After leaving the global metal community anxiously waiting eight years for the next musical chapter of the biggest metal band on the planet, November 18th couldn’t have come fast enough.
Hardwired… To Self Destruct substantially evolves the prog ethos of …And Justice For All to song lengths of over eight minutes (‘Halo On Fire’), and adding in the sonic punch of Black with a couple of Kill ‘Em All-era thrash riffs and screams, Kirk, James, Lars and Rob have truly delivered. I believe Hardwired is the album Metallica should have made in place of the fan-swayed Death Magnetic, where a motive of redemption towards the fans lingered after the critically trashed St. Anger. The boys may have been playing it too safe, ensuring the snare was on, Kirk soloed, and the thrash was back. Additionally, Rick Rubin’s contribution to the ‘loudness war’ via Death Magnetic’s overly cranked production was a slightly hollow compensation in the scheme of things.
But as soon as you press play on Disc 1 of Hardwired, fears subside. Via a shotgun jolt of snare to your head. The thrash that ensues harks back to openers such as ’Battery’ and ‘Blackened’, through without the gradual fade-ins. A bold move from a seasoned band. Although Hetfield admitted he’d “rather be 110% less often” in Corey Taylor’s self-organised interview with the band on Monday, subtlety and mellowed refrain is only heard in three of the album’s 12 tracks, including in the hard-rock ballad ‘Halo On Fire’. All songs on Disc 1 come in with a bang, and James even throws two Kill ‘Em All type screams into ‘Now That We’re Dead’. Plus, plenty of double kick, plenty of wah pedal, and Trujillo even gets a short bass solo in the middle of the thrash-tastic ‘Spit Out The Bone’!
Producer Greg Fidelman (Lulu, Slayer, High On Fire) mixed Hardwired for a rich, warm and full sound, devoid of overly punchy compression, which complements all songs to a T. Rick Rubin’s influence still plays a positive role, though in a way you might not expect. In an interview with Metallica’s official online fan-zine So What! on November 18th, Ulrich described how Rubin “encouraged us to embrace and be inspired by our past” in the recording of Death Magnetic, in order to “let our past be part of our future”. In turn, classic Metallica song themes have been brought back to the fold.
The religious themes of ‘Now That We’re Dead’ about Mankind’s debated ascension into Heaven are reminiscent of the biblical lyrics of ‘Creeping Death’. Themes of war, particularly concerning veterans’ PTSD on ‘Confusion’ hark back to ‘One’, and the music video for ‘The Day That Never Comes’. The icing on the cake is the Cthulhu-fuelled ‘Dream No More’, bringing back a theme for the band that hasn’t been used since 1986. Avoiding a total nostalgia trip, ‘Murder One’ anchors Metallica in 2016 with the song’s powerful lyrical sendoff to Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister.
Perhaps thinking of their own mortality as well, Metallica have decided to simply crank the amps and have fun on Hardwired. The band is definitely in their comfort zone, and this accounts to the ‘less-is-more’ approach on some of the riffs, which is quite admirable. Key songs with this approach include ‘Dream No More’, and ‘Atlas, Rise!’, though one questions whether DNM’s main riff would sound as impressive if played by a low-fi garage metal band… I think this simplification in contrast to Metallica’s earlier turbo-prog beltings, is largely due to the fact that all members are over 50 and dads.
As Kirk revealed in Monday’s interview with Corey Taylor, “It seems like all my moving parts are breaking down – my knees, my wrists, my elbows, my shoulders, my brain… Moving forward you have to do the maintenance, with a good feeling that you can pull it off.” For better or worse, Hammett winged most of his solos in the studio, (also not contributing much to the songwriting, as his phone with more than 250 new song riffs was lost in 2014). Rob Trujillo has truly come into the fold in the Metallica world now, acting as a vital studio aid to Hetfield and Ulrich’s ‘driving of the ship’. As Lars himself asserts, “We’re working on something, and then James and I just go running off in 20 different directions and it’s like, “Where were we, Rob?” And he’ll go, “You were right here.” He’s kind of the stable element.”
Metallica have successfully renewed both personal and musical stability this year, with Hardwired being approached in a ‘less-ridiculous’ way, to use Ulrich’s phrase. Ultimately, we had a pretty good idea of the type of album the lads would give us as the next instalment in their legacy, as ‘Lords of Summer’ hinted at in June 2014. Nonetheless, we’re always surprised by a band that has been well loved in the metal kingdom since 1981. As a testimony to a vibrant and dynamic career as one of the worlds most successful bands, Metallica honour their past while fearlessly rocking into the future with a seamless and exciting album.
Metal Up Your Ass!!!
2. Atlas, Rise!
3. Now That We’re Dead
4. Moth Into Flame
5. Dream No More
6. Halo on Fire
3. Here Comes Revenge
4. Am I Savage?
5. Murder One
6. Spit Out the Bone