Once the most respected metal band on the planet, Metallica went mainstream in 1991 with their blockbuster black album. Since that breakthrough, they have struggled to come up with a decent follow-up – partly, this was because grunge took over the music landscape in the early-mid 1990s, and Metallica had to evolve to survive. But what were they going to evolve into? Since 1991, they have tried to remain relevant (Load is sort of like alt-metal) but ended alienating themselves from fans (suing Napster), and ended up producing St. Anger (generally regarded as one of the crappiest albums ever made) in 2003.
Metallica’s latest album was marketed as a return to their roots. Essentially, this means Metallica failed to evolve into something more modern, more relevant and decided to return to their classic sound. Now, there is nothing wrong with this – sometimes we just want more of the same. But does Death Magnetic measure up to the high standards of Metallica’s first 4 albums?
In my opinion, not really. Sure, Kirk Hammett gets to play many guitar solos as if in compensation for the lack of solos on St. Anger. The tracks on Death Magnetic all hark back to the suite like epics of their glory days – tunes shift midway, tempos change, Hammett’s solos cut in, more aggressive riffing from James Hetfield . . . but for me, the riffs aren’t striking, aggressive or have enough attitude to them. Same for the solos, they seem to go on and on, but they fail to keep me interested.
Death Magnetic isn’t bad – it just isn’t exceptional either.