What’s that old saying, better late than never? I feel like at this point just about everyone and their mother has put forth their opinion of the new Metallica album, so why should I even bother writing a review? The delay in this review is mostly due to the Thanksgiving holiday and my own somewhat busy schedule. But, if I’m being honest, it’s also due in part to my mixed feelings towards HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT.
Let me begin by stating that I am far from the world’s biggest Metallica fan. And let me follow that confession up with another: I’m a pretty casual metal fan. I like the so-called classic metal bands like Sabbath and Iron Maiden. I enjoy some newer, hipster-ish metal bands like Mastodon and Ghost (ha! that just shows you what sort of metal fan I am, I consider Ghost metal). There are some small-ish indie metal bands that I also really like, such as Red Fang and Kvelertak. But I’ve only been to one metal concert (Motorhead, RIP Lemmy) and I only own a few Greatest Hits type collections of a few metal bands. I only really knew Metallica from their massive hits, like “Enter Sandman.”
Prior to 2005, I had probably seen more Metallica t-shirts than I had heard Metallica songs. But then, around the release of ST. ANGER I started paying attention to Metallica, but for all the wrong reasons: I wanted to hear the shitty album that everyone said sounded so shitty. I was surprised to find that I didn’t think it sounded that bad! Emboldened, I checked out the band’s earlier albums and discovered a solid thrash metal band that seemed to evolve into the cartoonish stereotype I was familiar with over the course of their career (and tremendous success). So once I was steeped in the band’s classic output I understood why people were so down on the newer stuff, but because I’d been exposed to ST. ANGER first I still found qualities about it I liked. I also wasn’t terribly let down by ST. ANGER, because I had only just started to explore the band’s music. I guess I should just jump in with the review, rather than waste a bunch of (digital) ink on a rambling preamble.
HARDWIRED… is way better than ST. ANGER and DEATH MAGNETIC (the album the band put out after ST. ANGER). That right there makes HARDWIRED… a success, a win for a band sorely in need of a win. And leading up to the album’s release, every song the band put out seemed to indicate that that album was going to be fantastic. And when the album was released and I pushed play I thought “holy shit, these guys totally did it!” But then the album continued to play. And play. And play. And play. HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT starts strong, and I don’t just mean the first track “Hardwired.” The first 6 tracks are absolutely fantastic. The lead single/title track is a great return to thrash and works well for many reasons but mainly because it clocks in under 4 minutes. The dark and moody, Sabbath-like “Dream No More” is great (love metal songs about Cthulu). The Maiden-esque “Moth Into Flame” with its chugging riff is totally rad, I loved it. The aggressive, fist-pumping “Now That We’re Dead” has a great lyrical hook and makes me want to see this band perform live. The quieter, ballad-like “Halo On Fire” is also a solid track.
All of these tracks, it should be mentioned, have fantastic guitar solos. Kirk Hammett famously lost his iPhone in a taxi cab and with it all the songs he was writing for this album. Despite not having any song credits, Hammett is all over this album, his guitar playing elevating the somewhat pedestrian lyrics, spinning the songs like straw into gold. None of these guitar solos sound alike and are all thrilling. James Hetfield’s voice, it should also be noted, sounds fantastic. Usually they old metal guys sound, frankly, like shit. Their voices get raw with smoking and overuse, but somehow Hetfield still sounds good. His familiar growl just as vital as it was when the band began.
So if I have no issue with the first 6 or so tracks, the vocal performance, and the guitar work…what’s the problem? The problem with HARDWIRED… is that other than the first track, all of the songs are over 5 minutes in length. “Halo On Fire” is over eight minutes long. As the album trudges along, the songs begin to sound samey and overstay their welcome by droning on and on. Honestly, had the band decided to put out 10 or 12 songs rather than a 16 track double-album, HARDWIRED….TO SELF-DESTRUCT might have dethroned THE LIFE OF PABLO for my #1 album of 2016. The beginning is really that good, really it is. The only track from the second half of the album that is worth mentioning is “Murder One” and that’s only because it’s a tribute to deceased Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister. The song isn’t particularly great and kinda embarrassingly name-checks a bunch of Motorhead songs…but it was clearly included because Metallica has great love for Lemmy. This bit of humanity really touched me and reinforced that despite their status as metal gods, Metallica, in the end, are just flesh and blood people.
HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT isn’t quite the home run I was hoping it would be, but it certainly isn’t a terrible album. I can put it on and go running and enjoy myself. The album whirls into a blur during the second half, but that first part is glorious and makes me want to catch the band’s tour. Better than average, but less than legendary. Faint praise, but praise nonetheless. At this point in their careers, after more than one disappointing release, Metallica fans can’t complain. Now if only they hadn’t gone with such dreadfully awful cover art…