The lords of metal return with their first album in 8 years.
Back in primary school when I was still into whatever was on the radio like
The Spice Girls or Shawn Mullins, Metallica was one of the first bands, along with Korn, to move me from the darkness into the light.
It was around the period when they’d released ReLoad, the second of the two bluesier Metallica albums of the mid-90’s. I had the singles for The Memory Remains and The Unforgiven II. Later, my mother had the 1999 album S&M which was a regular on the way to school. At the time, St. Anger was a big part of my youth, and I saw them on their St. Anger Tour, but that album hasn’t faired well over the years. The songs are too long and the lyrics are downright awful (and who can also forget the drum sound?). When I first heard 2008’s Death Magnetic, I dug the return to the thrash and welcomed back the guitar solos, but none of the songs were particularly memorable. It was heavy Metallica, but not interesting or cool Metallica. Suffice to say, Metallica has been a part of my life for a while, and fast-forwarding to 2016 Metallica have given us Hardwired…to Self-Destruct – the closest they’ve come to being ‘Metallica’ in a while.
Hardwired…to Self-Destruct opens with the first single, Hardwired, with blistering machine gun drumming and frantic guitars. It’s a relatively short song but its wild and frantic, beating you over the head and is over before you realise what you’ve been through. Hardwired is followed by the other pre-release single, Atlas, Rise! – another heavy track with an instrumental that is finally a return to Metallica. That classical Metallica vibe that hasn’t been present for a while. It is so Metallica. Now we’re talking! Now That We’re Dead or Moth Into Flame are fair songs, harkening back to a classic Metallica sound and even at times the Metallica of the 90’s. My favourite song of the album, Dream No More, is a Black Sabbath-esque track that is like a sister to Sad But True (maybe sometimes a little too close). These tracks make a strong first half, but the album takes a bit of a dive in quality around Here Comes Revenge, Am I Savage? and Murder One (Murder One being the worst song on the album). The album recovers with the crazy final track, Spit Out The Bone – a song that makes it hard to believe that these guys (in their 50’s) are still writing music this intense!
James Hetfield’s singing is the best it’s been for a while and I think one of the key things to note here is a return to melody or at least somewhat memorable melodies. St. Anger and Death Magnetic had the snarling Hetfield, but seemed to lose the cool melodic lines that defined much of the late 80’s and early 90’s Metallica. The riffs are cool and strike me as more Sabbath inspired than ever. Lars Ulrich’s drumming is a contention amongst many – is he a good drummer or a bit of a hack? I personally have enjoyed the colours he puts into his drumming and he’s inspired some of my own drumming, but even I feel like I can now predict when he’s going to hit certain cymbals at certain moments. Kirk Hammett’s guitar soloing also sounds a little tired with some of the same patterns and licks and overuse of the wah pedal, but it is better than it was on Death Magnetic which was almost completely forgetful. Rob Trujillo’s bass playing is satisfactory, but doesn’t feel like a prominent part of the sound, in fact, it seems like all of the bass players since Cliff Burton have not had significant input into the overall sound of the band. Yet although I make these comments, Trujillo does feature prominently on ManUNkind (how terrible is that as a song title by the way?).
Hardwired…To Self-Destruct feels like a return to form for Metallica, but it feels like a best-of-what-works with Metallica and not necessarily an artistic leap forward. It is not dissimilar to …And Justice For All in terms of intensity. Justice is one of their albums that I really enjoy moments of, but it feels over-long at times and I’m inclined to go back to Ride The Lightning or Master of Puppets instead.
8 years was a while, and Metallica returned with a brutal and heavy album in Hardwired…To Self Destruct. However, we have been here before and it’s really a matter of whether or not you mind treading familiar (head-banging) ground.