Friday, September 26, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Metallica have never been satisfied with being the band the public wanted them to be.
While their 1991 self-titled album made them into superstars, they spent a majority of the 90s trying to distance themselves from their 80s output.
1996’s Load and it’s sister album RELoad found the Four Horsemen flirting with bluesy overtones that sharply contrasted their thrash roots. In addition, they released a covers collection, had a live bout with the San Francisco Symphony, and attempted to cleanse their inner demons with 2003’s critically dismissed St. Anger.
So, what does one make of Death Magnetic, an album that was promised to be a return to their 80s roots as well as their first with bassist Robert Trujillo?
Well for one, it’s an album that is focused, lean, and incredibly baroque. While producer Rick Rubin encouraged the band to capture the energy they had during the making of 1986’s Master Puppets, Death Magnetic seems to draw more from their 1988 album …And Justice For All, with its progressive leanings and constantly shifting melodies.
Guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett trade off staccato and crunchy riffs that stutter and stop on a dime, infusing them with dual harmonies and frantic urgency. The album’s opening track “That Was Just Your Life” explodes with thick lumbering riffs and hard-hitting drums from Lars Ulrich, all capped by a blistering solo from Hammett.
For 40 year old men, they’re playing like they’re 20.
Death Magnetic revels in arrangements that average around the seven-minute mark, compositions that twist and turn with effortless ease and precision. Metallica throw in chugging breaking downs and rapid time changes that don’t feel rushed or pasted; as if they’ve rediscovered their love for the complex song craft that marked their earlier works.
And this newfound youthfulness can be attributed two key factors: the addition of Trujillo to the fold and Hetfield’s returned confidence.
Trujillo’s perhaps best known for his work with the Suicidal Tendencies, but he brings that punk energy to Death Magnetic in truckloads. Tracks like “The End Of The Line” successfully showcase Trujillo’s ear for dynamics as well as how powerful his mammoth bass is. He locks in, with a sense head-banging grooves and smooth delivery, adding fullness Metallica’s sound.
Elsewhere, Hetfield has begun to mine what made his 80s lyrics so powerful. After coming across as desperate and neurotic on St. Anger, Hetfield’s growl returns with anger and authority. While he’s always had one of the most dominate voices in heavy metal, he seems comfortable for the first time here since Metallica’s self-titled album, and that presence really ties these songs together.
Lyrically, Hetfield laments on death and decay on Death Magnetic and the images he conjures up are incredibly visceral, while avoiding macabre clichés. On “Cyanide,” Hetfield presents us with such striking images as, “A narrow freshly broken ground/A concrete angel laid right down/Upon the moon that swallows fast/It’s peace at last…”
It’s refreshing, after the communal lyrical input that marked St. Anger, that Hetfield has finally settled into a comfort zone with his writing.
“The Judas Kiss” expertly features Hetfield’s sinister swagger with lines such as, “Bow down!/Sell your soul to me!/I will set you free!/Pacify your demons!” Against an onslaught of Iron Maiden-inspired guitar lines and dissonant starts and stops, “The Judas Kiss” builds into an eerie blend of wah-soaked atmospherics and deep drumming.
And unlike the raw and caustic production on St. Anger, Rubin has kept things bone dry on Death Magnetic without sacrificing warmth. Trujillo’s bass rumbles. Hammett’s guitar sears, and Ulrich’s drums are commanding. The venomous “Cyanide” illustrates this best, with movements that effectively showcase clean guitar tones, but are juxtaposed with dirty riffs, booming bass, and rolling drum lines.
But for all this talk of returning to their roots, Metallica hasn’t forsaken what made their music compelling in the 90s. “The Day That Never Comes” revisits their exploration texture and dynamics with shimmering leads and a massive chorus, before it launches into a mess of punk riffing and fluid arpeggios.
The band also reexamines “The Unforgiven” with “The Unforgiven III,” channeling bludgeoning blues riffs alongside Ennio Morricone influenced strings. The result is something more than a mere sequel, but a track that evokes a sense isolation and self-reflection as it slowly culminates into fiery Hammett solo.
Yet this aspect of self-reflection is why Death Magnetic succeeds.
Metallica have finally begun to be comfortable with who they are as musicians as well as their legacy. These songs don’t just represent music that comes easily to them or a regression, but represents a synthesis of what they excelled at in the 80s as well as what they’ve learned from their experimentation in the 90s.
The album’s third track, “Broken, Beat & Scarred” exemplifies this philosophy for Metallica. A staggering six minutes and 26 seconds of fluid double bass drumming, snarling bass, and an avalanche of sharp guitar lines; it features Hetfield’s gruff vocals as he shouts, “You rise/You fall/You’re down and you rise again/What don’t kill ya/Make ya more strong!”
And with an album like Death Magnetic, it seems Metallica will be going strong for a very long time.
Sounds Like: Rust In Peace (Megadeth), …And Justice For All (Metallica), Core (Stone Temple Pilots)
Key Cuts: That Was Just Your Life, Broken Beat & Scarred, Cyanide
Click the artwork to sample some of Death Magnetic for yourself!
