Some bands don’t age all too well. Some rely on nostalgia and stick to doing “Greatest Hits” tours, others stay past their prime and put out new music that doesn’t strike a strong chord with their audience. Some bands decline with age, but others find ways to rejuvenate themselves and revitalize their music by, ironically enough, going back to the well with what brought them to prominence in the first place. Enter Metallica; 35 years in, they haven’t missed a beat. (In the studio, anyway.) Now, in the 8 years since their last album, Death Magnetic, the ‘Tallica boys have done some pretty adventurous things, including their own music festival, an IMAX 3D concert film, and an “art” collaboration album with Lou Reed that we will never speak of. But now that all of those ventures are behind them, the time to return to the studio came and went, and the end result is certainly a return to form for what made Metallica… well, Metallica. Enter the long-awaited Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, a blazing aural assault of a double album, from frantic start to explosive finish. Was it worth the eight-year-long wait? I have a feeling you’ll already know what I think, but let’s find out, anyway.
If Death Magnetic was a more contemporary approach to the Metallica traits, then Hardwired is a fitting amalgamation of all of their traits blended in with a more modern approach. Firstly, there are elements of their ‘80s thrash styles present on the album, such as with the title track, “Hardwired,” and the closing track of the album, “Spit Out The Bone,” both of which are fast, aggressive, and blistering, serving as perfect bookends to the album. There are also elements of their early ‘90s style, lifted from the self-titled Metallica, in the songs “Confusion” and “Dream No More,” both of which are a bit slower paced and more centered around groove and melody. There are even some parts from their mid-90s fusion stylings, and their Load and Reload albums, with the tracks “Am I Savage? and “ManUNkind” offering a few blues-y grooves in the guitar work and riffs. But regardless of the elements at play, they are all presented within a more modern style, blending both the older styles and traits with a more current-day approach to their style of thrash metal.
For this album, all due to a lost cell phone in an airport in Europe, there are no riff ideas from lead guitarist Kirk Hammett present on the album, as they’ve all been handled by rhythm guitarist and vocalist James Hetfield, who also handled the main load of song structure and writing with drummer Lars Ulrich. And no, the bass isn’t left out, either, with bassist Robert Trujillo supplying some very fitting lines and a perfectly complimentary bottom end to each track. All of the guitar work feels and sounds much tighter, in comparison to Death Magnetic, as do the drum patterns and fills. To note, there are actually quite a bit more drum fills on this album, and they all work incredibly well within their songs; on the third track, “Now That We’re Dead,” there’s a solid fill on the drums that leads into the main hook, at the very start of the song, and it adds an extra layer to the beat that wouldn’t be there if it were just a standard fill pattern. Also present on this album are some wonderfully welcomed double-bass drum patterns, never feeling too out of place and always coming in at the right moment of tension and climax on some of these tracks. (“Spit Out The Bone” and “Moth Into Flame,” especially.)As far as the lyrics go, Hetfield’s lyrics are quite a bit more retrospective, branching out to subjects such as PTSD in “Confusion,” the tragic price of fame in “Moth Into Flame,” as inspired by the film Amy (about the life and death of pop and soul singer Amy Winehouse), and the feelings of wanting vengeance over a parent’s child being killed in “Here Comes Revenge,” which also takes inspiration from the unfortunate tragedy of Morgan Harrington, a college student from Virginia who disappeared after a Metallica concert in 2009, only to be found dead two months later. There’s also a special tribute to the deceased Lemmy Kilmister, the man behind the influential rock and metal Motörhead, in the song “Murder One,” that is, admittedly, not the tightest song on the record, but the sentiment is still present and valid.
There are a lot of stellar tracks on this album that shine really bright, with “Spit Out The Bone” taking top honor on this record, especially. Some of you know might know my fellow Decibel Boost cohort, Robert, isn’t as fond of this album as I am, but we both agree that “Spit Out The Bone” is the best song Metallica has written in years, arguably going as far back to the …And Justice For All album in terms of overall quality. Another highlight I will gladly put on a pedestal is “Confusion,” combining pretty powerful lyrics with a song structure centered around a solid groove, rather than blistering technical prowess; suffice to say, the bookends of the second disc far outweigh those of the first disc. I’ll openly admit that some of the tracks aren’t as stellar, such as “Am I Savage?” and “Halo On Fire” – in the case of the latter, I like the ballad-y vibe it has, with its clean verses and heavy chorus, and especially its final section, but in the grand scheme of the whole album, it does feel a bit lacking.
But what is an album without some videos to compliment it? Whether or not it was due to a few early leaks, music videos were made for every single song from the album and were all made available before the album’s official release, ranging from the band performing the song in a small setting (“Hardwired,” “Halo On Fire,” “Now That We’re Dead”), to a behind-the-scenes video (“Atlas, Rise!”), to a fantasy B-movie action flick (“Spit Out The Bone”). Every video feels unique in their approach, but special mention goes to the video for “ManUNkind,” directed by Jonas Åkerlund, featuring a black metal band playing the song in a small club. This is made more interesting since Åkerlund, a former black metal musician himself, is directing a film adaptation of Lords of Chaos, which talks at length about the Norwegian black metal scene and its various controversies. Simple coincidence or a case of meta brilliance? You make the call. Now, this past year has seen a sudden rise in interest towards “visual albums,” with Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Frank Ocean’s Endless being two popular examples, and while Hardwired isn’t technically a “visual album,” the 12 accompanying videos do offer a unique listening – and viewing – experience to take part in.
The eight years since Death Magnetic, and their various ventures since then, have proven the one thing that everyone knows about Metallica: they just do whatever they want, just for them. It’s a rare kind of creative freedom that most bands could only dream of having, but after years of touring, putting on music festivals, collaborating with Lou Reed, and putting out a 3D movie, sometimes it’s great to just go back to making akiller album. In all, the 12 tracks present on this album make for a solid 78 minutes of music that will leave you more enthused than underwhelmed. It’s worth sifting through the less stellar tracks to find the shining high points. In the long-standing argument of “quantity vs. quality,” Metallica has taken the latter approach, and it’s proven to be for the better, in the case of Hardwired. It’s a solid experience from start to finish, and one that’s worthy of the Metallica name.
Verdict: Stream it on repeat. A solid reintroduction for lapsed fans, and also a strong return to form for long-time fans, this album will not disappoint.
Hardwired… To Self Destruct is available from Blackened Recordings, on CD, vinyl, and digital download, and is streaming on Spotify and Apple Music.