Monthly Archives: August 2016

Old Is New Review: “Death Magnetic” by Metallica

Metallica_-_Death_Magnetic_coverThis November, Metallica will release Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, their tenth LP and first release in eight years. “Hardwire”, the first track from the album, has kicked the hype machine into high gear as fans everywhere rejoice over the track’s quick one-two punch that recalls the band’s sound on their debut record Kill ‘Em All. Just like that, the often divisive and mocked Metallica is turning heads again even among the most elite and of the metalsphere. All this buzz spurred me to revisit the band’s previous album (not Lulu) that, from what I can tell, no one really seems to talk about much: Death Magnetic.

The usual pitch you’ll hear regarding Metallica’s discography is that their first four albums are amazing and then The Black Album is where they started to go downhill (because fuck the mainstream, amirite?). Then Load, Reload, and St. Anger are all lobbed into the general category of utter shit, the last of these being considered particularly utter shit. They also did a kickass covers album, but I’ll skip that one since it’s not an original LP. I’m also not talking about Lulu, so don’t ask. Now, I’m not quite as harsh on Metallica and have admittedly gone to lengths to defend them.True, I also think the first tour albums are superior like most people, but I enjoy the The Black Album just fine, and there are a number of songs from Load and Reload like “Hero of the Day” or “The Memory Remains” that I enjoy spinning. As for St. Anger, while I can’t say I like the album (I can’t do the snare drum, Lars, I just can’t), it’s not the worst album I’ve ever heard. And yet, I can’t remember the last time I talked to someone about where Death Magnetic places in the band’s discography. At the time of release in 2008, many hailed it as a return to form, my seventeen-year-old self included. But how does it stack up today?

Right out of the gate you can tell that Metallica went through a lot of effort to emulate their 80’s selves just by returning to standard E tuning as opposed to the E flat they started playing in when Load came out. There’s also the matter of the first four tracks; on the albums Ride The LightningMaster of Puppets, and …And Justice For All, the first four tracks on each follow this pattern:

Track 1: Quiet intro, possible acoustic/clean guitar, builds into a thrashy opening track

Track 2: Slightly slower, hard-hitting track, title track

Track 3: Slower, heavier track

Track 4: Depressing subject matter, first half of the song is slow and clean, then gets fast and heavy

Death Magnetic follows this pattern pretty closely, the only exception being that the second track is not the title track. This does work in the album’s favor, as the opener “That Was Just Your Life” stokes the fires of nostalgia and presents the album as something familiar but new. “The End of the Line” is a solid followup track and “Broken, Beat, and Scarred” is pretty catchy. “The Day That Never Comes” is an okay track, but falls prey to being compared to “One” in terms of structure, especially with the thrashy, double bass drum part at the end.

Then comes “All Nightmare Long”, which I consider the best song on the album. It’s in D, which is different for Metallica, but is fast and catchy like you’d expect. The lyrics evoke a good aesthetic as well, making you feel like you have to outrun some unseen terror right behind you (which, incidentally, makes this a great running song). Next is “Cyanide”, the first track revealed from the album after the band played it live at Ozzfest ’08. It’s got some good punchy riffs and a nice bass groove. So all in all, the albums doing pretty well up to this point.

“The Unforgiven” is one of Metallica’s staples from The Black Album. “The Unforgiven II” is fine if not unnecessary sequel. As such, more than a few fans likely groaned when they saw “The Unforgiven III” on the track listing for Death Magnetic, and then groaned even more when they finally heard the track and it started with piano. Those of us who aren’t bothered by keys on metal albums sat through the rest of the song and basically shrugged; it doesn’t really connect to its predecessors in terms of sound. Really, it’s only connection is the use of the word “forgive” in the chorus. It’s not a bad song, but I wasn’t upset they didn’t play it live when I saw them.

“The Judas Kiss” is another fun track with some more solid riffs and a catchy chorus. Next comes the nearly ten-minute instrumental “Suicide & Redemption”, which I’m mixed on. Another classic Metallica albums staple was including an instrumental, usually composed by late bassist Cliff Burton, and those songs are held in the highest regard. On Death Magnetic, it seems a bit unnecessary. It’s not bad and I even like lots of the riffs towards the middle of the track, but it could have just been a bonus track.

Finally, we arrive at the final and shortest track on the album “My Apocalypse”, and I feel kind of weird about this one. In terms of rhythm and lyrics, it’s almost true-blue 80’s thrash and everybody is killing it from Lar’s drumming to James’vocals. But the riff…I don’t know why but the main riff doesn’t completely gel with me; those two notes at the end of it just sound a bit weird and it keeps me enjoyment off balance. Other than that, it’s an decent song that fits the role of a thrashy conclusion to the album.

