Nobody puts Kirk Hammet’s guitar in the corner.
I got to spend the afternoon today (Thursday) at Metallica HQ in Marin, listening to the band’s new record “Death Magnetic,” which comes out Sept. 12 (that’s what my sheet says, even though new CDs usually come out on Tuesdays, not Fridays).
Funny enough, while listening to Kirk Hammett regain his guitar hero status on “Death Magnetic,” I sat almost in the exact same spot Hammett sat in the “Some Kind Of Monster” documentary, which chronicled the chaos of Metallica making their last record “St. Anger.” It was in that spot that Hammett argued with drummer Lars Ulrich and producer Bob Rock that their then-new practice of writing songs without guitar solos was, um, not to Hammett’s liking.
Arguing against the notion that guitar solos were “dated” Hammett ended up being dead-on when he said not having guitar solos dated Metallica’s music to that particular time. “St Anger” sounded like it was following the lead of early 2000s metal bands. Apparently Hammett and the rest of the band are tired of following bands who grew up worshipping them.
They only gave me one listen, with an engineer and record company rep in the room, so a comprehensive review is fairly pointless. Coincidentally, the one CD review I wish I could re-write was my 2003 “St Anger” review. In a rush to get a story in the paper, I only listened to the album a couple times. Apparently I was so happy to hear Metallica revert to its heavy ways that I gave it an A-, neglecting to realize that it wasn’t a very good record.
So no grade now. I will tell you that no one, but NO ONE leashes Kirk Hammett on “Death Magnetic,” and the result is some of the best playing of his career. You can hear lots of echoes of their first four albums (not to mention one echo from the kindler, gentler 90s on “The Unforgiven III”). One leftover from “St. Anger” is that “Death Magnetic” features few songs sounding like they were written around a vocal hook, which was how Metallica got their sneering faces on MTV so much in the 90s. The difference from “St. Anger,” is that the riffs, while still heavy, aren’t crashing about searching for a place to settle within the songs. The songs have better structure and just sound better. Metallica is back to powering fast, central riffs, occasionally breaking ranks and tempo for some Iron Maiden-ish breakouts, then building to … you guessed it, the muscley solo from Hammett.
But don’t get too excited. While better than “St. Anger,:” the songs again seem so intent on proving Metallica still brings the thunder that something is occasionally out of place. There’s barely a vocal hook in sight – something the band could pull off more than capably on the early records, even if it was shouting a few words to pass for a chorus. Somehow it just doesn’t work so well anymore. But Hetfield and Ulrich may have been so pleased at how well the band sounds the first time in the studio with bassist Robert Trujillo, they just blew off the the choruses. The whole band sounds tight and absolutely stacked. Some of the songs sound like they came from jams, including the instrumental “Suicide & Redemption,” which built slowly into layers of blistering Hammett.
And, I have to say, while it’s nice to hear Metallica get back (mostly … so far … I think … after one listen) to what they do best instead of experimenting, It’s also nice to hear Hetfield no longer struggling with his personal demons lyrically, getting back to yelling about mangled flesh and whatnot.
I promised not to do a detailed review and think I did anyway. To be fair, i’ll get back to you after the record comes out. Better yet, we can talk amongst ourselves. between now and Sept. 12, the band will be streaming 1-2 songs at a time at metallica.com