I was pleased last week to, for the first time in a long time, stop in an honest-to-goodness music store and buy a new Metallica recording that I was actually interested in hearing. A late 2011 digital release that saw a physical CD release on January 31, 2012, Beyond Magnetic is really not new - nor is it in any way surprising. Comprised of four fan-oriented leftovers from Death Magnetic, Beyond Magnetic sounds like exactly that - similar sounding tracks that don't quite measure up to what actually made the record. While fans undoubtedly always hope for some hidden gem among such material, there's really none to be found here. In fact, all four tracks are kind of clunky, all overlong (all spanning seven to eight minutes each, keeping in line with much of the Death Magnetic material) and all feeling more like the studio workout sessions they are than finished B-side fodder.
"Hate Train" provides generic, albeit distinctly Metallica-ized, riffing as well as some admittedly excellent soloing from Kirk Hammett. Aside from that, there are just too many predictable tempo changes and straight up blah lyrical content to hold a listener's interest. "Just a Bullet Away" and "Hell and Back" follow the exact same template. "Rebel of Babylon" recalls pre-Black Album-era thrashage and is the one track I can see myself adding to the regular Metallica rotation (though, really, the lyric is so inane - is James asking for stigmata to kill him - and, if so, how? - or is he just asking to be killed and then crying out "Stigmata?").
On the upside, Hetfield is in fine form, vocally, and both he and Hammett's guitars dominate this EP. Ulrich's drumming is not his strongest and you have to make an effort to even hear Trujillo's bass. All in all, though, Beyond Magnetic is well worth five bucks for the curious in that it shows Metallica are excellent editors and works, somewhat, to remove the taste of Lulu from our mouths. If nothing else, Beyond Magnetic reminds me how much I actually enjoyed Death Magnetic and, as long as Lou Reed is not involved, has me kind of hankering for whatever Metallica may be cooking up next.