Metallica: Hardwired… to Self-Sabotage?

 

The heavy metal legends run into double trouble on their long-awaited – and overly-long – tenth record.

After eight long years, the new Metallica album is finally here. And it’s glorious! It’s spectacular! It’s the album fans have been waiting for them to make for the better part of three decades! … Well, the first half is anyway.

Why, oh why, did they have to make it a double album? The first of Hardwired… to Self-Destruct’s two disc’s is simply undeniable. Sure, it may not be a true return to the form of The Black Album (1991) and everything that came before it; nor does it contain anything that quite matches up to Load (1996) (or even ReLoad (1997))’s stronger moments.* Yet, there’s no denying that, not only does the record’s primary offering instantly eclipse any and all of the material from their past two releases. Admittedly, that might not be the most difficult of tasks. However, while this record lacks the aggression and danger of their ’80s output, it shows the band – whose members are well into their 50s at this point – finally finding a way to tap into the youthful energy of their past, while also managing to gracefully show off their age and experience.

*See: ‘Bleeding Me’, ‘King Nothing’, ‘The Memory Remains’, ‘Hero of the Day’, ‘Fuel’, etc.

 

Imagine, if you will, a mix between the tonalities and song structures of Load and …And Justice For All (1988), coupled with the pounding 4/4 stomp of The Black Album, and you should start to get a good idea of the overall sound and quality contained on Hardwired. …Oh, and don’t forget to add a ton of Iron Maiden-esque harmonies and leads! If that sounds like a strange, sonic combination: that’s because it is. However, it’s also one that works surprisingly well (for the most part), and which really seems to showcase the band truly enjoying themselves and the material they’re creating. The amount to which 2003’s St. Anger was overly-contrived and ill-conceived has been well documented, and even though 2008’s Death Magnetic was somewhat of a step back in the right direction, it too felt rather forced and ingenuous – as if the band were writing the kind of songs they thought people wanted them to, rather than the kind of songs they felt they should be.

The first disc of Hardwired is a simply joy to listen to. The album launches out of the gate with its old-school title-rack – a three-minute thrasher that also happens to be the shortest song of the band’s career** – before plunging into the most consistent opening salvo the Californian’s have come up with since The Black Album. Of particular note is the album’s third track, ‘Now That We’re Dead’, which contains one of the catchiest, and chunkiest, riffs Metallica have ever come up with. The production – something which was a major issue on the band’s previous two outings – is absolutely stellar. Lars Ulrich’s often (unfairly) maligned drumming providing a powerful centrepiece for its vital surroundings and, if James Hetfield’s lyrics are exclusively more ham-fisted than they are profound, he more than makes up for if with the energy and feeling with which they are delivered. Hell, even Kirk Hammett finds room to lay down some of the most effective leads and solos he’s penned in years.

**Ousting Kill ‘em All’s  ‘Motorbreath’ by one whole second.

 

This first disc would almost constitute a perfect offering, if it weren’t for it’s final track, ‘Halo On Fire’. While the rest of the disc’s tracks might be described using such terminology as ‘energetic’ and ‘powerful’, its final outing can only be described as ‘feeble’ and ‘frail’, and contains one of the worst performances of Hetfield’s career. Admittedly, it does pick up toward the end. However, its earlier moments are an unfortunate sign of things to come.

Hardwired’s second half is almost the complete inverse of it’s first. Following its bombastic second opener, ‘Confusion’, the listener is subjected to tracks with such tantalising titles as ‘Manunkind’ (yep: ‘Man-un-kind’), ‘Am I Savage?’ and ‘Here Comes Revenge’, which are every bit as bland, and whose lyrics are every bit as cringe-inducing as their ridiculous monikers suggest. These tracks aren’t bad enough to undo their spectacular proceedings, and there’re decent riffs to be found here and there. However, given that double-album releases are not the standard practice, it begs the question: why do they even have to be there?

As I’ve previously pointed out, Metallica have long-flirted with the double-disc format. Load and ReLoad were originally meant to be released as a single package; those records were followed by two double-disc outings, in the updated covers collection Garage Inc. (1998) and the live, symphonic, collaboration S&M (1999); while the originally singular …And Justice For All has been re-released in the double-disc format, for subsequent vinyl pressings. Yet, while all these previous offerings have justified the extended format in one way or another, there really isn’t any reason for Hardwired to follow suite.

It is a common criticism of double albums that they would perhaps make for better singular offerings, if they were whittled down somewhat. To be fair, most records could use with a bit of trimming here and there. However, the line of demarcation on Hardwired is pretty clear: the first disc is good, the second disc is not. Making matters worse is the fact that the record’s final track, ‘Spit Out The Bone’ is an absolute banger. Not only is it the fastest song on the album, but it also has Rob Trujillo laying down a Cliff Burton-style, distorted bass solo about mid way. ‘Spit Out The Bone’ shares so much more in common with the record’s first five tracks than it does with any of the banality in between, such that simultaneously provides the album with a lasting final impression, while also accentuating its superfluous flaws by comparison.

 

For the most part, Hardwired remains thoroughly enjoyable. Yet, it seems Metallica have succumbed to the same hubristic flaws as their peers in Judas Priest and Iron Maiden – offering up an unnecessary and bloated double album in the twilight of their career. While Hardwired is a much stronger record than either of those examples, there really is not reason for any of the tracks, from ‘Halo On Fire’ to ‘Murder One’ to be on this album, and the clear front, and rear, loading of Hardwired suggest that the band are conscious of this severe differentiation.

Had Metallica showed some restraint this album would have been a much shorter but also an undeniably stronger, offering. Hardwired …to Self-Destruct could have been a truly worthy successor to The Black Album and Load’s legacy. As it stands, it is merely a damn good record with an abundance of glaring, unnecessary faults.

You can grab a copy of the album here.

About Joshua Bulleid

Joshua Bulleid lives in Melbourne and enjoys reading books with spaceships and robots in them. He also likes death metal.

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