Metallica doesn't have to say anything new. These guys could just shit out another bit of ashtray repulsion as they did with St. Anger and the metal world will still be in an uproar, both negative and positive. They certainly deserve the brouhaha, but you simply can't ignore how humdrum their sound and energy have become. Still, even as their albums have grown more drab and listless, they manage to sell millions. The considerably uninteresting St. Anger managed to land at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, after all. No, they're almost guaranteed luxury paychecks based solely on the fact that the name "Metallica" is on the cover. So don't look to Death Magnetic as another "back-to-form" reprieve. If Metallica has taught us anything in this decade, it's that they're simply not capable of that. It's been — what? — 22 years since they've had anything decidedly fierce or original to say. Death Magnetic is just another pedestrian thrash metal album from this band.
That would probably be OK, even to the non-fan, if it weren't so chock-full of stodgy riffs, presenting a boring atmosphere that chokes all excitement from its tracks. It's angry, sure — but also empty. Furious, fast ... but fucking tedious. Nine-minute songs can work wonders when they're a joy to hear. Otherwise, it's just arduous and mind-numbing. "The Unforgiven III" is the one track that sets things up nicely with its lonely piano and soft strings. But it soon falls into the same traps of sapped repetition. The individual band members don't merit any praise (or condemnation) for their instrumental work this time out, since they all contribute equally, more or less, to the album's unrewarding sound.
Multiple listens just keep revealing Death Magnetic's layers of stale songwriting and long workouts that lead nowhere. After hearing it, you'll wonder if you should just file it away with the rest of the diluted metal released in recent years. If so, it can go right next to the last five Metallica albums.
Kent Alexander writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.