What next. The great mystery which has pervaded every Metallica album since Master Of Puppets. Their last answer, the raw, combustive and underrated St Anger in retrospect hangs like a dirty jacket in a large wardrobe. Opening the door five years on, Metallica may afford it a glance, if only as a reminder before dusting off an older number which hasn’t been worn in a while but fits with firmness and comfortable familiarity.
St Anger was of course not a happy time for Metallica. With Death Magnetic, long time producer Bob Rock is gone. In his place is Rick Rubin, and with that a return to service for Lars Ulrich’s snare (no longer sounding like he’s walloping a pot), while Kirk Hammett gets the green light to play solos again.
The production is thicker and more rounded, and what the Black Album would sound like recorded in these times – a respectful nod back to Bob Rock’s finest moment from Rubin.
If St Anger’s songs were the fruits of too many hangovers, fights and sleepless nights, Death Magnetic, despite its morbid concept, picks over the eight years from Kill ‘Em All to the Black Album like a diary which chronicled the period. Indeed, as That Was Your Life and The End Of The Line canon the album to life you can’t help but muse, this is Metallica.
The Day That Never Comes winds its way round your ears like a son of One, with the hegemony plain to see, right down to the classic styled solos that trail up to big choruses and an epic climax.
All Nightmare Long’s eight minutes could have cropped up on Ride TheLightning with its thrashy, sloping octaves of tempo changes, balls to the floor solos, double bass smatterings and ritual chugathons. It’s a more alluding sign too that instead of singing about staring into mirrors and out of windows, James Hetfield is back to barking, snarling and growling verses like “Hallucination, Heresy, Still you run, what’s to come? What’s today?”
If the desire to read over pages of the past has somehow managed to miss you by this point, The Unforgiven III effectively picks up the book and chucks it at you face on.
Which brings us to the nub of what makes Death Magnetic such a resounding success. Death Magnetic could have dropped 15 years ago and been a logical conclusion to the Black album. Today, it emphatically brings Metallica full circle to an intriguing afterthought: what next?