Produced by Greg Fidelman
More or less a year ago, England's biggest heavy metal band of all time released a double album which should have been a single album with a few of its songs shortened. Not to be outdone, America's biggest heavy metal band of all time have now done the exact same thing.
The pitchfork sharpening began in August for this one. There are very few things the metal community enjoys more, as a single body, than attacking Metallica, no matter what they do. Sometimes it seems they could re-produce the exact sound and style of Master of Puppets perfectly on a new record full of songs every bit as good as the old ones - exactly what many fans seem to want, regularly lambasting them for abandoning their "thrash roots" - and they'd probably be attacked for reliving past glories instead.
The band consistently find themselves in a no-win situation, and therefore do more or less whatever they please, which is in truth how it should be. What they please this time is apparently a cross between their last album, Death Magnetic, which was criticised for all the usual reasons by the hardcore, but was actually a very good, and very successful album, and their oft-derided late '90s period with the albums Load and ReLoad. Some things here are incredibly consistent with Death Magnetic, to the point where some tracks, like the singles Hardwired and Atlas, Rise! could have fitted perfectly onto that album eight years ago, and that's actually the overriding theme of the first disc, especially in its fastest moments.
The other similarity this album shares with Death Magnetic is the length of the songs. Everything except Hardwired is over five minutes, most of it is over six minutes, but unlike Death Magnetic, a lot of these songs don't have the breadth of riffs or the urgency to maintain those lengths of time. With some of the fat trimmed off, this could have been the most solid disc of material Metallica have released since Load, but it feels a little padded unnecessarily (setting aside the fact that the album is actually only a total of under 78 minutes long anyway, which fits on a single CD).
The first real example of that is Halo On Fire on disc one, which doesn't so much need to be shorter, as it would be much more accessible if it were shorter. There's a lot going on in this song, but it needs multiple listens to appreciate all of it. On first appraisal it will likely seem a bit plodding, something the '90s material is often accused of, but once the catchier parts have set in, later listens will reveal more riffing (some of which recalls the "Black Album") and intricacy than was first evident. More examples of the length problem appear on disc two, but before that disc one benefits - apart from three of the thrashiest tracks for a while in the three singles (the two aforementioned, plus Moth Into The Flame, which has a lot of Death Magnetic about it as well), from Metallica's grooviest song to be found here - from Dream No More. Its huge, chunky riffs, which kick in after a much more typical intro, immediately hark back to Load and ReLoad, which is nothing particularly unsual, but it maintain a groove through James Hetfield's vocal delivery which really hasn't been seen since then, to great effect, breaking up the riff-fests of Moth Into Flame and Halo On Fire nicely.
Much of disc two is where things get a little more hard work. Confusion, ManUNkind, Here Comes Revenge, and Am I Savage?, all back to back, suffer from the same problem as Halo On Fire in that, although they've got a lot going on, they don't have quite enough to fill their length, and thus repeat themselves where they don't need to. As all four are over six minutes each, this is quite a long passage of the album which is not the easiest to get into to. ManUNkind can't seem to make it's mind up where it's going for its first couple of minutes, and then when Hetfield starts the first verses, it feels a little disjointed.
All of this actually puts Here Comes Revenge, Am I Savage?, and Murder One at a disadvantage. By the time they roll around in the middle of disc two, a lot of music has passed, and some of it wore on a little long. This trio of songs isn't the strongest, so their struggle to hold the intention is much tougher. All three are prime modern day Metallica, but looped once too often. They each have few riffs and melodies than everything on disc one, but somehow are just as long as those songs. Like Halo On Fire though, this does just mean they need longer to fully take hold. These are still strong songs, they just don't help themselves. With repeat listens though the heavy grind of Am I Savage?, and the insistence of Murder One (a Lemmy tribute), does present itself.
Most will say however they have, as the old adage goes, "saved the best for last", with Spit Out The Bone. Easily the closest to their classic, ultra-aggressive thrash of old in probably 25 years, it's a furious, heavy track, packed with riffs and anger, and is the perfect way to finish the album, especially signing off of a disc which has maintained a reasonably slow pace for the preceding half an hour, end as quickly as it started.
So there are several tracks here, even the best ones, which repeat themselves a little too much, and with some of that repetition trimmed out, this could have been a tighter, leaner album with no filler at all. All this really means is that it needs to be given more of a chance. It needs several listens to appreciate fully, and its loudest detractors won't afford it that luxury. Those who do, provided they aren't exclusively looking for Master of Puppets again, will find that although they've over-cooked it a little, the band have delivered the kind of involving album they set out to.
“ needs multiple listens to appreciate all of it ”
CD1 - Hardwired / Atlas, Rise! / Now That We're Dead / Moth Into Flame / Dream No More / Halo On Fire
CD2 - Confusion / ManUNkind / Here Comes Revenge / Am I Savage / Murder One / Spit Out The Bone
Black Sabbath London set #2 • Black Sabbath London set #1 • Black Sabbath Manchester set • Anthrax 2017 London setlist • Exodus tour 2017 • Helloween tour 2017 • Annihilator tour 2017 • Crowbar tour 2017 • Megadeth tour 2017 • Glenn Hughes tour 2017 •
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