The individual members of Metallica may be in their early fifties, but you would never know it when listening to their new, tenth studio album, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct. Eight years have elapsed 2008’s Death Magnetic. Fans of the bay-area thrashers may have worried this day would never come. But alas, we have new Metallica. Like the old saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” For Metallica fans, today is that day.
Metallica waste no time crushing the listener here. No intro to the album opener. No slow, brooding buildup. Just straight up, immediate, intense thrash. “Hardwired” absolutely crushes as an album opener. Thunderous, pounding drums. Lightning-fast guitar riffing. And James Hetfield’s powerhouse vocals. A recurrent theme throughout Hardwired is just how good Hetfield sounds.
For a double-album, Hardwired is not as all over the place as it could have been. The band bounces between thrash metal chugging and groove-oriented hard rock ala Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. There are no “Nothing Else Matters” to be found here. The band push turn it to ten and keep it there throughout both discs. Pushing the listener to their sonic limit.
Among the released singles Moth into Flame” and “Atlas, Rise!” the first disc contains the absolute powerhouse track, “Dream No More.” Drummer Lars Ulrich and bassist Robert Trujillo anchor the groove while lead guitarist Kirk Hammett shines with his sharp leads and guitar solo. Hetfield’s vocals feature the use of Load-era effects adding a slight distorted, devilish effect. Hetfield hasn’t sounded this great on record since 1997’s Reload.
The album’s second disc is, if only slightly, inferior to the first. “ManUNkind” serves as one of Trujillo’s highlights. In addition to co-writing the song, his bass playing during the intro harkens back to the band’s thrash heyday of the 80’s. His second official album with the band, Trujillo more than holds down the low end throughout. While a certain Metallica has gained notoriety throughout the years for it’s lack of bass, there is no such issue on Hardwired.
Much light had been made of Kirk Hammett losing his cellphone with contained over 250 riffs and ideas for the album. Truth be told, this is the first album to not feature any songwriting contributions from Hammett since their 1983 debut, Kill ‘Em All. Hammett more than makes up for his lack of songwriting contributions with his lead guitar playing. Where the album’s second disc outshines the first is in Hammett’s fiery, fierce shredding. Trademarks of Hammett’s playing; double stops, his trusty wah wah pedal at his side, hanging onto notes within an inch of death are on full display throughout.
Lars Ulrich, fairly or not, often gets a bad wrap for not being an “amazing” drummer. While he may not be as technically proficient as other drummers of the genre, Hardwired is his best performance on a Metallica album in ages. He is playing as if he has something to prove. The urgency and immediacy in his playing is awe-inspiring. The album’s opener and closer show Ulrich at his manic, frenzied finest. Perhaps his most consistent performance since The Black Album.
Metallica isn’t reinventing the wheel on Hardwired. But they aren’t playing it safe either. There is no “ballad” No “One” or “The Day That Never Comes.” But there is one song that will no doubt live on in the world of Metallica as an all-time classic; “Spit out the Bone.” The album’s closer proves the perfect bookend to opener “Hardwired.” The aggression, the attitude and the intensity on “Bone” will make you swear it is 1986. There is even a bass solo from Trujillo in there for good measure. An instant classic. If the band was to never make another album, this would be an almost too perfect closer to their recording career.
What makes this album work so well is how it incorporates sounds from different eras of their career without sounding as if they are repeating themselves. There is a definite Load-Reload vibe at times. At certain points there is a straight up Kill ‘Em All feeling. “Dream No More” and “Now That We’re Dead” are very Black Album-esque in their arrangements but run through a Death Magnetic filter. There is something to be enjoyed by fans of any era of the band’s storied career.
One of the best aspects to this album outside of the music is that Metallica has made an official video for each of the album’s twelve tracks. While other rockers such as Rob Zombie have done this in the past, it is a first for Metallica. The band had avoided making music videos throughout the early days of their career. It was not until 1988, when they created the morbid video for “One” that they took the leap into the medium.
Metallica have spent their entire career doing what they want to do. They refuse to play to anyone else’s rules. Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is no exception. Is this their best album? No. But it doesn’t have to be. No one is asking for another Ride the Lightning. At times fans and critics alike can be guilty of demanding every new album a band releases must be their best or live up to their best work; instead of enjoying the album for what it is. Hardwired… To Self-Destruct deserves to be enjoyed. Not only for the music, but as a testament to Metallica. Over thirty-five years in and Metallica are still the best at what they do. No one thrashes harder, grooves better or sets the bar higher. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to wait another eight years in between albums.