Metallica desperately wants Death Magnetic to be the offspring of …And Justice for All and Metallica that fans have been screaming for since the band’s sound took a left turn at Load. Unfortunately, the finished product doesn’t reflect the premise, as the Metallica of 2008 isn’t a sturdy enough platform to carry that weight. Metallica’s two pillars aren’t what they once were—James Hetfield’s voice, once the verbal equivalent of a finely tuned Harley, has been reduced to the angry, tinny whine of a Honda dirt bike, and Kirk Hammett’s signature fusion of thrash and blues guitar has been traded in for a phoned-in retrofit of his earlier work.
While Death Magnetic does successfully strip away Metallica’s latter-day evolutions, the focus group that convinced them to release an ill-advised back-to-basics album forgot to remind them to not simply plagiarize their early works. Can you live in a world that dubs thee unforgiven for a third time? Does a rehash of “One” for the support-our-troops generation—with an intro that would sound better on a Bon Jovi album, even—appeal to you? If so, then Death Magnetic’s high points, such as they are, are for you. If not, it might be better to remember Metallica for what they were than to hear them try to do it again.