Review Summary: Ash to ash, dust to dust, fade to black.
It's almost the end of 2016, and Metallica have released a new album. It's nothing short of comical just how many people were not expecting to see that sentence typed at all this year, because Metallica have, equally as comically, come up with 8 years worth of excuses as to why there's been an 8-year gap between their new double album Hardwired... to Self Destruct
and their previous release, Death Magnetic
. Among the many reasons, we've gotten "we've made an album with Lou Reed", "we keep getting booked for festivals", "we came up with the idea for a 'By Request' tour", "Kirk lost his cell phone full of over 200 riff ideas", "we keep coming up with these new song ideas but they never pan out", and the list goes on and on. This wouldn't be so comical if the grand total of studio albums, since the turn of the millennium, amounted any more than 3- one of those albums including the infamously bad St. Anger
. So while, on one hand, it's easy to admire Metallica fully embracing the "we're a business now" side of their career- which culminated in the band having their own indie label, Blackened Records- on the other hand, it's become way too convenient of an excuse for the lack of new music in recent times, not counting that album with Lou Reed.
So with the business side of things out of the way, it's probably no surprise that the first studio release from Metallica of the 2010s (and so far, seemingly the only one) comes in the form of a double album, titled Hardwired... to Self Destruct
. Said announcement was met with a mixed reception from the fans- one side of the fanbase was happy to finally have new music from Metallica, and the other side seemed to shake their heads, with the mindset of "uh-oh, they continue to lack self-censorship" taking the hold. Not making matters better was the lead single "Hardwired", which not being anything drastically different from what one would expect from Metallica, was met with an equally mixed reception. While the lead single isn't exactly awful or toxic, and it's impressive that it's a 3-minute thrasher rather than the 9-minute snoozefests they've been releasing since 2000, the problems that come with a new Metallica album are still on display- namely, repetition, James' worsening voice and juvenile lyrics ("We're so ***ed/*** out of luck/Hardwired to self-destruct"
) among others. And it's also unfortunately an indicator of what you can expect- alright riffs, marred by terrible production, lackluster performance and third grader-tier lyrics.
Now, I'd be lying if I said this album was completely void of anything good. On one hand, there's some truly stellar riffs and occasional outbursts of musicianship where the band complement each other brilliantly- for one, people who have been frustrated at Lars' infamously mediocre "cymbals and snare" style of drumming will be delighted that for once, he uses his toms a few times on the album. The best example, and probably the most obvious, is in the intro to "Now That We're Dead". It's a mid-tempo tune that is rather unremarkable, yet has two unexpectedly remarkable instances of drumming from Lars. Additionally, "Atlas, Rise!" has a cool intro and some Maidenesque guitar harmonies, which are impressive even if the band leans on them a bit too much and uses them as an excuse to pad the song out. Additionally, the album comes with two songs that remind us of just how brilliant Metallica has a tendency to be sometimes- "ManUNkind", and "Spit Out the Bone". Cringe-worthy title aside, "ManUNkind" sees Metallica tapping in to their more progressive-oriented side, with shifting tempos and time signatures a-plenty, and some pretty killer riffs- for one, the song's intro boasts an impressively bluesy bass and guitar pairing playing a gorgeous melody that's completely unexpected from a band like them, and while short, it does give you time to ready for the doomy chords that come your way shortly. The song isn't unlike anything from Load
, but it manages to accomplish what many feel that album didn't. While it won't boast any life-changing lyrics (try not to listen too hard or you'll hear "Blind, lead blind/Quest to find/Faith in man, unkind
"), it's a rare instance of Metallica trying something new and it actually working. Even better yet, album closer "Spit Out the Bone" is as close to classic Metallica as the band is likely to come, showing the band playing furiously giving their up-to-11 in every aspect, delivering both the heaviness and excellent riffs required to achieve "classic" status. Even better, it achieves that without trying to pander to such a crowd. And you even get to hear Rob's bass for once!
The problem is, these few moments listed in the above paragraph are all the album truly has to offer. The rest of the album displays either good ideas and nothing more, or cringe-worthy/overlong/repetitive/all of the above compositions. So, taking the album's double format in mind, disc 1 is without a doubt some of the most unremarkable music Metallica has put forth in a while. "Dream No More", for one, is a completely baffling track that will have even the more devoted Metallica fan scrambling to check their copy to make sure they didn't accidentally get a disc of St. Anger
demos. I can safely say without fear of exaggeration that this song is worryingly reminiscent of any St. Anger
cut, be it the pseudo-doomy opening chords, the plodding and dull main riff, the cringe-worthy dual-layered vocals throughout the song, the unjustified 6.5 minute length, or even the lyrics of "Sanity taken/seething damnation/Cthulhu awaken/wake, winged salvation
". You could put this track on St. Anger
and it would fit right in almost effortlessly. While this is thankfully the only song reminiscent of that dreaded album, the rest isn't much better. "Moth Into Flame" comes off like something too mediocre to make it onto Death Magnetic
, and "Halo on Fire" is a bloated and agonizingly dull mid-tempo track that just trudges around without ever truly picking up or becoming brilliant.
Disc 2 , on the other hand, is better, but that isn't saying by much. It contains the two great tracks I listed, but between them are a whole other set of missed opportunities. "Confusion" welcomes the listener with an opening riff that almost comes off like a metal version of Gustav Holst's "Mars, Bringer of War", but it unfortunately never lives up to the false promise its intro makes us, with the song soon devolving into another unremarkable mid-tempo snoozer, and its cringe-worthy chorus certainly doesn't help matters, be it James' audibly strained vocals or the lyrics ("Confusion/All sanity is now beyond me
" among others. "Am I Savage?" and "Here Comes Revenge" effortlessly blend into each other and cease to become anything resembling memorable or catchy, despite the latter's chorus' attempts to shake things up, and probably the most infuriating of these missed opportunities is "Murder One", the Lemmy tribute which begins well enough with an intro vaguely reminiscent of "Fade to Black", but squanders its potential, both by making the Lemmy shout-outs about as subtle as a brick to the face (the chorus is basically as if they had a bunch of random Motorhead lyrics set out in front of them and James picked four while blindfolded) and by being yet another mid-tempo tune indistinguishable from the rest.
So with exactly two songs managing to stand out as being anything resembling remarkable or great, Metallica aren't doing themselves any favour, nor are they going to win back any fans who jumped ship a long time ago. It's hard to tell exactly who this album is for- it doesn't have enough of the 80s' albums power to appeal to the 80s fans, it doesn't have the catchiness required to those who like the 90s material, and even fans of Death Magnetic
will feel as though they've heard what's presented on these two discs few too many times before, with the issues of new Metallica all too glaring. On e hand, it's easy to accept that Metallica do, for better or for worse, deserve a good chunk of the usual "It's Metallica, man!" flattery that predates the release of a new Metallica record, because there's a handful of great riffs on display, and no doubt are they going to sound stellar live. But one can't help but sense Metallica trying to compensate for the lack of freshness in recent times with fast tempos and E tuning. On one hand, while it's great to see they care about bringing the heaviness back to their music, it's truly a shame to see them approach it while bearing the grace of a senile war veteran, telling some probably made-up story to their bored grandchild for the umpteenth time.
And that's exactly the problem with Metallica of new: it's not Metallica, rather a Metallica replacement service. Both Hardwired
only seem to exist to make up for that 8-year stretch of non-heavy or pseudo-heavy music. From the use of the classic font, to the introduction of bass virtuoso Rob Trujillo into the band, to the constant use of long songs, fast tempos and predominant E tuning, it's becoming too obvious that Metallica seem to only have past glories to live on. The difference being those past glories were at least creative, and this attempt to recapture to them isn't doing them any favours but keeping the Metallica concert machine steadily trundling on. Ah well, at least the concert tour supporting this album will be a fun time.