How Metallica Returned to Thrash on ‘Death Magnetic’
On Sept. 12, 2008, Metallica attempted to correct the heavy metal universe's cosmic balance with their ninth studio album, Death Magnetic. The record doubled as musical return to form and an open apology to their long-suffering fans for the disappointment that was their previous album, 2003's St. Anger.
Simply put, after years spent refusing to look back while diluting their sound with new songwriting directions and oddly-chosen recording techniques, Metallica finally surrendered and shaped Death Magnetic into exactly what their ardent fan base had been clamoring for: a trip down memory lane, inspired directly by the band's original, thrash-based heavy metal style.
Sure, most everyone can agree that the more mature and streamlined results were still no match for the groundbreaking, youthful excitement of Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets or even ...And Justice for All. But there was likewise no denying these were earnest attempts on Metallica's part to revive those '80s glories, and make up for a "lost decade" marked by the divisive Load and Reload LPs, never mind the aforementioned St. Anger.
Tasked with shepherding this rebirth was Rick Rubin. He's a producer known as much for his discerning ear as his uncanny ability to help veteran artists reconnect with the creative mindset that spawned their initial, best-loved works, before they lose their way down the long road to stardom.
Watch Metallica's Video for 'The Day That Never Comes'
And, true to his well-established modus operandi, Rubin forced his latest millionaire clients to listen carefully to their old material, and beat new songs into shape in rehearsal. Having completed this process, Metallica duly emerged with a set of 10 new songs, stripped of all funny business and overflowing, instead, with virtually inexhaustible reserves of monster riffs, familiarly oblique lyrical themes, and even guitar solos.
Yes, for although Death Magnetic represented James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich's redemption above all else, it was also, in the words of renowned critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Kirk Hammett's revenge." After having his hands tied during the fraught, solo-less St. Anger sessions, Metallica's lead guitarist was mercifully given free rein to wail away to his heart's content. His newly unleashed blazing technique immediately helped elevate songs like "The End of the Line," "Cyanide" and "The Day That Never Comes," to album standout status.