Bob Mulhouse of The Quietus was one of a number of UK-based heavy rock writers who were given a preview of six tracks from the upcoming METALLICA album. The listening session took place on Wednesday (June 4) in London, with representatives from Rock Sound, Kerrang! and Metal Hammer also present. Mulhouse wrote, "It was with some trepidation . . . that I attended the playback of METALLICA's new album at the HQ of Universal, their UK record company. We were permitted to hear six of the 10 tracks which will ultimately appear on the album which, a rep from the Q-Prime management company informed us, is referred to colloquially by METALLICA as 'nine epics and one song'. The sense of occasion was reinforced by the presence of almost the entire editorial teams of the UK's two biggest metal magazines, glaring at each other over the tea urn.
"Right from the off, it's a relief to hear that the utterly awful production of 'St. Anger' is no more. [Lars] Ulrich has replaced the old dustbin lid from that album with an actual snare drum, and the sound is fresh, clean and resonant (even though the songs are still only rough mixes at this stage). The first song, like the rest of the 'epics,' is between six and eight minutes long and begins with a bass intro from low-ender extraordinaire Robert Trujillo. Moving rapidly from riff to riff, the song bursts with energy and ideas: singer and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield barks 'Luck runs out!' repeatedly and throws in some twisty, semi-progressive riffs which could have been lifted directly from, their last truly good album, 1988's 'And Justice For All'. Guitarist Kirk Hammett, who was banned from soloing on 'St. Anguish' for no adequately explored reason, is on fire, whipping out the melodic, rapid-fire shreds for which he is famous over an extended solo section almost as if he's making up for lost time. This is METALLICA's best song in ages, perhaps since the 1980s.
"The next song has a working title of 'Flamingo' and is going to be the first single. Now, METALLICA's lead singles have been breathtakingly crap since 1995, so it was a relief to hear that 'Flamingo' (as it almost definitely will not be called) is a modernised take on their amazing 1988 song 'One', all balladry at its front end before a speeded-up metalstorm at the back. Hetfield delivers a clean-picked intro which reminded me of the BEACH BOYS (I know but I only got to hear it once, all right?) before the body of the song, which is basically like 'The Unforgiven' from 1991's 'Black Album'. If you're familiar with the chord progression behind the solo in 'Am I Evil?', the ancient DIAMOND HEAD song which METALLICA made their own, you'll be able to picture the under-solo riffage in this song all simple, effective major-interval jumps.
"However, let us not forget that this is modern METALLICA and the next two songs are much less fun. The first, which may be called 'We Die Hard' judging by the frequency with which Hetfield barks the phrase, starts boringly but accelerates halfway through and enters slightly proggy territory, all stop-start riff stabs and a clever time signature. The next song is very 'And Justice', a lengthy, unhurried workout which revolves around the line 'Bow down / Sell your soul to me / I will set you free,' itself a 1988 line if I ever heard one. Apart from dexterous soloing from Hammett, it's not great.
"So far, we've had two good songs and two dull ones not a bad track record for new 'TALLICA, believe me. However, track five is tedious, a combination of the aimless riffery of 'St. Anger' and the pointless rock chorusing of 'Load', the album which almost finished METALLICA in 1996. 'Crying, weeping, shedding strife!' sings Hetfield in that slick 'Enter Sandman' manner, over an unthreatening clean midsection which would (and no doubt will) suit VH1 down to the ground.
"At this point the Q-Prime geezer asks us if we want to hear more, and fortunately we say yes because the final song (and indeed, it is 'The Song', the little guy among the nine epics) is great, a genuine slice of thrash metal that starts fast and stays that way. Like a slower, less precise 'Battery' (the opening track of 1986's flawless 'Master Of Puppets' album), the song nips in and out, not outstaying its welcome and proving that on some level, METALLICA still have the necessary vitriol to impress their older fans. OK, it reminded me a bit of 'Dyer's Eve', the last song on 'Justice', which had a kind of 'I suppose we'd better do a fast one for the fans' feel about it but in 2008, Hetfield and Ulrich delivering any form of thrash metal is not to be sneered at.
"We file out of the listening room, not saying much. This album could be good, or it could be mediocre too much depends on the other four songs to make a call at this point. I try not to agonize about it, but this matters, damn it. It really does."
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