Review: Beyond Magnetic EP – Metallica

In celebration of 30 years of music, metal mainstay Metallica played four intimate shows with guests and material spanning their entire career. Each night, they also debuted unreleased tracks from their last album, Death Magnetic. Now, all four have been released as a digital EP via iTunes.

Beyond Magnetic has only four songs but clocks in at 29 minutes. Each track makes a successful first impression mixing the best elements of Metallica’s musical repertoire. At least two were strong enough to make the album, which makes me wonder why Cyanide ever made it.

Hate Train – The train starts rolling with a brief deconstructed and somewhat crunchy intro. It’s a good attention getter, but the main riff is a bit of a letdown. It’s similar to the main riff of Fuel and feels out of place with the rest of the song. The verse and pre-chorus are lean and mean. The chorus is catchy and, honestly, better than the rest of the song. It plays like Lady and the Tramp in the first half, nosing a meatball back and forth between two different realities.

The middle begins with a dependable solo over the main riff, but then momentum stops with a new riff that’s just a tighter version of St. Anger’s Shoot Me Again intro. After that it transitions to an old school slow ’80s mosh fest which makes the previous portion meaningless. After another solid solo, we get the pre-chorus and a big finish that finally puts that chorus to good use.

Just a Bullet Away – This is easily the strongest of the four songs, and it’s almost criminal that Cyanide made the album while this did not. Like Hate Train, Bullet starts with a chunky, deconstructed intro and explodes into a main riff that sounds like something we’ve heard from Metallica before. This time the riff echoes a bit of Frantic from St. Anger. Believe me, I don’t mind. I’d rather hear it in Bullet than have to listen to St. Anger again.

Bullet settles into a classic thrash main riff that is somewhat akin to Slayer’s Post Mortem off their Reign in Blood album. Hetfield’s vocal phrasing makes it sound fresh as it moves into another good chorus. “Just a bullet away from leaving you” may be the best lyric from the entire recording session. Again, how this didn’t make the album will forever be a mystery.

The song stops immediately after the second chorus and transitions into an acoustic middle. The harmonized lead work is some of the best stuff Metallica has recorded this century, and it all moves seemlessly into a building inferno. That middle section before the solo could sit comfortably on any Metallica record.

Unfortunately, the solo doesn’t quite tie it all together. It’s a tough series of riffs to solo over, and they probably should have interjected a new riff there or simply skipped a solo. It feels forced. From there the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed.

Hell and Back -The descent begins with a brief, needless acoustic intro. It’s too short to really work well. The main riff again sounds similar to something we’ve heard. It’s in the same vein as Broken, Beaten and Scarred. I’ll just assume that it eventually became that riff in the writing process, making Hell and Back unusable.

Okay, so the intro wasn’t exactly needless. Hetfield sings the verse over it. It brings to mind one of the few positives of the Load years for Metallica. Hetfield sings now. Metallica may not be able to match the metal brilliance of their pre-Black-album era, but they have more tools in their arsenal now.

The middle gets especially ferocious with double-timed drums under a few E chords. But it’s been done in other songs. I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out where I’ve heard it before, but I can’t think of it so far. Serk Tankian’s The Unthinking Majority springs to mind, but that’s not the specific song I’m thinking about.

From there we get an uninspired solo which leads with a nice predictable finish. It’s not as bad as it sounds. It just isn’t quite molded to something great, making this a track that’s easy to understand why it wasn’t released.

Rebel of Babylon -I really liked the acoustic tone for the intro. There’s a fuzz that reminds me tangentially of Megadeth’s Looking Down the Cross. Unlike the others, the main riff doesn’t sound like another song. It also doesn’t impress me. It plods along and fills time, but I’d never miss it if it vanished. Oh let’s say it “fell” down the stairs, and I accidentally left a bag of hundreds in my mailbox. No one will ever know. The cops can prove nothing!

The main riff double picking is a welcome treat for classic Metallica fans. The drums don’t quite give the verse riffs the energy they deserve, but it’s still great to hear Metallica playing fast for a change. The double-timed chorus plays well. It probably could’ve been molded into something better, but instead there’s a second song-stopping chorus. It disrupts the momentum, but I bet it works well when played live. You can almost see the lights come up and hear the cheer.

The middle trudges along despite Hammett’s best attempts to make it interesting. Eventually it picks up tempo, and a little harmony makes it interesting again. And then it all stops. The bass/drum solo segment probably went on to become the bass/drum segment of Cyanide. From there a few leftover riffs are stuffed in, and it begins to sound like a medley instead of one track. When it does return to the song we started listening to, it’s wrapped up faithfully. Everything is repeated. The bills are paid. Thank you, goodnight.

All in all, the EP is a good chunk of extra Metallica. I can see the flaws in each song, but there’s a lot to like as well. It’s not hard to give them all their shot on your playlist. It’s also a welcome relief after Lulu.

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