Hardwired…To Self Destruct Is The Best Metallica Album Since They All Cut Their Hair
By Jeff Feuerhaken
I think it’s only fair that I open by sharing my biases. When I first discovered Metallica in my early high school years, they changed my life. And I’m not just using that cliched phrase in a hyperbolic sense, in an attempt to communicate the extent to which the band changed the way I think about music. No, I mean they changed my life, in the literal sense. After first being blown away by The Black Album (which had just dropped), I went back and listened to Ride The Lightning, Master Of Puppets, …And Justice For All, and Kill ‘Em All, and my love of their music, and appreciation for what they were able to do with those guitars, drove me into a frenzy. They were now my instaheroes. I wanted to be just like them. The compulsion was so strong that I recruited a few of my best high school buds (who were conveniently also huge Metallica fans, and one of them also happens to be cohost of The Loud Feedback Podcast) to start our own band. None of us knew how to play any instruments or anything, but we each picked out which instrument we were going to play, and then we just went for it, thus starting our first band. Little did I know that this little decision would eventually bring me to southern California, where I embarked on a whirlwind music career with a band called National Product, but it’s also a factor in terms of the depth of my relationship with the music scene. I fell in love with music in general. Simply put, if it weren’t for Metallica, I likely wouldn’t be writing this article.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get to a little backstory on the band, specifically where they stood prior to the release of this album. It’s safe to say that many fans have felt that Metallica had been slowly sliding from grace ever since The Black Album. The band had gone through several periods of pseudo reinvention, First we had the drastic physical and musical transformations that took place for the mid 90’s companion albums, Load and Reload, then there were the occasionally aggressive, but highly criticized free-form recording experiments of St. Anger, and finally we had their attempt to recapture their former magic in 2008’s Death Magnetic. By the time Death Magnetic was released, the majority of Metallica’s fan base had been ravenous for anything that even vaguely resembled the magical metal formula from the band’s earlier years. And in a way, that’s what they got, if only in semi-satisfactory flashes, from such songs as “My Apocalypse” and “All Nightmare Long”, but even these songs felt more like the product of a Metallica cover band then the genuine article. So in a way, it almost made the album even more disappointing because it was exactly what the fans were asking for, and yet it still failed to recapture former glory.
So here we are, 8 years later, and Metallica has just dropped its new (double) album, Hardwired…To Self Destruct. Prior to the album’s release, the band had unleashed not one, but three new music videos to promote early tracks from the album, and to my astonishment and delight, all three were incredibly solid. In fact, the album’s opener, the blistering “Hardwired”, is a breakneck shredder in the vein of the earlier albums’ fastest and most aggressive tracks. The second single, “Moth Into Flame” exhibits some of these same characteristics, but also infused a healthy dose of tempo changes and catchy vocal melodies. By the time I had heard the third single, “Atlas, Rise!”, I was compelled to raise my excitement and expectations considerably for Hardwired…To Self Destruct. And then finally, the album dropped. After my first listen to it in its entirety, I had two immediate impressions. One: With the exception of the album’s epic closer, “Spit Out The Bone”, the rest of the album didn’t seem quite as strong as the three early singles, and Two: Even then, it was still easily the band’s best album since The Black Album, and perhaps even since …And Justice For All.
When you really look at it in detail, Hardwired…To Self Destruct contains some elements from all periods in the band’s career. We have the double-time, speed-picking thrash of “Hardwired” and “Spit Out The Bone”, we have the early 90’s mid-tempo chugging and intense, yet melodic vocal melodies of “Now That We’re Dead” and “Dream No More”, and the best of the slower, riffy stuff from the Load and Reload era like “Man UNkind”. Maybe there isn’t much here to represent the St. Anger album, but who wants to hear a coffee can-sounding snare drum anyway? Overall, critical reaction for the album has been overwhelmingly positive, signifying a very real return to form for the metal legends. James Hetfield’s vocals sound melodic but dirty in the best possible way, Kirk Hammett contributes some of his strongest guitar solos in years, Lars Ulrich keeps to his modus operandi, which are drum patterns that aren’t technically flashy but nonetheless solid, and Robert Trujillo delivers some of Metallica’s most interesting bass patterns since the legendary Cliff Burton, and surprise, the bass is actually audible on this album!
To add even a little more fuel to the fire, Metallica went and did something truly special for the release of Hardwired…To Self Destruct. When the album was finally released, the band unveiled new music videos all at once…For EVERY SONG ON THE ALBUM! Yes, there is a music video for each song, and they all have their own individual concepts and flavor. The only other time I’d seen a band successfully complete this massive undertaking is when CKY did the same thing with their album, Infiltrate.Destroy.Rebuild. Yet there were only 10 songs on that album, and they didn’t clock in at 7 minutes plus, like most of the tracks on Hardwired. From a music video standpoint, some of the notable standouts are “Dream No More”, “Am I Savage?”, and of course the fantastic headliner “Spit Out The Bone”, directed by the uber-talented Phil Mucci.
If you’re like me, and happen to be a fan of Metallica, then I’m sure you’ve already gone out and picked up this album, and chances are, you love it. But let’s say you’re on the fence, maybe you feel like Metallica has let you down too many times of late, and that they’ll will never be more than a shadow of their former selves. For those of you out there, I urge you to at least give this album a listen. Chances are, you will be pleasantly surprised. Speaking strictly in terms of Metallica fans, there’s a little something for everybody here. It warms my heart to discover that there seems to be plenty more gas in Metallica’s tank, and I hope they realize with Hardwired…To Self Destruct, that they got it right this time. I am under no illusions that Metallica will ever put out new music to rival the masterpieces of Ride The Lightning or Master Of Puppets, but after all these years, I’m plenty content to just take comfort in the fact that they still got it.
Score: 7/8 stars
Check out more music reviews here.