That’s the track-by-track walkthrough, but there are two general criticisms about the album I thought I’d briefly address. The first is that the production is bad because the music is overly compressed in an effort to make the songs sound louder (see also: loudness war). The second is that the songs are too long. In regards to the first critique, I do notice the overt loudness a bit on certain songs, but nothing that ever bothered me much. As for the second, I point to the albums Master of Puppets and Justice, both of which feature tracks ranging from 5 to 8 1/2 minutes, nearly ten on the latter. If people are bored by it, I can only shrug. Didn’t bother me.

So what do I think of Death Magnetic eight years after its release? Honestly, I enjoyed revisiting it. It’s not an amazing album but it didn’t need to be. It just needed to show that Metallica can still kick ass, and they prove that on this album. They emerged five years after St. Anger to give fans what they wanted, and they did. You can really tell they put a lot of effort into this album to try and evoke that classic Metallica feel, and while it may feel a tad forced in some ways, I still appreciate it. This was never going to be as good as the old days, but for some reason people still sign them off because their new music isn’t as good, which you could pretty much say about most artists who have been around for 35 years. It’s just another classic case of going with the crowd and hating what’s cool to hate. As for me, I’m glad I listened to this album again because now I’m as excited as I’ve ever been for a new Metallica album.

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The Good Bits July 2016

Music:

Astralia, Atlas (Aloud Music)
Released: May 13th, 2014

astralia

As I’ve likely stated before, atmospheric instrumental post-rock is one of my favorite subgenres to throw on when I’m hunkering down to write. However, it’s not always easy to find a such band that ticks all the right boxes, and that’s usually less because of the band’s musical ability or style and more because my ears are just searching for a specific sound. Enter Astralia, who picked up the thread of my post-rock kick started by If These Trees Could Talk. Astralia nail the number one aspect of the genre that I look for: to be soothing and keep a loose grip on your attention, making them perfect for sitting down to focus or taking a long, scenic drive. Some bits can get a bit heavy like in “Io”, but the bulk of the music is full of calming texture (“Sans Soliel”). I know most of the rock music I like leans to the (really) heavy side of things, but Astralia are worth giving a listen the next time you want meaningful but not overly challenging music to keep you company at your desk or in your car.

 

Ben Prunty, Color Sky (Self-Released)
Released: December 8th, 2014

ben prunty

FTL is an excellent indie video game I have a tough time recommending to anyone who doesn’t like their space adventures mixed with endless bouts of rage. Luckily, you don’t have to play the game to experience the wonderful soundtrack provided by Ben Prunty. I racked up my play count for that album by letting it lull me to sleep every night for nearly a year. So I’m baffled at myself for not taking the time to look into Prunty’s other compositions until this past month when I sifted through his Bandcamp page and picked up Color Sky. Much of Prunty’s material is essentially video game music in the retro style of chiptunes, but that’s an egregious oversimplification on my part. The real pull of Prunty’s music is how it teases nostalgia but sounds fresh, how it creates an atmospheric world of sounds to lose yourself in but without aggressively seeking your attention. It’s not really where I can cherry pick a track for you to start with; just hit play on the opener “Dusty Road” and see for yourself why this guy is one of the best composers in the video game industry.

 

Earthside, A Dream In Static (Bushwhack LLC)
Released: October 23rd, 2015

earthside

Thanks to my weekly column over at Metal Insider, I’m usually pretty up-to-date in terms of new releases in music. So when I type up my yearly “Best of” posts, I have a wide array of albums to choose from. But I’m not aware of everything, and very often I’ll uncover some hidden gem from the previous yet that makes me consider revising my yearly top 10. Earthside’s A Dream In Static is one such album, full of fantastic compositions that succeed in delivering the band’s cinematic approach to songwriting. Prog metal fans will certainly enjoy it, but the addition of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra is was really seals the deal in the second track “Mob Mentality”. The group is instrumentally focused as they don’t sport a permanent vocalist, but certain tracks feature the talents of guests such as Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) and Lajon Witherspoon (Sevendust), all of whom provide fluid vocals that fit perfectly with the tone of the album.

 

Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop, Love Letter For Fire (Sub Pop)
Released: April 15, 2016

love letter for fire

I’ve listened to this a few times since it came out in April, but I was mostly fixed on one particular track, so I wanted to wait until I bought the album and listened to it a few times so I could comment on the album as a whole. Simply put, if you’re an Iron & Wine fan there’s no reason you won’t enjoy this album, especially if you’re a fan of his earlier work. This is very much stripped down compared to Beam’s newer material and usually just features his and Jesca Hoop’s gentle voices accompanied by acoustic guitar and/or piano. It’s a soothing, quiet listen sporting one of my new favorites from Beam: “Sailor To Siren”. If you give that song a listen and you like it, you’ll definitely enjoy the rest of the album as well.

