Metallica - Hardwired...To Self-Destruct
Depending who you speak to, eight years between albums can either make or break a band, but when the band in question, is a band with a storied history such as Metallica, does it really matter? After much touring and other business ventures the hard rockers finally get round to releasing a double album of new material: Hardwired...To Self-Destruct.
The last round of original material released by the band was a double album with Lou Reed ; 2011's Lulu. That was critically panned by the media and derided by their own hardcore fan base, especially for some of the lyrics ("I am the table") so the pressure is on. The first single to be released was the title, and opening, track 'Hardwired' offers little to no musical progression from the last album of original material in 2008's Death Magnetic. The song could almost slot right into that album or at worst be a B-side from that era. A disappointing set of lyrics tops the song off with strong language aplenty. Strong language works in maybe a Limp Bizkit song but you expect more from lyricist James Hetfield and it shows a lack of growth unusual for this band.
If the opening track was a disappointment, third single 'Atlas, Rise!' brings the quality back into focus. If Metallica show their influences anywhere on the album the lead guitar lines on this song absolutely scream Iron Maiden. Duelling guitars between Hetfield and Hammett haven't sounded this fresh in a long time. On recent live airing it has to be said that Hetfield does have some difficulty in reaching the high notes vocally of "Atlas,Riiiiiiise! towards the end of the song, almost ending on a Simon Le Bon in the 80s screech, on record though it sounds anthemic.
On the topic of vocals, no singer can ever really keep up a vocal line for their whole career; people age and so do vocal chords. No longer sounding like the angry pissed off Hetfield of the late 80s, here he returns to vocal lines akin to his 90s heyday. The voice strong, impassioned and melodic, to compare his vocals to any other Metallica era, it's akin to 1998's Garage. Inc. On a first listen this is what stands out most more than anything. Take a listen to second single and fourth track here, 'Moth Into Flame'. The vocals soar when they need to, listen to lines like "Sold your soul / Built a higher wall" the harmonies with bassist Robert Trujillo make the hairs on the back of your head stand up.
Often derided and lambasted by the metal community drummer Lars Ulrich never seems to get the credit he deserves. Is he the best Metal drummer around? Clearly not, but the man has vision and experience. On 'Now That We're Dead' he even brings in new musical dynamics with an off kilter drum fill to get the song pumping. It's a new drum sound to the Metallica playbook and is exciting to see.
The album is a double discer (or triple if you got the Expanded Edition) and is nearly the longest Metallica album falling shy by one minute from 1996 opus Load. Whilst you always run the risk of running out of steam on a double album, that's not realy the case here, though the bigger better tracks are front loaded. 'Murder One', a rocker dedicated to the late great Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilminster, is good not great but does have a fantastic video to accompany it.
Any time the Metallica boys bring out new music its always a celebration of the heritage and history of the band but more crucially they have both eyes fixed on the future. Hardwired...To Self-Destruct is an album full of big sounding, hard hitting songs with excellent production values thanks to producer Greg Fidelman and the level of quality barely dips and only gets set to simmer on the last few tracks. A welcome return from the Bay Area boys, may they continue for years to come.