Metallica haven’t exactly been the most prolific band in heavy metal during the second half of their career, and there’s probably a ton of different reasons for that. For one, it’s hard to consistently top yourself when you’re a band that’s responsible for some of the most forward-thinking and earth-shattering releases in the history of the genre. Second, it’s never easy to write when you’re on the road, and Metallica have been one of the hardest working live acts for the entirety of their career. They’ve taken plenty of artistic detours over their 35-year run, but if there’s one thing fans know about the band, it’s that Metallica always know how to pump out some of the most universally-loved and fist-pumping thrash in the world. Yes, there’s no denying that 2003’s St. Anger and 2011’s collaboration with Lou Reed, Lulu, are some of the biggest musical disappointments since the invention of the guitar, but Metallica went ahead and redeemed themselves almost completely with Hardwired…to Self Destruct. It’s an album that’s a bit too bloated for its own good, but it’s also the best the band has sounded since their seminal Black Album.
In a lot of ways, Hardwired is like an anthology of the band’s entire discography in all of its splendor and stubbornness. The album kicks off with the no-bullshit barn-burner “Hardwired,” an undeniable throwback to the band’s primitive debut record. It’s the only song on the record that keeps things under six minutes and is much better for doing so, leaving no time for subtlety or nuance and going straight for the jugular. After that, the remainder of the album ventures into much more expansive territory. The remaining eleven tracks can range from the riff-o-rama aesthetics of …And Justice for All, the stadium rock swagger of the Black Album, the blues/hard rock mish-mash of Load and the Cthulhu worship one could have found on Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning. None of these songs are outright references to a particular album quite like the title track, but it doesn’t take a die-hard Metallica fan to see that the band have gone back and thoroughly analyzed what makes them a truly fantastic band.
Hardwired is broken up into two six-track discs and at a whopping 78 minutes, it’s easily the longest album they’ve ever unleashed upon their legions of fans. The first disc is essentially all killer and no filler; there isn’t a single track here that doesn’t offer something that longtime listeners of the band won’t be able to sink their teeth into. “Atlas, Rise!” packs in some of the finest Iron Maiden worship released in years. “Dream No More” seamlessly fuses the doom-laden chugs of 1986’s “The Thing That Should Not Be” with the hard-rock classic that is “Sad But True.” “Halo on Fire” is one of the band’s most adventurous songs that they’ve put out in a while from a structural standpoint. Right out of the gate, things really feel like the band is firing on all cylinders and is on the way to dropping their first classic in quite some time. Unfortunately, things start to derail by the time you have to change discs.
While the second half of the album never gets downright offensive, a lot of this portion of the album feels either a bit too recycled or simply repeats itself far more often than it should. Metallica certainly know how to justify six-to-eight minute monstrosities, but the band needs to sit back and realize that maybe not every track needs to pack in at least three verses, three choruses that almost never introduce new melodies, and extended instrumental passages. Despite some of these songwriting mishaps, there’s still some incredibly rewarding moments. The main riff of “Confusion” is downright savage as hell and the vocals on “ManUNkind” are some of James Hetfield’s most impressive and dynamically-pleasing performances in over two decades.
But the former is burdened by a downright stock arrangement job and the latter’s riffwork doesn’t ever seem to get the blood boiling. Fortunately, the album decides to finish on “Spit Out the Bone,” an absolute ball-buster that could easily stand up with even the most universally-beloved Metallica classics. Yes, it’s as good as seminal works like “Battery” and “Creeping Death.” Just when complete ear fatigue has seemed to set in, the band know exactly when to kick things up a notch and completely justify why they’re the most successful band to ever sing about the occult, nuclear winter and the horrors of war. You want seven minutes of insanely brutal thrash metal that still packs in a ton of melody and one of the most punishing, four-on-the-floor breakdowns this year? Then skip to the end of the record and prepare to have your speakers melt in front of you.
Hardwired is by no means in the same league as the albums that metal dorks the world over still pine over, but it’s the best thing they’ve been able to conjure in 25 years. Hetfield’s ability as a frontman is more charismatic and undeniable than almost ever before, Lars Ulrich can still bust out a mean double-bass beat, Kirk Hammett sounds more focused and less wah-crazy in his lead work, and Trujilo’s growling bass tone provides an incredibly beefy backbone that sounds heavier than most bands out there that tune an octave lower than Metallica. It would be difficult to say the same for some of their older records, but there would be no reason to be upset by seeing most of these tracks live and not absolutely loving them. This isn’t an album that will win over longtime haters, but if anything, it proves that Metallica are one of the most important bands in this genre’s history for a reason.
Hardwired…to Self Destruct released on 11/18 and you can purchase it over at…it’s Metallica, you can get it everywhere. Stand out on your lawn and yell “HIT THE LIGHTS” and you’ll probably receive a copy.