It's great to hear guitarist Kirk Hammett soloing again, and Lars Ulrich pounding a kit that sounds like drums instead of trash-can lids. And hey, James Hetfield's voice has ceased to crack (he's still no crooner, of course). Not to mention those riffs! The 10 long songs that make up Death Magnetic are all about Metallica playing to its strengths — not only returning to its thrash-metal roots, but also infusing that classic, staccato sound with the boogie-rock roar the band explored on Load and ReLoad. The only reminders of the self-loathing, noise-besotted group that created St. Anger are the lyrics, which remain more introspective and melancholy than those of the raging, mythic early years. But when the music is as furious as album-opening volley "That Was Just Your Life," "The End of the Line," and "Broken, Beat and Scarred," it's hard to care what Hetfield is yelling about.

Bassist Rob Trujillo, formerly of Suicidal Tendencies and Ozzy Osbourne's road band, gives Metallica a thicker bottom end than it's had in years. He also locks in with Ulrich, who plays with punk abandon. Aside from the piano and strings on "The Unforgiven III," Death Magnetic is the sound of four men playing very loud, very heavy metal — kudos to Rick Rubin for that, and for bringing this band back to life. In 2008, Metallica shows it's confident, powerful, and ready to retake metal's throne.

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Phil Freeman
Contact: Phil Freeman