Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct
Release Date: November 18, 2016
When you help create and define a genre of music and become one of the most significant recording artists in the world, the weight of expectation can be enormous. When you have not released a studio album in eight years, that weight can become an overwhelming burden. This can lead to a record ripe with sonic detritus. I will squelch any concerns right now that this is the path Metallica has wandered down on Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. For the four-horsemen of thrash, the cries for a return to Metallica‘s early 80s era has gone largely ignored by a group not content to dumpster dive into their past to recreate a tepid rehash of their glory years. That said, one could rightly argue that Metallica has been lost in the weeds for the better part of two decades, but 2008’s Death Magnetic gave fans cause for hope. With Hardwired…To Self-Destruct James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo, and Lars Ulrich have delivered an album that rewards the faithful. Then again, it is all about perception. For the skeptics in the crowd I will say Hardwired…To Self-Destruct, is at worst, infinitely better than St. Anger on its best day, and a worthy successor to Death Magnetic. For those more enthusiastic among you, I would offer that there are many moments on this record that can stand alongside anything Metallica released prior to 1990.
Metallica’s first salvo from the new album came early in the form of “Hardwired”. The frenzied thrasher immediately evokes the band’s early years, though fans and critics around the globe seemed torn about the song as a whole. Yet, it is clear immediately that the band has recaptured the magic of their early records. If “Hardwired” had been on any of Metallica’s first four or five records it would have been hailed as a moshing anthem. Ulrich, who is often slagged for his drumming shortcomings, delivers a quick reminder that he is one of the best in the game. Hetfield’s iconic bellow is back and ready for war. Clocking in at a mere three minutes, the song is a burst of retro revelry, hard and fast, to set up the monolithic feast to come.
The band throat-punches the listener next with a propulsive neck-snapper, “Atlas, Rise!”, the album’s third single. The track is one of the record’s most potent, and the guitar harmonies from Hetfield and Hammett are an inspired nod to the likes of Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy. Anyone who can listen to this track and not recognize Metallica’s mastery probably needs a bread knife lobotomy.
A personal favorite on the record is the mid-tempo, riff-centric beast, “Now That We’re Dead”. The intro guitars recall classic Judas Priest and Saxon while maintaining the signature Metallica crunch and groove. Muscular guitars and cranium-crushing stick work, pace this devastating jam.
The album’s second single, “Moth into Flame”, is an ass-kicking slab of thrash that nods to the band’s hefty past without regurgitating it. The tempo shifts, huge harmonies, and pummeling rhythms make this a memorable arena-worthy anthem.
The band goes medieval for the darkly twisted behemoth, “Death No More” which finds Cthulhu making a long overdue return. The song recalls everything that makes Metallica the overlords of thrash. This is followed by the burly, if not at times unwieldy bruiser, “Halo on Fire”; a song built for the stage, with its moody atmospheres and winding progressions.
Trujullo’s bass is often a bit buried in the mix, but it steps forward on the chugging warhorse, “Confusion”, which for me is one of the album’s less appealing tracks. Perhaps do to its awkward miscues and misguided intentions. This is followed by the bluesy journey of “ManUNkind” that finds the band in full on jam mode.
“Here Comes Revenge” in many ways recalls Metallica’s seminal “Black” album; it is perhaps a long-lost, stoned, miscreant cousin. “Am I Savage?” is a bit like “Confusion” in that it seems to be trying a bit too hard, still it’s a weighty plodder set to step on one’s larynx.
Heading into the homestretch, Metallica serves up an ode to the mighty Lemmy Kilmister and Motorhead with the bombastic swagger-fueled “Murder One”. The song is a bit clunky and lumbering at times, but one cannot help but appreciate the message and homage in its intent.
While the second half of the album is not as powerful or victorious as the first half, it is saved from its occasional meandering by the raging menace that is “Spit Out the Bone”. Hetfield’s vocals seethe, and Ulrich gets into machine gun mode on the snare. The song attacks and gallops along with ferocity and intensity and serves to bring the album full circle to the raucous energy that began Hardwired…To Self-Destruct.
Metallica sounds more relaxed and vital than it has in years, as if they are at the ripe old age of 35 years, now comfortable in their legendary skins. That loose feel resonates on Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. While fans and critics may feel the band has something to prove, this album sounds as if they know the best thing they can do is to set themselves free to be the collective sum of their career. If I have any gripe about this album, it is the production/mix on Ulrich’s kick drums. There’s way too much pop and click for my taste. There are certainly some moments were the album can get a bit tedious, but there is simply too much meat here to worry about some of the fat that could have been trimmed. In all, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is the Metallica album most fans have been waiting decades to sink their ears into. The naysayers will trash the album of course, but often those are the ones that can’t let go of the past to enjoy the present.