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Lars Ulrich Tag

There are several degrees of expectation, but the key ones are low expectation, high expectation, and original Metallica fans. You’re aware of the first two, I’m sure, but number three may be a mystery to you, and for good reason, as satisfaction requires nothing less than a wormhole in time, a crate of Jagermeister, and just maybe the reanimated dead. Intrigued?

Friday marks the release of Metallica’s latest, Death Magnetic, and already the fists are flying. Some are claiming it’s a return to the sound somewhere between … And Justice for All (1988) and the eponymous “Black Album” (1991), and they’re not too far off. Balancing between the hard rock Metallica’s been working for the past decade and the guitar-solo heavy thrash of their earlier benchmarks, Death Magnetic is a study in compromises. Yes, it was produced by Rick Rubin, who made his early mark producing Slayer. (He’s also produced Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.) Yes, it has that dry, reverb-adverse sound that dogged Metallica’s previous album, St. Anger (2003). Yes, guitarist Kirk Hammett gets to wail again. No, this is not Master of Puppets II.

That last bit is key — after having been promised and teased that those young and angry lunatics had returned, we have the album you would expect to have followed the previous ones. Robert Trujillo is a fine bass player, but, to paraphrase Chevy Chase, Cliff Burton is still dead. Thank you and have a pleasant tomorrow.

This is where the divide becomes clear: those who appreciated “The Black Album” will find much to like about the new one, and not unintentionally. There’s a reason why the dominant graphic tone on the cover is a stark, blinding white and why we’re now up to “The Unforgiven III.” But to those who thought of “The Black Album” as some kind of heresy, this is another injustice (pardon the pun).