It ain’t easy being “The New Metallica Song.”
It’s a bit of a mystery as to why these guys even bother releasing new music. Any serious Metallica fan (and by that I mean to exclude people who own only the Black Album) will inevitably cite one of the band’s first three albums as their favorite. Many will even argue that the band died when original bassist Cliff Burton died in 1986. Though the band’s album success peaked in the early 90s, they continue to remain a gigantic concert draw, filling venues with fans screaming “play the old stuff!” Record sales are belly up, so money is almost certainly not the motivation, especially given that concerts are Metallica’s primary revenue stream.
Their key problem, how to age in the macho, youth-driven world of heavy metal, was best defined in the documentary Some Kind Of Monster—the best thing they’re released since …And Justice For All. Despite inducing groans and laughter in many viewers, Metallica was brave to show themselves as vulnerable and to admit that they are real people struggling with real problems. This honesty is in sharp contrast to every album after the Black Album, which feel like the summer tent-pole movies of metal, written by committee and reviewed by focus group to the point of blandness. Metallica has overtly and openly tried to “recapture” the Master Of Puppets and Ride The Lightning era on their last two releases, St. Anger and Death Magnetic. These efforts, almost inevitably doomed to fail, reeked of desperation, given that the band members were young and hungry in those days, as opposed to now, when they are aging multi-millionaires who model designer clothes. Not surprisingly, both efforts (especially St. Anger) were met with a torrent of online bitching.
It was into this fairly hostile environment that the title track for their new album, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct was released a few weeks ago. It proved to be a surprisingly solid tune with real energy and some great riffs that begged the question: had Metallica looked to the early influences that Kill ‘Em All for inspiration this time around? This suspicion was confirmed by the recent revelation that they have a Motörhead-inspired song on the new album and by a listen to their new track, “A Moth Into Flame.” Though there is good reason to be wary of bands revisiting earlier eras in their history, Metallica may have struck gold this time.
When they got started, Metallica’s key influences included both Iron Maiden and Motörhead. These bands and other, largely British bands formed the basis for the sound unveiled on Kill ‘Em All. Elements of Maiden jump out at the listener right away on “Moth.” The dual harmonized guitar parts in the intro are straight out of the Brits’ bag of tricks. The chorus to “Moth” is also very Maiden-esque, and it’s easy to imagine Bruce Dickinson belting out the oversized chorus. Both of these elements feel very inspired and continue the winning streak that began with “Hardwired,” though “Hardwired” is the stronger track of the two. “Moth Into Flame” also gives guitarist Kirk Hammett some time to release one of his signature, wah-driven leads.
The lyrics are less successful. This is, perhaps, a reflection of the “problem” detailed above. It’s hard to take the angst-y lyrics seriously, despite the Some Kind Of Monster revelation that Metallica likely experienced the Icarus-like problems detailed in “Moth.” What James Hetfield could write about that would feel honest is a difficult question, but it’s not this. In addition, the double time tempo bump in the pre-chorus has the “committee” feel, as if 90% of a roomful of statistically average Metallica listeners had agreed that the part needed a pick-me-up.
Nonetheless, if Metallica is indeed looking back at their early years and if these two tracks are an indication, Hardwired may be Metallica’s best album in some time. We will find out as tracks continue to trickle out or on November 18, when the full album is released.