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5 Years Ago: Metallica’s ‘Death Magnetic’ Released

Warner Bros.

It’s now been five years since 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 concerted rebirth was — who else?– the career doctor himself, 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.

And, true to his well established modus operandi, Rubin put his latest millionaire clients through the paces of his personal twelve-step program, including “steps” like forcing them 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 ten new songs, stripped of all funny business and overflowing, instead, with virtually inexhaustible reserves of monster riffs, familiarly tenebrous lyrical themes, and even guitar solos!

Yes, for although ‘Death Magnetic’ represented Hetfield and 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 (almost literally) 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.

Next: Rock's Most Overdue Albums

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