Metallica – Beyond Magnetic

When celebrating their 30th anniversary as the world’s biggest metal band, Metallica debuted four unheard songs from the sessions for their last record proper, Death Magnetic. Fan club members and iTunes users have had access to the songs previously but now Beyond Magnetic has finally been made available on CD. But are these offcuts worth your time?

While 2008’s Death Magnetic couldn’t really hold a torch to the Bay area thrashers classic material it was a return to form of sorts; their previous releases dividing a once militant fan base by exploring new sonics ranging from blues and country to trash can noises. It’s no surprise these ‘new’ tracks are the same riff-o-rama odysseys that made up DM, but it’s the little differences that make this EP worth keeping your ears out for.

You can hear it instantly in Hate Train’s blistering guitar solo intro, the production values of these unmixed b-sides are much stronger than their a-side cousins. Gone are the tinny drums and guitars that distort far too high in the mix. Everything has been lowered and the wall of noise that plagued them on recent releases gives way to some actual dynamics. Guitars range from eerie cleans to buzz saw riffs and both James Hetfield’s vocals and Lars Ulrich’s snare crack refrain from piercing your eardrum. Bass guitar is still almost non-existent but this is still the best they’ve sounded production wise since Reload.

The EP’s lengthy tracks hark back the days of …and Justice For All and the band have piled as many riffs and ideas into them as they can. Ranging from biker stomps to galloping thrash; each songs changes mood countless times. Just A Bullet Away surprises when it drops its distorted swagger for a lilting bridge and Rebel Of Babylon manages to flirt with country music before morphing into a melting pot of sludgy guitars and racing licks.

At points in each track it does feel like too many cooks in the kitchen, each song could have been served better with 2 minutes of fat cut off, and James chanting “suck on the barrel” on Just a Bullet Away is fairly cringe worthy (although not to the level of “I am the table”), none of the songs are below the level of quality seen on Death Magnetic and could have easily taken the place of any song on that record.

Metallica ring in their 30 years with something relatively new but with better production values to match their noted movement towards their roots. Beyond Magnetic is a meaty chunk of head banging fun as well as a beacon of hope that their future records might again capture the spark that made them so exciting 30 years ago.