Metallica: Beyond Magnetic EP – Music Review
By Eric Stuckart
After releasing Lulu to the poor reception that it’s gotten from pretty much everyone, it’s hard to not look at this release — a collection of B-sides that didn’t make the cut for their 2008 return-to-roots album Death Magnetic — as a very calculated and perfectly-timed bit of damage control. However, considering the quality of these songs, it’s a great way to make up for their less-celebrated endeavors last month.
With four songs clocking in around a half hour, they fall into the same sprawling, lengthy vein that most of Death Magnetic fell into, but after a few listens, it’s not hard to see why they didn’t fit in on that album. From a structural standpoint, these songs are a little more expansive in their scope than the whole of DM, toying with different textures, riffs that don’t really fall into Metallica’s typical style, and clean breaks that hint at a bit of progression in the songwriting that wasn’t so present in the final product.
While that doesn’t mean that Metallica is going all proggy on us now, it just shows signs of the type of experimentation from the band that hasn’t really been present in their music in quite some time. Whereas the songs of Death Magnetic were more about sticking to a very formulaic, longwinded path peppered with the expected solos, Beyond Magnetic shows the band utilizing a different approach.
“Hate Train,” while being a little cheesy at points in the lyrics, takes a riff that’s basically a beefed up version of “Fuel” and marries it to a clean melodic chorus that sounds plucked from one of Load or Reload’s more melodramatic songs, and then spliced with a heavy helping of thrashing out throughout, complete with a pseudo breakdown riff towards the song’s climax. “Just a Bullet Away,” on the other hand, features spiraling riffs during the choruses that pair up nicely with James Hetfield’s lyrics about voices in his head. Eventually, the song gives way to an unexpected silent break, only to return with a somber instrumental section bringing back memories of the Metallica that once was.
Granted, these songs are still very much in line with the style that the album sessions that birthed them, but it shows what could very well amount to a new era for the band that I think most fans would welcome in a heartbeat. By combining some of their more adventurous past elements into the structure and melodicism of their more recent material, they could be onto something much more interesting than Death Magnetic. It shows the band taking the kind of risks with their songwriting that we want to hear from them, not the kind that results in more disappointment. The only drawback to the whole project is the rough nature of the EP. As we were warned, these songs are raw and unpolished, so don’t expect to hear the greatest mixing or clarity. Then again, it still sounds better than the horrendously clipped Death Magnetic and generally garbage tone of St. Anger.
I think it’s obvious that Metallica are never going to record Master of Puppets: Part II, so this probably isn’t going to convert anyone that’s given up on the band already, but it’s probably their strongest work in a long time, and it kind of makes me wish that Death Magnetic sounded more like this than the way it ended up, but I think they felt that they had to prove to their fans that they could still rock out and play, so they did what they felt was right. Either way, it’s a good collection of songs that hopefully point to things in the future. Ultimately, as a Metallica fan, I know it’s not good form to be so optimistic about their musical endeavors, but damn it if Beyond Magnetic doesn’t make me think that I can look forward to new material from the band without fearing for the worst. We all can dream, can’t we? Even if James Hetfield is the table.
Front page image from guardian.co.uk, interior photo from f1rocks.com.