Despite it being more than 25 years since their best works, anytime Metallica releases a another album it ends up being scrutinized under a hypothetical microscope to be dissected and picked apart. Anytime a band of Metallica’s stature has a new album out it’s an event. It’s exciting even if it disappoints.
It hasn’t been easy to be a Metallica fan for the last 20 years. Excuse me while flashes of eyeliner, Mamma Said and Kirt Hammett dramatically losing his smartphone hit me… It’s especially hard to sympathize when a band of millionaire cry and whine as they produce the poorest album of the career and exploit the distrous results on film in the form of Some Kind of Monster. Never mind suing Napster, questionable albums with Lou Reed, “hyped” 3D movies and expressing support for Justin Bieber. The last two decades have eaten at the Thrash-Metal giants’ cool cred. They also made it incredibly difficult for fans to defend their favourite band.
Okay, we’ll forgive them after heavy rotations of Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning.
How does Hardwired… To Self-Destruct fare? Surprisingly decent if you compare to the band’s outputs since oh, 1991. 2008’s Death Magnetic was a great attempt to recapture some of the fire of earlier-ish Metallica, something Hardwired almost achieves a little more organically and with less effort. Death Magnetic’s production gave it a raw sound but was heavily criticized. By contrast, Hardwired sounds much more natural.
All things realized, it’s Metallica sounding how they should in 2016. It’s not 1983 or ’88 or even ’91 for that matter. The Metal icons do a respectable job of staying true to their sound while taking cues from their past. As such Hardwired is a pleasantly effective Metallica album, in its better moments.
Hardwired is all over the place style-wise, and that’s a good thing. Some songs could fit on Kill ‘Em All and others would be right at home on the black album. When a band has a long history such as Metallica’s, fans will obviously have favourite eras and albums. Hardwired covers all ground; one moment its reminiscent of the black album, the next its Load. Now middle-aged men, Metallica prove they still have the fire necessary to come up with some adequate material.
Look, not everyone will be pleased with the whole album, but there’s something for every fan—or else they’re lying. The first disc is fast, aggressive and heavy. It stands strong with all 6 tracks.
The self-titled track is an indication of what fans are in for. Short, heavy and fast with an almost punk edge, Hardwired does fans of the band proud. Atlas, Rise! has subtle tinges of Iron Maiden in the guitar playing and a chorus just catchy enough. Now That We’re Dead sounds like the better parts of Load and Reload. It’s slightly more accessible Metallica. The single Moth to Flames is bold and uncompromising Metallica. It stands as possinly the best song on Hardwired and should please the majority of the band’s fans. Dream No More lurks on like a Sad But True-esque epic complete with tremendous breakdown and solo, one of the album’s finest moments. Halo On Fire is on the more melodic side with great lyrics and one of the album’s best breakdowns and vocal deliveries by Hetfield.
Unfortunately this is where the album starts to unravel, its momentum shifting.The middle part of Confusion stands as one of the best moments on Hardwired. It’s when we get to disc 2 that the momentum turns. Songs like ManUNkind and Am I Savage have similar tempos and are weaker moments as a whole. Although Spit Out the Bone concludes the album on a brighter note, its hard to shake off the notion that the first part of the album is much stronger than the second.
Theren lies the problem. The second disc. The realization that it consists of mostly mid-tempo songs hits the listener sinks halfway through. The songs all sound similar. This is largely due to structure and tempo, slowing down the energy and momentum achieved with disc one.
James Hetfield is one of the genre’s most recognizable voices. On Hardwired, it’s almost as if more often than not Hetfield tries to sing beautifully. It works, but it’s not what one expects or wants from a band like Metallica. For all the hate he receives, Lars Ulrich is competent drummer. He gets the job done and proves himself to be quite capable here.
Guitars are heavy and crunchy when they should be and they’re melodic and dare I say, elegant when need be. The solos are some of the best we’ve had since the black album, but longtime fans know that’s not a huge benchmark. Breakdowns are well-executed and sometimes unpredictable in their candor.
In my book, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is the most enjoyable Metallica release since the black album. Hardwired is a great moment for fans of the band, for the time being. The album will no doubt be celebrated and touted as “classic”for a short period of time following its release, a status it will never achieve. Its first 6 songs range from very good to excellent, but ultimately most of it bound to be forgotten in favour of the classics as time passes.
After what will likely be a triumphant and succesful tour in support of the album, Metallica will go right back to setlists mostly consisting of material their classic albums. There’s no point for Metallica to compete with their own legacy and they shouldn’t have to. They prove they still have the energy and gave us a couple decent songs, there’s no real need to release another studio album after this one. ***