Metallica

Death Magnetic (Warner Bros.)

Phases and Stages

Metallica

Death Magnetic (Warner Bros.)

Beginning with an affirmation of life, an ominous heartbeat, Death Magnetic signals the second coming of Metallica. Five years after the pitiful St. Anger, intimately detailed in 2004 documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, and 90 seconds into opener "That Was Just Your Life," the Bay Area behemoth finally awakens, charging forth with a calculated fury not heard in close to two decades. Produced by Rick Rubin and creeping death at just under 75 minutes, Metallica's ninth studio LP marks a vengeful return to the technical ecstasy of 1986's Master of Puppets, powered by Lars Ulrich's propulsive beat but dominated by guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, whose intravenous interplay is their finest to date. Progressive in the purest sense, 10-minute instrumental "Suicide and Redemption" conveys all of Hetfield's lyrical harvesting of sorrow, while "My Apocalypse" gallops like the four horsemen of yesteryear. "The Day That Never Comes" merges the polarized ends of Metallica's early catalog, from the funereal march of 1983 debut Kill 'Em All to the gothic balladry of the group's 1991 eponymous breakthrough, ending with a thrilling Ben-Hur chariot race of modal guitars. Production is condensed to the point of near combustion, however, with bassist Robert Trujillo buried six feet under, save for the push-pull rhythmic breakdowns in "Cyanide." Yet even when the album starts to sag ("The End of the Line," "The Unforgiven III"), the guitars crack the spine of every skeleton in Metallica's graveyard, making Death Magnetic one of the fiercest comebacks of all time.

***.5

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