(Blackened Recordings, 2016)
Obviously, this review requires little background explanation. If you’re a diehard or even casual Metallica fan surfing for more reviews of their new CD, welcome to Truemetallives.com. Here you will find reviews of and interviews with hundreds of fantastic underground metal bands from all over the world. I’m willing to bet that if you like Metallica and are looking to discover great new bands in that general vein, then you’ve come to the right place. To the Truemetallives regular reader: rest assured that Hardwired…To Self-Destruct, mainstream or not, deserves recognition here as one of the most worthy metal releases of 2016.
It is no secret that metal fans have always loved to hate Metallica. From the day they put that “dreadful acoustic ballad” on Ride the Lightning, metal fans have always found some major complaints about Metallica’s varying musical directions or sometimes controversial business decisions. Granted, some of these criticisms have been legitimate (the bloated and ultra-commercial Load albums, the somewhat comical yet-musically-horrifying Lulu), Metallica have rightly stuck to their own convictions for 35 years. Like them or not, Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield & co. have always done whatever they want to despite what anyone, including the crotchety world of elitist metal fans, may think. If that attitude doesn’t embody the original, rebellious spirit of rock & roll, then just call me Justin Bieber and dig my grave right now.
That said, Hardwired… comes across almost as a sort of thank you to all the hardcore thrashers who have stuck with them through thick and then. If 2008’s Death Magnetic was Metallica’s stylistic-comeback thrash album, then Hardwired… is Metallica re-re-re-re-visiting their garage days and making an album that feels both comfortable and inspired. Hetfield has been quoted as saying they wanted to record an album that, “sounds more pleasing to the ear” than Death Magnetic, and that effort is undeniably successful. Gone is the painfully over-compressed mastering of its Rick Ruben-produced predecessor, as well as the overly harsh snare drum and guitar tones that often felt like a dental drill boring through one’s ear drums. The overall sound of Hardwired… is much warmer and dynamic than anything they’ve released since the Black Album, and it easily invites frequent and repeated listens.
What’s much more important, of course, is the music, and in that they’ve delivered on all fronts. Those longtime sceptics hoping (seemingly in vain) for another great thrash album from Metallica will not be disappointed. Here one finds the four band members playing with the exuberance and energy of a band 30 years their junior; perhaps Hardwired… could be likened to Kill ‘Em All junior, with a healthy dosage of Puppets and Black thrown in for good measure. The songwriting, too, is superb in many cases. Hetfield’s riffs pop with blistering, palm-muted speed and savage gallops. There’s a good reason why he’s still considered one of the best rhythm guitarists in metal. Kirk Hammett’s wah-wah-soaked solos are tasty and on-point, and the guitar duo peppers a plethora of fantastic harmonies throughout this double album. Ulrich’s sometimes stiff and awkward drumming may be a continual sticking point for some; here he certainly sounds rhythmically solid and unobtrusive, at the least. Bassist Rob Trujillo expertly holds down the bottom end while occasionally offering some impressive melodic flourishes. A fine example of this is his melodic, Cliff Burton-esque intro to “ManUNKind.”
Of Hardwired’s… two regular discs, Disc One packs the greatest overall punch. Opening track and first single “Hardwired…” starts with a galloping rampage of a Panzer-attack sort of riff. It then erupts into a straight-ahead burst of speed metal that recalls “Metal Militia” and vintage Motorhead in equal measure. The band has barely set its pace yet, as the monstrous “Atlas, Rise!” soon proves. This song twists, turns, and winds in a cavalcade of accented riffs and crunchy groove. When Hetfield sings vociferously “Crushed under heavy skies!” in the catchy chorus, Metallica has gripped our attention.
“Now That We’re Dead” is a mid-tempo, groove-based riff rocker that succeeds on the strength of its infectious vocal melodies. If there’s one sheer masterpiece on Hardwired…, it certainly is “Moth Into Flame.” This tune seduces and then captures us with its enticing confection of gallops, glorious bursts of speed, soaring melodic leads, and enough harmonies to add additional spice. “Halo On Fire” is a slower tune that features more catchy vocal melodies, plus some nice lead harmonies and solos in the second half of the song.
Disc Two does have its compelling moments as well. “Confusion” is based on a deliberate, march-like gallop that is somewhat reminiscent of “Harvester of Sorrow.” Likewise, the intro riff to “Here Comes Revenge” sounds akin to something off the Justice album, though the riffing here is more lively and varied. Also, “Spit Out the Bone” is a fun little speedster to close out the album. Other tunes, such as “ManUNKind, “Am I Savage,” “Murder One,” and “Dream No More” (off the first disc) are more consistently plodding with a mid-tempo groove, and they fail to hold as much interest. These tracks, not coincidentally, have more in common with the more mundane moments of the Black (and even a bit of the Load) albums, and therefore are less effective. I feels as if Metallica wrote too much material for Hardwired…, which is well reported, and tried to cram as much music onto two CDs as possible. Sometimes more really is not more, despite what Yngwie might say.
So, while Hardwired… may be an imperfect and slightly-bloated album, it still is a highly enjoyable and impressive thrash record for the ol’ Metalli-cats. Well done, boys.
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot