After eight long years of world tours, 3D movies, and dodgy Lou Reed collaborations, Metallica are finally back with Hardwired…To Self-Destruct, a new album which looks knowingly to past glories whilst affirming that the band are still a serious force to be reckoned with in 2016.
And man, what an album it is.
From the machine gun blast of opening track Hardwired to Spit Out the Bone’s final moments of breakneck brutality, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is nothing short of glorious. Throw in an extra disc of covers, extras, and live tracks, and what we’re dealing with here is exactly the album Metallica die-hards have been clamouring for, some since as far back as 1988’s …And Justice for All.
Yes, the band have definitely clocked up more than their fair share of detractors since that album, but there can’t be a serious Metallica fan on the planet that isn’t happy with Hardwired…
Even the hardened thrash purists have a lot to be happy about here, with punishing riffs and exhilarated beats blasting out in abundance.
A Celebration of Past Triumphs with a Modern Edge
Such sonic barbarity has certainly been enough for many fans to herald Hardwired… as a long-overdue return to form for a band whose whiplash brand of metal set new standards when they first hit the scene in the early ’80s. Listen closer however, and you’ll find that this isn’t simply an aging rock band rediscovering their teenage roots, but rather a group of seasoned musicians letting loose in the studio, keeping one finger firmly on the pulse of modern metal whilst simultaneously celebrating everything that makes the Metallica beast the force that it is today.
To put it another way, this is not the sound of a band ‘going back to what worked.’ No, this is the sound of a band giving a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) nod and wink to the best bits of their 30+ year career, best bits as decided by the band themselves, and not by those who believe Metallica stopped mattering the moment ‘Justice finished.
Not that the early stuff isn’t reflected here. …And Justice For All has already been namechecked twice in this review, though not without good reason. Moth into Flame to an extent, and Confusion in particular, with its marching rhythm and war-torn imagery, could have easily come from that album. The latter especially comes with its own Frayed Ends of Sanity or Eye of the Beholder rhythmic intro, whilst the juggernaut guitar of the former would have seen it right at home between either of those two tracks.
Not that ‘Justice is the only album to get the subtle nod here. Dream No More, with its huge groove and scathing, chanted chorus, and ManUnkind, with its somber bass intro and weighty riffage channel the spirit of 1991’s self-titled Black Album, and if Lords of Summer (doesn’t pay tribute -at least in part- to debut effort Kill ‘Em All, then nothing will.
A Highlight Among Many
Elsewhere, Atlas, Rise! is probably the closest thing to imagining what the Master of Puppets album might sound like if the band recorded it today instead of in 1986.
With its enormous refrain, razors-edged riffs, and uncompromising rhythm, Atlas, is an early highlight on an album chock full of them, a highlight that leads directly into another one, the instantly memorable Now That We’re Dead.
In some respects, this monumental epic of a track makes you wonder what 1996’s Load might sound like were it recorded with ‘Justice’s sense of desperation and raging turmoil, but again, that’s not to say that Metallica are doing little more than rehashing old ideas here. Now That We’re Dead could have easily been recorded by the likes of Avenge Sevenfold and their ilk, and would sound just as bold, brutal, and alive as it does here on Hardwired…
Indeed, amidst all this talk of past triumphs, its tempting to overlook the one crucial point that James, Lars, Kirk, and Robert seem eager to make with this album. That point is this:
In 2016, Metallica still matter. Despite That Lou Reed Thing, despite St. Anger (which is still better than most people gave it credit for), and despite all their detractors, this is still a band who make scathing, brutally brilliant, contemporary heavy metal.
Contemporary is the key word here too. Subtle nods to early material aside, Hardwired… displays all the vitality and pulsating energy you’d expect from a band of teenage upstarts, except this sounds better, thanks no doubt to the three-and-a-bit decades of experience the band have to draw on.
Need a good example of this? Look no further than Halo on Fire.
One of Metallica’s Finest Moments
At 8+ minutes, it’s easily the longest track on the album. It’s also one of –if not the- best, perfectly rounding out Disc 1 in an inferno of gargantuan guitars, enchanting melodies, and solos which seethe and enthrall in equal measure. An epic on a heroic scale, Halo on Fire stands as one of Metallica’s finest moments, and a masterpiece that that any number of 21st century hard rock and metal bands would be proud to call their own.
If it all ended there, with the final solemn chords of the album’s magnum opus, Hardwired… would already be triumph. But it doesn’t, it continues with a second disc full of tracks which, though they may lack the manic franticness of the first half, more than make up for it with an added level of brute power, an almost primal aggression, and a more stern approach to songwriting.
Of the tracks that we haven’t yet touched on, Here Comes Revenge stands out as being worthy of particular mention, serving up Hetfield’s trademark snarl with aplomb. An understated gem of a track, ‘Revenge’s deep, menacing groove lends it a certain sadistic tone, almost as though the song itself would love nothing more than to stalk you into a dark alley and thoroughly beat the living daylights out of you.
A Slow, Nightmarish Prowl
Following on, Am I Savage? feels very much like the spiritual successor to Of Wolf And Man. The pace slows to a crawl here, perfectly in keeping with the brooding, nightmarish ambiance as vocals howl and growl, guitars stab at the dirt, stalking their prey as the bass and drums prowl through a desolate forest in the dead of a winter’s night.
Emerging from the other side of that forest, somewhere outside a smoky bar off the American Highway, we come to one of the most talked about songs on the album, Murder One.
A fitting tribute to the late Lemmy Kilmister, Murder One retains ‘Savage’s plodding pace, infusing it with a suitably debauched groove, and a swagger that wonderfully encapsulates the spirit of the legendary Motorhead frontman.
A Celebration of Metal
Things wrap-up with fan favourite Spit Out The Bone, seven minutes of sheer insanity and an unadulterated rampage of violent riffs and nihilistic drums, all underpinned by Hetfield’s hostile vocal.
Though not quite the majestic epic that Halo On Fire is, Spit Out The Bone is nonetheless a fitting way to end the album; a vitriolic celebration of the raw power and turmoil that lies at the very heart of the Metallica beast, or -if you prefer- a fine return to the thrash-centric form die-hard fans have been clamouring for since ‘Justice.