Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Metallica, "Beyond Magnetic" EP
Warner Bros. Records
Release date: 2011 (digital), 2012 (physical)
4 tracks/Run time: 29:08
It may seem strange to label a release by Metallica, who are arguably one of the biggest bands in the world, as a "Forgotten" album, but I think the Beyond Magnetic EP qualifies. This fun, underrated little 4-track EP consists of songs that had been recorded during the sessions for 2008's Death Magnetic album, but didn't make the final cut for that record. When it was released, it seemed to fly under the radar for almost everyone outside of Metallica's most fanatical, gotta-have-everything collectors and diehard fans.
After a few years on the shelf, the four songs on Beyond Magnetic were released in piecemeal fashion as part of the festivities to mark Metallica's 30th anniversary. In December 2011, the band performed a four night stand of "anniversary shows" at the legendary Fillmore venue in their home base of San Francisco. Admission to these four gigs was limited to members of the Metallica fan club, and the band "world premiered" one new song at each show. Attendees were then issued a bracelet with a special code on it that allowed them to download the new tracks for free from Metallica's official website after the gig. Eventually, the tunes were released digitally through major Internet music retailers before finally making their debut on CD format in early 2012.
I gladly picked up Beyond Magnetic when the CD first hit retailers, since I'd enjoyed the Death Magnetic album and was interested in hearing more material in that same vein. This mini-CD format also appealed to me because it brought back warm, fuzzy memories of buying previous Metallica EP's, like the classic Creeping Death or The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited when I was a teenager. (It also helped that the EP was irresistibly cheap. When's the last time you bought a "new release" CD for five bucks? Haha!)
The four songs on this EP - "Hate Train," "Just A Bullet Away," "Hell and Back," and "Rebel of Babylon" all pretty much pick up where Death Magnetic left off, so if you enjoyed that album (I did), then you shouldn't have any major complaints about these songs, either. The EP's straight-off-the-floor, rough mix production lends a charming lo-fi, "demo tape" feel to the material... but thankfully, the sound quality throughout is far better than anything heard on their 2003 sonic abortion, St. Anger.
The opening "Hate Train" is a typically crunchy, straight-ahead thrash song -- Metallica pretty much owns the patent on this sort of thing, so we're already in good shape. Track number two, "Just A Bullet Away," settles into a decent groove but the ridiculous lyrics, which sound like they were never quite "finished," become distracting pretty quickly. Hearing James Hetfield babble about "sucking the barrel" of a "shiny midnight revolver" over and over again quickly turns into unintentional comedy. After a few listens to this track, it occurred to me that it would make a pretty good drinking game ... take a swig every time you hear James say the word "revolver." By the end of the seven-minute-plus song, you're likely to be totally schnockered.
Things pick up again with "Hell and Back," which thumps along nicely, while Hetfield howls some pretty dark lyrics that could possibly be referencing his battles with addiction, or bad relationships, or simply having a sh*tty life in general. It's the grimmest song on the EP and then the disc closes with the slow burning, eight-minute-plus grinder "Rebel of Babylon," which starts out deceptively mellow before it finally catches fire around the halfway point. The band breaks into a full on thrash fiesta several times throughout the latter portion of this song, ending this short-but-sweet collection with a satisfactory bang.
"Rebel of Babylon"
Summing It Up
Beyond Magnetic peaked at #32 on the U.S. Billboard charts, which was an uncharacteristically weak showing for Metallica. Death Magnetic had debuted at #1 on Billboard four years earlier, but of course that album had arrived with the usual truck load of pre-release hype. This time out, there were no music videos for any of the Beyond Magnetic tracks, and the EP received little, if any, mainstream radio play.
I would advise newcomers to the Metallica cause to start with something from their earlier catalog. In other words, Beyond Magnetic is good for an occasional listen and a cool collectors' item, but not an essential purchase. At least all four of these songs were better than anything found on Metallica's next project... LULU, the unlistenable 2012 train wreck collaboration with art-rock legend Lou Reed ...so we should be thankful for that much!
© 2019 Keith Abt