Metallica are like The Clash of thrash metal, pioneering a genre that they easily outgrew. The thing about them though, is that they have been under pressure to go back to that genre ever since the ‘Black Album’, and while ‘Death Magnetic’ largely placated the naysayers that yes, they could still thrash, the question of their relevance remained open. That has firmly been put to bed by the release of ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’; I mean, how often is a new album an event these days? And who drops a video for every single track on the record the night before its release? This is the very pioneering spirit that established Metallica as the biggest metal band in history and what they are offering on their first album in eight years – ‘Lulu’ doesn’t count people – for the most part does not disappoint, yet is also quite typically flawed.
From the word go, it’s clear there’s still life in the old dogs yet; the fast and furious ‘Hardwired’ being a no-holds barred flier, while the Maidenesque ‘Atlas, Rise’ is a massive tune to follow. Both tunes are pretty much instant classics, yet it’s ‘Moth Into Flame’ that steals the show of the three singles. It is quintessential Metallica – radio friendly, yet defiantly muscular – every bit as good as ‘Enter Sandman’.
The rest of the first disc of the double album is equally high level. ‘Now That We’re Dead’ is a slick take on their early eighties sound, but is fresh and rocks along nicely at mid-tempo; its hook sure to stand the test of time. Then there’s the slow boiling groove of ‘Dream No More’ which eats into the brain and will no doubt become a live favourite, especially with Hammett’s bad ass solo.
‘Halo on Fire’ also boasts an eighties feel to the intro but it gives way to that atmospheric groove a la ‘Until it Sleeps and for a while is reminiscent of Load era, only with more bite. It takes a heavier turn with a series of shifts in tempo and despite being a bit piecemeal, the arrangement really works – with James’ most versatile vocal to boot, it makes for a killer track.
‘Confusion’ opens the second disc in competent enough fashion, although there’s something not quite right about it. Metallica work by putting riffs together like a jigsaw, but sometimes, like here, the pieces don’t fit perfectly – it’s not exactly bad, just maybe a bit, er, confused.
The rest of disc 2 is enjoyable enough, but lacks the quality of the first half. ‘Here Comes Revenge’ is interesting musically speaking, a fine performance from Ulrich underpinning the shifting textures, although it finds Hetfield uncharacteristically obvious on the lyrical front.
The mid-tempo ‘ManUnkind’ and the brooding ‘Am I Savage?’ are both fairly straightforward slices of Metallica at their most functional and don’t really nail it, despite more fine soloing from Hammett. ‘Murder One’ meanwhile is just plain dull, its lumbering metal by numbers makes for a slightly disappointing tribute to Lemmy – the yee ha metal madness of closing track ‘Spit the Bone’, the saving grace of disc two, far more in keeping with the Motorhead front man’s metal footprint.
Despite the shortcomings of the second half of the record, ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’ remains a mighty fine album of quality metal, but when you have set the bar as high as Metallica there are going to be moments when they fall short. Once again, their lack of capacity to self edit has made for an album with excess baggage. It is telling that their first three albums all weighed in under 55 minutes and contained very little in the way of filler, while since ‘Load’ every studio album has over seventy minutes of music, hmmm.
Even so, there are plenty of ticks on the plus side, the underlying influence of ‘Kill ’em All’ is most welcome, Kirk Hammett delivers some of the finest solos of his career and Ulrich has finally evolved into a drummer of versatile excellence. Some of the material on display is seriously high quality, easily standing up alongside their finest work, and could be seamlessly slipped into their live set.
Buy the damn thing here: https://metallica.com/store/featured