There’s been lots of talk lately about ”energizing the base,” usually having to do with vice presidential selections or pandering at conventions. One hesitates to sully Metallica by implying they, too, are politicians, but Death Magnetic does seem designed to win back rock’s most irritable fan base. No? longer is the band nuancing its position, as it were, with radio-friendly ballads or sonic tweaks. Producer Rick Rubin suggested they quit all that messy evolvin’ and get back to the grinding sound of 1986’s Master of Puppets.? The result might just be patronizing the faithful, but if so, it’s some of the thrashiest, most thrilling appeasement you’ll hear.
Magnetic‘s tracks are all 6-to-10-minute ? extravaganzas with seemingly unlimited chordal changeups and tempo shifts. Sometimes the album’s mini-epics come off as we’ve still got it! stunts. But when it’s working, the effect is like ceding your senses to a particularly well-engineered roller coaster in the dark.
Only bits and pieces of two songs slacken up at all, with ”The Day That Never Comes” and ”The Unforgiven III” coming closest to representing this album’s ”One” and (yup) ”The ? Unforgiven.” When James Hetfield gets melodic there, you’re reminded that his learning to sing in the 1990s wasn’t a bad thing. But ? the speed-freak growls of the rest of Magnetic match the band’s Olympian vigor. And if the disc distracts prickly fans from filling message boards with arguments about whether 1988’s …And Justice for All or 1991’s “black album” ? was Metallica’s last good record, well, could ? it serve any higher public good? B+
DOWNLOAD THIS: Listen to ”Cynaide” on the band’s MySpace page