Review Summary: Metallica stop trying to please everyone else, and release an album that embodies where they're at in their lives.Kill ‘Em All
is a pure album. It wasn’t guided by fame, label executives, money, fans or anything outside of four guys’ desire to create and play music. Every album since then has had some sort of external baggage attached to it. Whether it was the ambition to push the envelope and prove themselves in the 80s, the commercial pressure of the 90s or even the fan pressure of the past 16 years, there were forces outside of Metallica’s simple love of creating that drove them. The cracks in the foundation first appeared with the release of Load
. Suddenly the band that claimed to only care about the music seemed to be equally concerned with image and current trends (If not more so). If Metallica’s identity crisis wasn’t apparent at that time, it became blatantly obvious with the release of Some Kind of Monster
and St. Anger
. St. Anger
was the sound of a band struggling with the pressures of fame versus their desire to write what they want while also staying modern and relevant. It was Lars watching Jason Newstead’s Echobrain band and wondering out loud if Echobrain was the future and Metallica was the past.
If Metallica was the past, they tried their best to embrace it with the release of Death Magnetic
. That album was relatively well received, but it definitely felt a little forced, and confirmed the identity crisis was very much alive. This is all relevant to Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
because everything they’ve done has led to this release. The experience of writing extended songs in their youth, the prolific songwriting prowess that blossomed in the 90s (and the financial security that came with it), and even the struggles of their previous two releases have led to what is probably the purest release since their debut. Throughout Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
’s extended runtime is the sound of band that finally seems to be playing whatever they want without any outside pressure. So, what does Metallica want to sound like in 2016? If you’ve heard the first three songs released from the album, you might have the wrong idea.
Before the release of Hardwired
, Metallica released the title track, “Moth Into Flame”, and “Atlas, Rise!” – three of the four only high-energy songs on the album. They’re all very good songs that approach Metallica’s heavier side from different angles. “Hardwired” hits with a simplistic, almost Kill ‘Em All
energy while “Moth Into Flame” approaches from a more progressive angle, featuring a few different tangents, some dual-guitar harmonies and an extended runtime. Of the three, “Atlas, Rise!” is probably the best early representation of the album as a whole, but it’s still more energetic compared to the other songs. The fourth high-energy song is also the one that seems to have everyone talking, “Spit Out the Bone”. If there is a track that faithfully recalls the band’s glory days, it is that song. Musically, everyone already knew the band probably still had it in them, but what might surprise people is James even brings back some of the harsh vocals that he hasn’t used since the late 80s. The rest of the songs, though, take on a different persona altogether.
The other songs on Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
remind me of an even blend of And Justice for All
(played at half-speed) and the black album mixed with the modern influences featured on Load
. Compared to the early release songs, these tracks are all pretty damn slow, but they’re also some of the best. The opening track of the second disc, “Confusion”, probably stands as the best of the album. If harsher vocals had been used, it would pretty much fit (near) perfectly with the rest of the … And Justice For All
material as it definitely has more than a passing resemblance to “Eye of the Beholder”. Earlier on the album is another top-tier Metallica song (especially by modern standards), “Dream No More”. It kind of has that “Sad But True” groove, mixed with some of that Load
swagger, but also just a bit of that Justice
crunch – including some of James’ better shouted vocals. To a certain degree, that description can pretty much fit most of the songs on the album, but they all approach the influences from different directions. Despite, all of the positive aspects of this album and the fact that this really is their best release since the black album, all is not perfect.
While Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
features one of James Hetfield’s best modern performances, the rest of the band seem to be set on autopilot. The best way to describe Lars’ performance on this album is loose and casual. Other than the four energetic tracks, I can’t even see Lars breaking a sweat while playing these songs. At this point, I think he just wants to drink his wine and knock out a simple beat. His lackadaisical approach doesn’t particularly ruin any of the songs, but they also do very little to enhance any of them. What might be more surprising is that Kirk Hammett also phones in his performance. In interviews, he has spoken at length about how he didn’t contribute to any of the songs and also didn’t bother rehearsing any solos before coming in and winging it. As such, there isn’t a single solo on this release that is memorable or even complimenting to the songs they’re attached to, which is a real shame. There’s also some semi-audible bass on the album, but you can’t really expect much from the guy that not only doesn’t participate in the most of the song writing, but could also straight up be dropped from the mix at any moment.
Throughout Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
’s extended runtime, it becomes pretty clear that this is the sound the band is comfortable with. With few exceptions, that sound seems to be one that uses the riffs and song structure blueprint of Justice
, the crunch and tempo of the black album, and the hooks and songwriting from Load
. To be honest, that mix works pretty well and leads to Metallica’s best release since the early 90s. At the end of the day, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
sounds like a band that has returned to playing just for the love of playing. You can hear it in James Hetfield’s reinvigorated vocals, and the way he even brings back a bit of that visceral fire in places. You can see it in the album’s extended song lengths with nary a single or ballad in sight. You can even hear it in Lars’ performances (for better or worse). There’s no attempt to recapture their classic sound, no blatant radio single, and not even an attempt at performing more than what they’re comfortable with. If you’ve followed Metallica beyond the black album, you’ll find a very good, honest, release in Hardwired… To Self-Destruct