December 17, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
A) An apology for Loutallica and ‘Lulu’?
B) A present for the fans coincide with the recent 30th anniversary concerts?
C) Cash in?
[NOTE: Far too much ink & megabytes have been dedicated to ‘Lulu’ already, so mentioning it shall be avoided where possible]
‘Death Magnetic’ was an interesting album. Interesting in that it despite all songs being fairly decent and lasting a marathon 70 minutes, absolutely nothing of that album stuck. I can’t recite you a line or air guitar you a note. Yet forgettable as it was, it sold something like 400,000 copes in a week, was received like the messiah when it was definitely just a naughty boy.
‘Beyond Magnet’ is a four track EP, given as a gift to the patrons of the Metalli-club (Who still has fanclubs these days?) and available as a download to us peons. Is it good? Fairly, yes. Is it overlong? Of course. But Metallica have become a band so professional they write solid yet unspectacular songs in their sleep.
As these never made it onto the finished product they sound a lot more raw, and the benefit from not being as polished as DM. Quite why the biggest Metal band in the world suffer with sound difficulties on albums is a mystery.Stylistically there’s a few more ideas than most of the songs on DM featured. ‘Just A Bullet Away’ has snippets that remind of both ‘…And Justice For All’ and the black album, then left turns into a clean instrumental sections that scream early Mastodon. The slow opener on ‘Rebel Of Babylon’ makes way for a pure thrash riff and a rocky Diamond Head inspired chorus.
Lyrically ‘Beyond…’ is above the likes of “I AM THE TABLE!” and settles back nicely into the mindset of Hetfield’s psyche. Dying young, heroin, hating things, religious metaphors, digging graves with dirty spoons, it ticks all the boxes of Metallica lyrical themes. His vocals haven’t really changed in the last twenty years and he does another really good job here,
There are plenty of Metal bands around today who can create songs that are so long and intricate yet still exciting and interesting; Opeth, Mastodon, even Machine Head. Metallica stopped being that band 20 years ago (Garage Inc. doesn’t count). It’s a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless. ‘Hell & Back’ is the only song that feels fully formed; There’s a real loud/quiet dynamic that adds a bit of a sinister feel. Coincidence the most coherent track here is the shortest?It also features some nice solo work from Kirk Hammet, he’s on fine form throughout the EP and this is some of his best work since the black album.
Much like DM, most of the tracks here could’ve done with being about a 1/3 shorter. While these may be demos, they sound pretty finished to me, and surely at some point producer Rick Rubin heard these and didn’t think to say, ‘These are good, but trim the edges guys.’ There’s too much fat between the decent passages to really settle in and enjoy the songs without getting fatigue. ‘Hate Train’ starts well and is very reminiscent of ‘Fuel’, then suffers from a clumsy verse, but the bridge and chorus perk the interest back up. It’s annoying when you start to get into a song then just muffs it ups for a few minutes.
What would’ve been a nice treat would have been to throw in their cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘Remember Tomorrow‘ (Originally released by Kerrang back in 2008) a decent number that, as far as I am aware, hasn’t been released since. But that’s just me.
Quality-wise ‘Beyond Magnetic’ sits on pretty much equal footing with its parent album. It’s listenable, with the quality phasing in and out depending on which of the 30 minutes these four tracks gobble up (which is still shorter than ‘Death Magnetic’). Would the world be any different if ‘Hell & Back’ and ‘Rebel Of Babylon’ had replaced ‘Judas Kiss’ and ‘My Apocalypse’? Not at all.
Trying to see the best in people, I think this is B, a nice present for the fans, with a slight hint of cash in. Metallica, while they admit some of the stuff they’ve done is shite, have never apologised. Either way, this will be lapped up by fans and critics, and in truth it’s good to see a band that’s just celebrated 30 years together still brimming with ideas. Even if sometimes the tap needs turning off. What happens for the next album is anyone’s guess.