So much has already been written about this album that there isn't a whole lot for me to add. Death Magnetic
represented the long overdue return to form that put Metallica back on the map as a serious metal band after a string of progressively worsening, alternative music influenced titles drove their original core audience farther and farther away. And make no mistake about it, this is a good
album of strong material, the best thing the band had released in a good seventeen years, and FAR better than the god awful St. Anger
that led even the most diehard Metallica fans to turn up their noses. Unfortunately, it's marred by some of the most egregiously distorted mixing and mastering I've ever heard. This is an album so distorted that even the mastering engineer was embarrassed to be associated with it
, an album notable for having brought awareness of the Loudness War into the mainstream consciousness. Along with albums such as Bob Dylan's Modern Times
, The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication
, and Rush's Vapor Trails
, Death Magnetic
is a poster child for the Loudness War, with levels on some tracks approaching Raw Power
levels. Distortion and clipping are rampant throughout, in particular during the tom and double bass hits on "Broken, Beat & Scarred" and "Cyanide," and to a really extreme degree through the entirety of "The Day That Never Comes," the album's first single.
Even without the painfully audible distortion, the compression and peak limiting of the instruments - the drums in particular - only dampen the explosive dynamism and excitement generated by an otherwise killer collection of material. While the bass sounds mostly okay, the distorted crunch of the massively overdriven guitars and dead, dry as a bone thump
of the snare drum really weaken the vitality of these songs. I imagine this entire album kicks some major ass when played live, but the resulting studio interpretation of these tracks is just sad. It's really a bit surprising that a major label would actually release something like this, but here we have it.
Around the time of Death Magnetic's release, numerous Guitar Hero aficionados noticed that the game's soundtrack featured a set of early, unpolished mixes of the album's content, and, realizing this, a number of Metallica fans took it upon themselves to re-record and/or remix the entire album using stems obtained from the video game. I'm including two of those here: the first, a set of recordings made straight from a perfect playback of the Guitar Hero game, recorded direct out; the second, a "mystery mix" from around 2008 and also made from the stems, but with EQ applied and with an actual attempt having been made to remix a listenable version of the album. The "mystery mix" is included here for comparison purposes only and is not evaluated.