited to be bringing these songs back to life after nearly four years after they were recorded. Once again, this is the unpolished version of the song ... the original rough mix from March of 2008 in its rawest, untouched form." 

The third song, Hell And Back, originally called To Hell And Back, was one the hardest tracks to find anywhere on the Internet. Expect a clean riff at the open before the song tumbles along, with some beautiful accents brought in by Lars Ulrich and Robert Trujillo. And after a cue from Hetfield, Kirk Hammett brings in a barrage of notes to help finish it.

The last track, Rebel of Babylon, opens like it might be a swooning metal ballad. The opening is only a warmup as it breaks back into thrash. The song has plenty packed into it: builds, duels, and breakdowns. It's one of my favorites on the EP, proving that Metallica is more than ready to climb back into the trenches of the recording studio and write something without being confined to Reed's backup band.

Although the tracks are rough and raw (which means better Metallica by my standards) and nearly four year old, the EP helps remind people why Hatfield responding to Ulrich's newspaper advertisement was a historic moment in music history. Of course, I'm biased having listened to their music since the beginning and through all the changes (including the Dave Mustaine shakeup). Beyond Magnetic is a classic mesh of both old tricks and evolution.

Metallica's Beyond Magnetic Points North At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Metallica generally has three kinds of fans. Those that like to pretend they "liked them back when...", those that only turned out for the Black Album, and those that have been with them from day one. I'm happy to be part of the latter crowd (just not so smitten to sing the praises of Lulu, which is why we skipped it for review).

That said, if what the band has been working on since earlier this year comes close to the material released on this EP, then their next album will ensure they will continue to play out with a bang and not a whimper. All four tracks are well worth the download. It's 30 minutes of Metallica.

Beyond Magnetic was released on iTunes. If you missed Death Magnetic when it was released in 2008, you can find the album on Amazon, the vinyl at Barnes & Noble, and download on iTunes. 
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