METALLICA – Hardwired…to Self-Destruct
Truth be told, I approached this brand new 78-minute opus by Metallica rather carefully and with some trepidation. After all, the last few decades have not exactly been kind to the band, if you ask me, and my expectations to this double album of theirs were pretty low. "St. Anger" was a catastrophe. "Death Magnetic" was horrible. The "Through the Never" movie was a financial disaster and the "Lulu" album backing Lou Reed failed to engage and captivate the fans, which was a bit of a shame as those two projects were some of the more interesting, original, and challenging ones to bear the Metallica name in years.
Eight years have passed since the release of "Death Magnetic" and I simply had no idea what to expect this time around. Would "Hardwired…to Self-Destruct" turn out to be a direct continuation of its predecessor or something else entirely? Luckily, many of the rather long and sprawling tracks that constitute this 2016 effort of theirs is a hell of lot better than pretty much anything Metallica has spewed out in the past twenty years or thereabouts. I am well aware of the fact that many fans and critics regard "Death Magnetic" as a return to form and sort of like a missing link between "…And Justice for All" and "Metallica", but I strongly disagree with that opinion. "Hardwired…to Self-Destruct", however, sounds much more like the missing link between the aforementioned two classics. By some miracle, there are strong riffs and great hooks to be found throughout the new album and Hetfield’s voice as well as Ulrich’s drumming are better than they have been for…well, a very long time. Metallica seems to have recaptured an energy that has been missing for ages, and that is good news in and of itself. The dynamics, the intensity, and the attitude that many fans love and crave have found their way back to the camp and seeped into the band’s 12 new tunes. Well, some of the tunes, that is, but we shall get back to that.
"Hardwired…to Self-Destruct" has a sense of purpose and direction to it. Musically and stylistically, it kind of slides between "…And Justice for All", the self-titled album, and the "Load"/"Reload" era. Some of the rather more convoluted arrangements and tricky parts that hearken back to "…And Justice for All" have more substance and grit to them compared to what they were trying to accomplish on "Death Magnetic" where they tried (and failed) to instill some of that technicality into the songs. It feels pretty good to be challenged by a Metallica riff or a Metallica song arrangement again, if that makes sense. Having said that, the main problem with "Hardwired…to Self-Destruct" is that it is way too long. The never-ending problem with these guys is that they never apply any fucking filters whenever they compose and record an album, which means that there is too much filler material on this sucker. If they had trimmed the fat and made a more compact and solid album, it would have packed more punch and come across as way sharper and more focused than it does now, which is a shame, really. I think it is fair to say that listening to "Hardwired…to Self-Destruct" is both rewarding and frustrating. I cannot help nodding along and tapping my feet when I listen to songs such as the Lovecraftian "Dream No More", the moving "Halo on Fire", the swinging "Now That We’re Dead", the groovy "ManUNkind", and the hard-hitting "Spit Out the Bone", but the backside of the medal is that one must sit through agonizingly long and mundane tracks such as "Am I Savage?", "Confusion", and the Lemmy tribute entitled "Murder One" with the latter sounding downright terrible. Thus, the album turns into a bit of a mixed bag, but, fortunately for all of us, the cool and positive aspects of the record do outweigh the negative and crappy ones, which is one of the reasons why there is reason to feel at least a little excited about the album. I just wish that somebody in or close to the band had spoken up and told the other guys that "No, that song sucks" or "that riff you just came up with is lame" or even "those lyrics are a pile of poo". Strict quality control would have done wonders for the album. Uneven ones lasting 75-80 minutes can be a trying affair and "Hardwired…to Self-Destruct" is no exception.
The bluesy elements that creep into the mix here and there add a bit of variety to the songs and the more progressive parts add a bit of complexity to them. There are obvious nods to legendary acts such as Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, and Diamond Head throughout in terms of how some of the riffs are constructed, and those subtle (and at times not-so-subtle) tributes definitely have a certain charm to them. Some of Kirk’s solos sound uninspired and contribute very little to the tunes, but again, Hetfield and Ulrich are on form and Trujillo is solid from start to finish not to mention that the production is strong and punchy, so if you can overlook the unimaginative song titles and the fact that "Hardwired…to Self-Destruct" is a little too long and uneven, then I dare say that you will find the album entertaining and fun to immerse yourself in. Just keep in mind that this is no masterpiece. Far from it. It is not classic Metallica either. Rather, it is an interesting and confident album containing both highs and lows, but approach it with an open mind and see what happens. Give it a go!