Metallica, ‘Death Magnetic’ – Album Overview
After working with producer Bob Rock for four straight albums over the course of more than a decade, Metallica decided to switch gears with ‘Death Magnetic,’ their ninth studio album. Rick Rubin was tapped to produce the record and was a crucial in creating a new environment for Metallica to write and record in. Whereas with ‘St. Anger’ they all sat in one room and brainstormed song ideas on the spot, in front of each other, Rubin helped bring the band back to their original way of doing an album: write the songs first, then record the songs.
Writing for the new album begin in 2006. After whittling 25 songs down to 14, the band entered the studio to begin recording ‘Death Magnetic.’ From April 2007 to May 2008, Metallica used three different studios in California to record the album, including Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, Shangri La Studios in Malibu and their official HQ studio in San Rafael (the same studio most of ‘St. Anger’ was written and recorded in). The album was completed on Aug. 10, 2008 and hit store shelves a month later on Sept. 12.
The album was well-received by fans and critics alike. Many felt that ‘Death Magnetic’ was a return to Metallica’s thrash metal roots. With intricate guitar solos and incredibly fast rhythms, the album is a drastic departure from their 2003 effort with ‘St. Anger.’ Regardless of the reception of ‘St. Anger,’ many felt that ‘Death Magnetic’ was a comeback for the band, proving that even as they get older, they have no plans to slow down. Some in the press world even claimed this album was the best from the band since 1988’s ‘…And Justice for All.’
As the album garnered significant praise for its musicality and lyrical prowess, it did receive a lot of negative attention for its audio quality. Several criticisms came from the notion that the album sounded over-compressed and too loud, diminishing the quality of the overall sound. While Lars Ulrich admitted that much of the creative control for the mixing of the album was not in the hands of the band due to their tour schedule, he defended the album and said he was pleased with how it turned out.
‘Death Magnetic’ debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling nearly half a million copies over the weekend it debuted. This album marked the fifth consecutive studio album that debuted at No. 1, making Metallica the first band to ever claim that victory. In less than two years, the album was certified double platinum, selling two million copies. At the 51st Grammy Awards, ‘Death Magnetic’ won the award for Best Recording Package. Rubin also was awarded the accolade of Producer of the Year, Non-Classical.
‘Death Magnetic’ Track by Track
‘That Was Just Your Life’
With a slow opening, it only takes about ninety seconds for Metallica to prove why they are the legendary thrash metal band that they are. Ripping into fast lyrics and a familiar musical sound from the 1980s, ‘That Was Just Your Life’ sets the stage for the critical success of this album as the opening track.
‘The End of the Line’
Several fans listen to ‘The End of the Line’ and reminisce about 1986’s ‘Master of Puppets’ as both deal with the theme of addiction. While it might not be as much of an opus as ‘Master of Puppets,’ ‘The End of the Line’ is a very musically dynamic song, built all around the heavy chant, ‘You’ve reached the end of line.’
‘Broken, Beat & Scarred’
The sixth single from the album, the foundation of this song is built on the lyrics, ‘What don’t kill ya make ya more strong.’ This is a rewording of a quote attributed to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche: ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’ This song was a standard in the setlist for the World Magnetic tour, debuting live at O2 World in Berlin on the same day as the release of the album.
‘The Day That Never Comes’
With the working title of ‘Casper,’ this was the first single released from the album, making its debut on August 21, 2008. For many fans, this was their first taste of ‘Death Magnetic. Opening with a guitar riff that couldn’t be any cleaner, ‘The Day That Never Comes’ carries on the dynamics that Metallica created in the 80s. Slow build-ups, crushing guitar riffs and face-melting solos all make this song the album’s grand opus. It is the band’s highest charting single on Billboard’s Hot 100 since 1997’s ‘The Memory Remains,’ debuting at number 31 on the chart.
‘All Nightmare Long’
In a 2008 interview, James Hetfield explained that this song is about “wolves that hunt through their nightmares and the only way you can get away from them is stay with angels. You can’t even escape through sleep.” This was the fifth single released from the album. ‘All Nightmare Long’ became a fairly standard addition to the World Magnetic setlist, although it didn’t debut to a live audience until December 5, 2008 at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta.
On August 9, 2008 at Ozzfest in Dallas, Texas, fans got a taste of what they could expect from ‘Death Magnetic’ when Metallica exploded into a performance of ‘Cyanide.’ This song turned out to be the third single released from the album, eventually reaching the number one spot on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
‘The Unforgiven III’
Nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, this is the third installment in the ‘Unforgiven’ songs, the first of course appearing on the band’s 1991 self-titled album. The song stands out as it opens with a piano riff rather than the horn that opened the first two ‘Unforgiven’ tunes. It has been played live less than 10 times.
‘The Judas Kiss’
Referencing the mode of betrayal between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ, ‘The Judas Kiss’ was released as the fourth single from ‘Death Magnetic.’ The song as a whole has a very spiritual feel to it, dealing with the battle between good and evil. With lyrics like ‘Bow down, sell your soul to me, I will set you free, pacify your demons,’ it seems that evil might be winning the battle.
‘Suicide & Redemption’
This is the longest track on ‘Death Magnetic,’ clocking in at just a few seconds under 10 minutes. Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater fame called this the “first real Metallica instrumental in 20 years since ‘To Live is to Die.'” It has only been played live twice, most recently at one of Metallica’s 30th anniversary shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco (December 9, 2011).
Following the album’s longest track comes the album’s shortest track at five minutes and one second in length. This was the second single released from ‘Death Magnetic.’ At the 51st Annual Grammy Awards in 2009, it won the the award for Best Metal Performance. ‘My Apocalypse’ feels like the biggest thrash metal tune on the album, and also includes the lyrics in the second verse that would eventually become the name of the album.