Author's Note: This review appears in a recent issue of the Sonoma State Star. As this is the author's own writing and this is his own blog, in addition to holding the position of A&E Editor for the Sonoma State Star, he posts it here with express consent of himself. Duh.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
With the onset of iPods and iTunes accounts becoming common place in the 2000s, it feels like there’s a disturbing trend of fewer and fewer bands pushing the sonic envelop. You know the bands I’m talking about, the ones that make you rethink how you look at an album rather than a single, the bands that took radical risks to explore soundscapes and musical tension rather than the next Top 40 hit.
It seems like they’ve gone the way of the dinosaurs, unable to coexist or compete in this musical landscape of Soulja Boys and Panic(!) At The Discos. And so far, the 2000s have yet to yield an album that’s as revolutionary as an Adore or a Kid A.
Yet at a time where most bands make music that’s an easily digestible pile of hooks and slick synthesizers, Bloc Party has decided to remind everyone that there are still artists out there trying to make substantive and sonically dense albums.
Taking a page out of Radiohead’s playbook, the British four piece digitally released their third album, Intimacy, on Aug. 21., a mere few days after the final mixing and mastering was completed. While the physical release slated for Oct. 27. promises fans additional tracks, the 10 songs on Intimacy’s digital release represent a band fascinated with combining abrasive white noise clattering alongside dense dance beats and majestic atmospherics.
The album’s opening track, “Ares,” successfully illustrates how baroque and meticulously crafted Bloc Party has made Intimacy. Making liberal use of Russel Lissack’s guitar turned air-raid siren, the band launches into a chunky and stuttering number that marries everything from messy static splatterings, to thick and powerful drums. The track climbs and falls with grace and ferocity, as front man Kele Okereke’s full voice barely holds the chaos together.
As a whole, Intimacy reveals a vastly different Bloc Party than the public might be ready for, a band that focuses on tension and competing sounds rather than attempting to rehash the spikey post-punk of 2005’s Silent Alarm or the expansive ambiance of 2007’s A Weekend In The City.
But for as abrasive as some of these songs are, there is a sensual and sexual tension to much of this album.
The grimy break beats, buzzing keyboards, and sliding horns found on “Mercury” bring that tension into a downright danceable, din. And while Okereke has stated that much of Intimacy’s lyrics deal with a painful break up he endured at the end of 2007, songs like “Mercury” might actually push listeners into clubs and discos rather than onto a bottle of their favorite bourbon.
Elsewhere, “Zephyrus” begins with Okereke’s voice copiously layered against bleak thumping beats and velvet strings, all before erupting in gothic tinged backing vocals. Part Danny Elfman score, part dancehall anthem, the track soars with a cinematic quality while Okereke laments, “Backwards, forwards but making no ground at all/Standing in the city with the clocks counting words/And your face is still wet from the night before/As your tears hit the ground blue flowers spring from them.”
But make no mistake, Bloc Party have not crafted a straight dance album. In fact, Intimacy’s strength relies on how seamless the band is able to mesh their electronic leanings with their off-kilter riffs and relentless rhythms. “Trojan Horse’s” fuzzy and digitally laced overdrive plugs away relentlessly, with drummer Matt Tong’s avalanche of rolls and fills providing busy back beats.
“Biko” begins with sparse open notes as it slowly builds alongside syrupy guitar tones and skittering break beats while Okereke morosely sings, “Was my love not strong enough?/To bring you back from the dead/If I could I would eat your cancer/But I can’t.” The whole song concludes with choppy digital trickery as Okereke’s wail fades wistfully into the distance.
Producers Jacknife Lee and Paul Epworth seem to have really focused and pushed Bloc Party to a point where they feel they can truly tackle any arrangement.
The album’s opus is the ethereal “Signs,” a sparse number merely held together by a plethora of chimes and sweeping strings. There’s a soaring quality to it, with Okereke channeling his smoothest register for largest effect as he sings, “I see signs now all the time/That you’re not dead, you’re sleeping…” Nimble keyboards crop here and there, but the sparkling quality of “Signs” illustrates how Bloc Party has managed to experiment in a sonically courageous way while still retaining their signature song craft.
In the end, this is probably why Intimacy succeeds; Bloc Party didn’t need to write this record.
Fans would have been fine if they made another Silent Alarm because of it’s accessibility and it’s deft hooks, but instead they opted to create a sonically diverse record in the name of growth.
They’ve channeled bands like Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, and U2, choosing to create an album of songs that would mean more to them and their craft rather than trying to top themselves with something that would yield huge sales.
And that brings us intimately closer to a set of serious musicians.
Sounds Like: A Weekend In The City (Bloc Party), Adore (The Smashing Pumpkins), Achtung Baby (U2)
Key Cuts: Biko, Signs, Zephyrus
Click the artwork to sample some of Intimacy for yourself!
Author's Note: This review appears in a recent issue of the