Following an eight-year drought, exasperating even the staunchest of followers whilst teasing some overtly radio-friendly toons, Metallica have dropped a new record, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. Well-balanced and packed full of big riffs and wailing guitar-solos, the first listen contains plenty to wet the palate, but only upon repeated head-banging did the intricacies and the lyrical content of the album sink in.
If you can honestly look me in the eye and tell me that you’ve never heard of a little band called Metallica, I will straight-up buy you a pint. If this is somehow the case and you can’t, let me introduce you to James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo, the Bay Area quartet who has become synonymous with heavy metal music worldwide over the past three decades. Line-up changes aside, Metallica has been producing genre defining records in thrash metal since the ’80s, including Master of Puppets, Ride the Lightning, and …And Justice For All.
Having slipped into mediocrity since the Black Album, one could almost forgive them for their slump; money, fame, and an extensive back catalogue mean they could rest on their laurels and pursue a comfortable career for the remainder of their days. But Metallica has a humongous work ethic, always wanting to progress and evolve into something more — or maybe, devolve into something from the past. Death Magnetic was a welcome step back in the direction of their roots, and with much anticipation, Hardwired… is an even more self-conscious return to fighting form.
The double album concept works well, with the first disk solidifying the harder, edgier Metallica, and the second packing a broody, menacing punch. “Hardwired” and “Spit Out The Bone” perfectly bookend with their assertive opening riffs, fast pace, signature solos, and aggressive vocals (“We are all fucked!” and “Long live machine”). Hetfield is on to something with his lyrical mentality on the album, preaching about humanity’s dangerous entrenchment in electronics and technological advances, and how we are destroying ourselves due to inflated egos and weak human condition. “Atlas, Rise” certainly puts forward a good argument, dealing with the proverbial “weight of the world” thrust upon us as we try to keep pace with the times — of course, all of this rhetoric comes packaged in the bluesy triplets Metallica have perfected over the years.
While the initial Master of Puppets-esque pace isn’t maintained throughout the entire record, everything feels fresh; “Dream No More” feels purposefully drunk and menacing, and although “Moth Into Flame” sounds like a cut from Death Magnetic, it still certainly feels at home here. “ManUNKind” lumbers with a slow, swag-infused pace, depicting the “always want more” mentality which so mars modern American (and Canadian) culture. When we are constantly bombarded by media who dictates to “strive for more,” this track asks, “Needy, must we have more?” Which couldn’t be more pertinent given current social and economic climates.
Overall, Hardwired… exceeds the bar set by their last two releases, and gives enough nods back to their angsty ’80s selves to bemuse (but maybe not fully win over) their die-hard fan base. Despite this, I can’t help but despair a little. Thrash metal ought to be pissed-off, noisy, sloppy and chaotic, but Hardwired… is just not that. It’s too good. Too clean and crisp. When there’s a lot to be pissed-off about (and these days there’s plenty), a good old-fashioned angry rant song can be the salve that keeps us from boiling over. Metallica have released something solid here, but will it quell our feelings towards politics, social injustice and “the man” in the same way thrash metal traditionally has? Ask me in a few months.
Mandatory listening: “Hardwired,” “Confusion,” “ManUNKind”
Slightly optional listening: “Now That We’re Dead,” Entire Metallica back catalogue