It has been eight long years since metal legends Metallica have released a proper studio album. They are building off 2008’s Death Magnetic, which was a huge improvement over the almost incomprehensible St. Anger. Can one of metal’s most iconic bands continue to thrive and be relevant 33 years after their celebrated debut?
Hardwired… To Self Destruct is Metallica’s tenth proper studio release and features two discs of brand new material. Clocking in at just under 80 minutes, it features twelve songs, split between both discs. A special deluxe edition features a third disc that has the previously released single “Lords Of Summer,” four covers and a full live show recorded last year at Rasputin Music.
This time around it feels like Metallica are once again playing for themselves. Most of the material is mid tempo, incredibly heavy and bookended by two blazingly fast paced scorchers. Where Death Magnetic seemed a tad forced and finds the band trying hard to recreate their early style, Hardwired is more organic and contains influences from all eras of their career.
This record was initially billed as a return to a Kill ‘Em All style, but that couldn’t be farthest from the truth, except for the title track. Most of the material is steeped in heaviness and filled with a plethora of Black Sabbath induced riffs. In reality, it would fit comfortably alongside the heaviest parts of Metallica (The Black Album) and Load.
The first disc is clearly the stronger of the two and doesn’t have a weak moment. The title track is a scorcher that will go down as an all time classic. At just over three minutes the song never let’s up and leaves you wanting more. This will bring down the house live. Vocalist James Hetfield’s vocals sound aggressive and as youthful as ever.
“Atlas Rise” is another highlight with its return to form classic down picked riffs. With a tempo reminiscent of their classic “Master Of Puppets,” it has an outstanding chorus and builds with a throwback stellar harmony guitar solo between Hetfield and Kirk Hammett.
Another highlight is the excellent “Moth Into Flame.” Staccato picking drives the song forward as the song undergoes many modifications. One of Metallica’s best choruses dominates, as Hetfield sounds incredible. The shift in changes and styles is what sets this one apart.
The eight minute plus “Halo On Fire” finds the dynamic being brought down for a moment before it roars back with an iron fisted riff for the chorus. It’s another track that features many different feels with an explosive ending that finds drummer Lars Ulrich playing some quick double kicks to end disc one on a high note. A true triumph!
The ultimate issues with disc 2 are the songs are just too long. There are some excellent ideas within the material, but the fat could have been trimmed throughout. In addition, the tempos are all similar and on first listen there isn’t enough deviation to set many of the songs apart.
“Am I Savage” is a mixture of previous songs “Ronnie” and “Of Wolf And Man” that get better with each listen and is a bright spot. “Here Comes Revenge,” “ManUNkind” and “Confusion” all play at mid tempo with little variation. If all three songs were a few minutes shorter it would have made them more accessible and much stronger.
I had high hopes for “Murder One,” as it is a tribute to Lemmy, but it eventually falls a little flat. I was expecting a more uptempo Motörhead thrasher and it was once again a return to groove city. The lyrics utilize a lot of different Motörhead titles throughout for an interesting twist.
The album ends on a soaring high note with the frenzied “Spit Out The Bone.” A classic throwback sound finds the band traveling at light speed with a blazing thrash riff. Bassist Robert Trujillo leads the breakdown with a fuzzed out bass solo before the song explodes to the best riff on the album. Along with Death Magnetic’s “My Apocalypse,” “Spit Out The Bone” will go down as a timeless track.
Nothing is going to touch the first four albums that Metallica recorded. Anyone who thinks differently just isn’t dealing in reality. Hardwired… To Self Destruct is an improvement from their previous releases and finds Metallica playing from their heart and not forcing themselves to write a certain way.
Much more mid-tempo than initially imagined, the songs take multiple listens to fully comprehend and be digested. They absolutely could have trimmed most of the songs down and it would have been a contender for record of the year. There are five instant classics that still find them executing metal at its finest level. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another eight years for the follow up.
(released November 19th, 2016 on Blackened Recordings)