One of the many highlights of Metallica’s historic 30th anniversary shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco was when the band debuted four songs that had been recorded during the ‘Death Magnetic’ sessions but ultimately not included on the album. Almost immediately following those intimate, fan club only shows, the band released those four tracks through iTunes in North America. I’m wondering if this digital EP was a strategic plan to win back everyone (and it seemed to be pretty much everyone) who lost faith in Metallica after their bizarre collaboration with Lou Reed, which resulted in ‘Lulu’ (read my review here). Whatever the reason, it worked, because ‘Beyond Magnetic’ is easily worth the measly $3.99 price tag.
These songs possess rough, unfinished mixes because they never got beyond the mixing stage in March of 2008. It is therefore a huge discredit to the overly compressed and distorted ‘Death Magnetic’ that these “rough mixes” sound as good, if not better, than the songs on the finished product. For some reason known only to them, Metallica has insisted that its 21st century output sound like crap. ‘Death Magnetic’ and its predecessor, the much-reviled ‘St. Anger,’ are two of the worst-sounding high profile albums of the last decade.
All of these “new” songs have the ‘Death Magnetic’ feel to them: long, complex, meandering epics with some of the best and crunchiest riffs guitarist James Hetfield’s produced since Metallica’s eponymous 1991 album. Each song is better than the one before it. Coincidentally, the tracklisting order mirrors the succession in which the songs were played during last week’s four-night 30th anniversary celebration at the Fillmore.
The first track, “Hate Train,” was not included on ‘Death Magnetic’ for good reason: the main riff is very similar to the superior “The Judas Kiss,” and the end of the song sounds a lot like a sped up version of “Fuel.” Despite a vintage Kirk Hammett solo, this track functions better as an example of how a band constructs a great song out of pieces and parts of other songs from the same recording sessions.
“Just a Bullet Away” is another chunky, meat and potatoes slab of metal, but at the four-minute mark, the song goes off in a totally different, mellower direction. Indeed, the mid-song style change is very reminiscent of “Master of Puppets.” It doesn’t take long until the song gets heavy again, with Hammett expertly intertwining his solo into the chugging rhythm section. This is a great song, as good as many of the tracks on ‘Death Magnetic.’
“Hell and Back” features another heavy duty Hetfield riff. Whatever criticisms you might have of Metallica, it cannot be denied that Hetfield is one of the all-time very best riff masters, rivaling even the mighty Tony Iommi. Hammett is also one of the great lead guitarists in rock too, throwing out solo after solo, and this song is no exception. Overall, “Hell and Back” has the same heavy, crunchy tempo that the previous song has.
The best song on the EP, “Rebel of Babylon,” is also the fastest. Lyrically it’s either about a junkie or Jesus Christ, or maybe both. This track definitely should’ve been on ‘Death Magnetic,’ as it’s better than many of the songs that made the final cut. For sure, they could’ve substituted this for “The Day That Never Comes” or “The Unforgiven III.” “Rebel of Babylon” is the kind of Metallica thrashfest that many old school fans have been sorely missing. Only “All Nightmare Long” and “My Apocalypse” from ‘Death Magnetic’ are as fast as this track.
For those of you who still have a bad taste in your mouth from last month’s ‘Lulu’, this EP will make a very cool Christmas gift, as well as a needed reminder that Metallica can is still a metal band.