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CD Reviews:
Listening Room Special: Metallica

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2008

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Metallica, “Death Magnetic” (Warner Bros.) ***

The heartbeat that starts Metallica’s

11th album is a subtle way of assuring fans that this heavy rock titan is still very much alive — a message that, surprisingly, needs to be delivered 25 years after “Kill ‘em All” helped reinvent the metal landscape.

Rumors of Metallica’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, of course, but there’s no forgetting the disappointment over 2003’s “St. Anger,” an unexpectedly flat collection of long, formless songs that lacked the magic of its predecessors. Accompanied by residual fan resentment over the band’s ardent stance against Internet file sharing, the acrimonious departure of Michigan-born bassist

Jason Newstead and the unseemly specter of weepy, therapyriddled group members in the documentary “Some Kind of Monster,” it was fair to wonder if Metallica’s might had been compromised.

“Death Magnetic,” which comes out today in a rare non-Tuesday release, puts any questions to rest as frontman James Hetfield growls “what don’t kill you make you more strong.” The length of “St. Anger” is still there; only two songs come in under seven minutes, and the epic instrumental “Suicide & Redemption” weighs in near 10. But this time Metallica is riding the lightning again, its sharp dynamic attack intact as each track comes off like a mini-suite with changes executed like Chauncey Billups pivoting at the top of the key.

Working with new producer Rick Rubin — who helmed Slayer before he started working with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond — Metallica has found its shred again and reminded us what a captivating experience it is.

There are some mellow, string-accented moments in “The Unforgiven III,” but most of “Death Magnetic” is an unrelenting, defiant barrage that hearkens back to the vintage fusillades of “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets,” with some direct sonic references in songs such as “That Was Just Your Life,” “Broken, Beat & Scarred,” “The Judas Kiss” and “My Apocalypse.” Not for the faint of heart — or for those who discovered Metallica with “Enter Sandman” — “Death Magnetic” celebrates a band returning to form, with lead guitarist Kirk Hammett cranking out the solos that were sorely missing from “St. Anger,” Lars Ulrich getting a drum sound that matches his commanding attack and bassist Robert Trujillo making his presence known on “Cyanide” and “Suicide & Redemption.”

So the Metallica nation can comfortably rejoice — and bang its collective head. Despite concerns to the contrary, the group is in no way ready for the coffin that graces “Death Magnetic’s” cover.

Metallica will perform Jan. 13 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Tickets are $58-78 and go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. at all Ticketmaster locations.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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