30 January 2012
by Tom Doyle
If we follow the chronology of that famous T-shirt, we appear to currently be in the “death” phase of Metallica’s career. I recently took to these very pages to explain why Lulu was not the worst album of 2011 but that should not be taken as a defence – the record was an unmitigated disaster and will surely be looked back on in years to come as real emperor’s new clothes moment of folly from the yes-men who now surround the biggest heavy band ever. But in truth Metallica fans haven’t had a lot to shout about for a long time now. St Anger‘s problems were well-documented, and it said a lot about the sorry state of affairs that the band were in that Death Magnetic - an LP which was average by any standard let alone when compared to the bands monolithic back catalogue – was met with a “this isn’t THAT bad” pat on the head from fans and critics.
So now, in the wake of Lulu-gate, ‘tallica are releasing the offcuts of Death Magnetic (ingeniously entitled Beyond Magnetic) to try and appease their understandably baffled, disgruntled fanbase. These four tracks initially saw a digital only release but later this month you can pick them up on a shiny compact disc and revel in the songs that were not good enough to make it onto Death Magnetic proper – and if that doesn’t sound like a treat then I don’t know what does.
The real sting in the tail for fans will be that even a cursory listen to what’s on offer here will reveal that these songs are considerably better than a lot of what ended up making the cut for the Death Magnetic LP. There are some solid riffs on show and some even better melodies plus the rawer nature of the recording (the band are at pains to point out that this is not a ‘finished’ product) offer some sense of four-guys-in-a-room grit that they have long missed. It’s a record which serves to underline that Metallica’s biggest weapon will always be James Hetfield’s vocal cords. Poor embattled James Hetfield – his is one of the great voices in this history of metal, rasping and full of eccentric inflections that make you want to shout ABSO-FUCKIN-LUTLLLLEEEEHHHHHHH in the face of any passing stranger and when he hits his stride here he is as potent as he as ever been.
There are some problems though. Lars Ulrich’s drums are still lumpen and laboured but what’ s far worse is that the band still have a tendency to meander down paths that just don’t need visiting. Some of these songs really outstay their welcome and you can virtually pinpoint the sections that could be culled without anybody missing them much. Compare and contrast with the first two ‘tallica albums – if you can find me a wasted riff in Kill ‘em All I’d love to hear it – quality control is what makes bands great and it is an area where Metallica still really need to get their house in order if they are going to return to anything like their former glories.
Watch some of the guest spots from Metallica’s 30th anniversary shows:
There is so much evidence of bad decision making rife within this bands sphere over the past few years that you wonder whether they can ever again really scale the heights we all want them to. Some of the tracks on Beyond Magnetic – most notably ‘Just a Bullet Away’ and ‘Rebel of Babylon’ are easily good enough not to have been left to the cutting room floor and even within songs someone needs to just go in there and be a bit more ruthless with the protools ‘delete’ function.
Ulrich recently declared that the new Metallica album would be a “heavier and more-to-the-point Black Album“ but at this rate you wouldn’t trust him not to discard the next ‘Enter Sandman‘ to the bin in favour of something a bit more ‘Frantic’-y.But (and it’s a big but) if these multi-millionaire rock stars have still got the humility in them to listen to their fans, then there is evidence on Beyond Magnetic that they are still capable of producing good music in the classic Metallica vein. Everybody would love the new Metallica album to turn up and rip everyone’s faces off and this EP is a step (albeit a small one) in the right direction.
Sounds Like: Metallica (it’s getting there anyway)
Standout Tracks: Just a Bullet Away. Rebel of Babylon