Metallica just doesn’t understand how to stay in our good graces.
By most accounts, 2008’s Death Magnetic was a very long-awaited return to form for the Biggest Metal Band in the World. The production was a mess and it was only about half thrash, but it was the best thing they’d written in ages and revealed that they still had good – sometimes great – songs left in the tank. A very successful tour featuring killer setlist choices and (gasp) real metal opening bands redeemed them about as much as they could hope with the community that built their popularity.
Then they go and drop Lulu. Enough has been written about that debacle that all I can add is that I’m still perplexed over the thought processes that must have gone into that decision. Regardless, it makes it quite difficult to view Beyond Magnetic as anything but a peace offering. Comprised of four unreleased songs from the Death Magnetic sessions, this cheapo EP is cut from the same cloth, mainly the half-thrash-but-groovin’ material that they seem to have found late career comfort with. The problem? These are clearly the leftovers, and only half of this EP competes with the worst material on the full-length.
The faults of Death Magnetic are even more exposed within Beyond. First, there is a serious issue with self-editing. There was no reason for a straight rocker devoid of any epic tones (“Just a Bullet Away”) to be given a soft bridge just to extend it to over seven minutes. If anything it makes those embarrassing lyrics (“suck on the barrel / suck on the barrel / suck, suck till it’s dry!”) that much more puzzling. Second, too many attempts to expand songs into more progressive terrain also put a bigger burden on Lars Ulrich, who does nothing but deter with his have-eighth-notes-will-lumber drumming technique. Furthermore, the production still honks. The mastering isn’t as monumentally fucked as it was for the full length (the “clipping” is gone), but the overall sound is dry and plastic with zero depth.
In spite of the glaring faults, opener “Hate Train” and closer “Rebel of Babylon” still manage to create some memorable quality. The latter is also the closest thing to an extended Metallica epic that the band has written since the 80s, offering a nice balance of hard-hitting thrash, thick grooves, and an incredibly memorable chorus. It almost singlehandedly justifies the five-buckaroo price tag that the band put on this thing, but considering how quickly this is destined to show up in used bins for even less, wait for that if you must buy it.
Still, even these tracks fail to approach the likes of “Broken, Beat, and Scarred,” “Cyanide,” or “The End of the Line,” and the other two are either forgettable (“Hell and Back”) or cringe-worthy. (Hey, James Hetfield, don’t tell me to suck on things.) Even with the well-intentioned price tag, Beyond Magnetic is barely necessary for all but the Death Magnetic-obsessed. If there is one success here, it is proof that Metallica edited their 2008 album mostly correctly (mostly). There is some superficial enjoyment to be found, but that doesn’t make this EP particularly good.