Review: Metallica - Beyond Magnetic

 Happy new year! It's good to be back, my friends and supposedly real fanbase. I hope you all had a wonderful christmas and have had an awesome 2012 so far. I know I have. My year started off unconventionally with five days of skiing in Valliore in France. Skiing has never really been one of my most skilled pastimes nor has it ever really been a pastime of mine but the feeling of liberation and intensity felt when speeding along the french mountains, not giving a care in the world is unreal and the amount of fun times I had with my amazing friends is something I'll never forget. So already 2012 is shaping up to be what will be remembered as a good year. Apart from that, since leaving everyone I've been pretty much immersed in rock and metal as ever, taking my time to check out more classic albums I'd never had the chance to hear and going more in depth into the void of lesser known groups and of course trying to get my hands on all the albums that made it on my Top 50 Albums of 2011 list. And I've heard some awesome stuff. It gives me a great sense of optimism for 2012 and the hopefully endless amount of reviewing I'll have to do.

 Before we can do any of that, let's have a look at some of the more major releases from the end of last year that I couldn't manage to focus on due to my massive end of year post. And since 2012 is supposed to be the year which will end in the apocalypse, who better to start it off with than the four horsemen themselves, Metallica? In December, the group released the EP Beyond Magnetic unto the world, a collection of songs that never made it onto 2008's Death Magnetic, an album that saw them finally return to thrash metal after venturing into blues rock territory for Load and ReLoad and the honestly-not-that-bad St Anger which everyone hated the guts of. Though the reaction to Death Magnetic was pretty positive, the cynics did make the point that they saw the return to thrash as a cop-out from Metallica to make up for the amount of love lost following St Anger. I can't be too sure as to whether I could agree with such a claim for Death Magnetic but as such speculations return for Beyond Magnetic, with it being released only two months after the genuinely horrendous and mentally scarring Lulu, their collaborative album with Lou Reed, it's hard to disagree with such cynical views of the group trying to gather back those who were pissed off with their latest musical venture.
 But this isn't really an issue to fret over at this moment. If you enjoyed Death Magnetic, you are pretty much in for a treat with this EP with the songs having the same thrash and soul filled sound that fueled 2008's effort with opener Hate Train hurtling listeners into an energetic thrash bruiser which captures a snapshot of traditional Metallica mixed with the opinion dividing 90s material ideal better than many songs from the actual album. Maybe it's because the EP contains only rough mixes of the songs and thus lacking the kind of production problems that many complained about on Death Magnetic. Either way, the track captures the band nailing this combination of styles effortlessly with furious riffing from James Hetfield and rapid bursts of lead guitar picking from Kirk Hammet. (I really want to use "frantic" as a description here, but associating Frantic with Kirk Hammet's lead guitar skills would mean we wouldn't hear any lead guitar. It's a St Anger "joke".)
 Even on a four track EP, the group manage to capture an array of emotion on Beyond Magnetic, such as the brooding and sinister atmosphere created throughout Hell and Back sounding like a more awesome version of the material of the Load albums before smoothly riding into a pounding adrenaline infused bridge. Meanwhile Just a Bullet Away and Rebel of Babylon are that bit more melancholic and vengeful on their outlooks which puts that extra depth and emotional heaviness into the delivery of the songs. It allows for more slow paced sections in the songs, which I enjoy on the latest Metallica material because there always seems to be something of a stoner/doom metal influence, the most violent type of slow music.
 So, this EP teaches us a collection of things. It shows Metallica are still very much strong in making very pure and raw heavy metal, the EP's release thankfully shows that they aren't going to fall into the nightmarish realms of a full time career in Avant-Garde music and it shows that sometimes the best music can be hidden away. As I say, these songs are better than many Death Magnetic tracks and if Metallica can stay like this for now, then we have no reason to lose faith in the Bay Arena quartet just yet. ROARF 2012 is officially off to a good start!

 Metallica's Beyond Magnetic is out now via Warner Bros. The band will headline the Download Festival at Donnington Park on the 9th of June.