 

 

Film:

Finding Dory (Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks)
Director: Andrew Stanton
Released: June 17th, 2016

FINDING_DORY_-_Key_Art

The Toy Story trilogy is fantastic, Monsters University was a fun prequel, and Cars 2 was…well, I’ve never seen either of the Cars movies so I’ll just take everyone’s word that it was a rare misfire for Pixar. So where does Finding Dory fall in Pixar’s esteemed pedigree? Honestly, I loved it as much as the original, maybe even a bit more. Visually, the movie dazzles, but that’s a given with Pixar nowadays. The story is nothing short of endearing, exploring Dory’s backstory and then allowing her to swim off on her own adventure with plenty of laughs and tear-jerker moments. The latter is particularly prevalent towards the end of the movie when you catch onto Pixar’s subtle portrayal of people (or fish) who are handicapped or disabled and having them make their own way through life.  And, of course, there are a few nods to the original movie, but they’re all quick and don’t feel shoehorned in at all. You’ll love it, I’m sure. Also, Becky is the best. Just so you know in advanced.

 

Stranger Than Fiction (Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal)
Director: Marc Foster
Released: November 10th 2006

stranger than fiction

I’ve had many instances of “Gasp! You’ve never seen *movie title* before?”, but usually the film is some bonafide classic, a cult favorite, or even an animated feature I ended up giving a miss in my childhood. But then my fianćee informed me of Stranger Than Fiction being one of her favorite movies, which initially had me scratching my head. I vaguely remember hearing about the movie some ten years ago, but never actually talked to anyone who’d seen it. So I sat down to watch and, sure enough, it really is a great under the radar film. The whole meta book writing plot is something I’ve always wanted to try and I loved how the worked it in here. You know how when some leading male comedians give drama a try it’s usually met with lukewarm results? Will Ferrell avoids that completely. The movie gets pretty dark and all the way through you can see the cloud of depression hanging over him. Maybe its mostly amazing compared to the guy he normally plays, but he still does a damn good job in such a human role. The rest of the cast is great too, especially Emma Thompson. If you missed out on this like I did, I highly recommend giving it a watch.

 

Books:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

hitchhiker's guide

It’s been a while since I sat down with a nice, quick read, and even longer since I read something specifically designed to give me a good laugh. There’s such a comfort to THGTTG that is hard to describe. Maybe its because the whole world ended in the blink of an eye and yet things still seemed to turn out okay. Not perfect, but okay. Space is fucking cool and the idea that such a small book can make you consider the wonders of the universe (not unlike Monty Python’s “Galaxy Song”) while still retaining fantastic lunacy is nothing short of genius. I know I’m late to the party, but I’m eager to continue it in Adam’s further sequels.

 

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeer

Whereas the above book was a short, humorous read, the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy is a short, horrific read. Imagine if Lovecraft wrote The Hunger Games. That’s the best basic description I can give, but you’ll discover it’s much more than that when you experience it. We follow the account of woman only known as the biologist, part of a four member expedition team sent to investigate Area X, an overgrown abandoned area the Sourthern Reach agency wants to research and possibly reclaim. Of course, it’s not as simple as that, and when things start going downhill (as they so often do) our narrator slow begins to peel away layer after layer of mystery and misinformation. It’s a slow burn kind of horror where you’ll be endlessly fascinated the Area X’s many mysteries as well as the biologist’s character. And when you reach the ominous ending, you’ll be both relieved and trepidatious that there are two more books.

 

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

The_Girl_with_All_the_Gifts

So, zombies. They experienced a resurgence of popularity some ten years ago and they’re still popping up everywhere, so naturally most people are bored of them. So if you’re trying to come up with a story involving zombies, you really have to strike gold on a premise that draws in the reader while also following the unwritten rule that we can’t call zombies zombies anymore (see also: walkers, creepers, etc.). Luckily, M.R. Carey gives us a glimpse into a world seldom explored: zombie children. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Melanie, the main character of The Girl With All The Gifts, is a ten-year-old zombie (called “hungries” in this iteration) child. Yet, she’s capable of coherent thought, speech, and high intellect. How’s this possible? That’s something her captors are working hard to find out. This is a great story with great characters that focuses on the line between human and monster, a line that is often blurred when you’re living in a zombie apocalypse.

 

Currently Reading:

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

words of radiance

I read the first book of Sanderson’s ongoing The Stormlight Archives series a year ago. Now I’m finally jumping into the massive second volume. I’ll probably be on this one a while, and I’m so okay with that.

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