Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct
Blackened Recordings
Heavy Metal, Thrash
Disc 1: 6 songs (37:36) Disc 2: 6 songs (39:53)
Release year: 2016
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

It’s been a pretty remarkable eight years’ wait since the last big release from Metallica, 2008’s Death Magnetic, and the surprise news in August that the band would be releasing their tenth album in November, and a double-album at that, was huge. Metal’s biggest band, whether you like it or not, still pack one hell of an impact - even after indulging their egos with the bizarre concert/fantasy film flop Through the Never and the downright unlistenable Lou Reed collaboration Lulu. At least the former was enjoyable for fans, however hard it was to follow; Lulu was summed up by one critic as being less worth your time than “wanking into a sock” and it’s hard to disagree. The band, of course, refused to listen to fan outrage, James Hetfield insulting fans ‘typing from their mom’s basement’ and Lars comparing the fuss to when people heard that Fade to Black had acoustic guitar! Yet it’s still very much a blip on the band’s discography as opposed to a signalled new direction; Hardwired… To Self-Destruct sees Metallica back in the studio with Rick Rubin again, continuing along the same path back to their roots that Death Magnetic began and largely making the sort of metal that we haven’t heard from them in decades.

Call it a sense of relief if you like, but it’s difficult to be quite as hard on Hardwired… To Self-Destruct as I was on Iron Maiden’s similar double-album folly of last year, The Book of Souls. We were used to good-to-great material from the ever-consistent Maiden, while being a Metallica fan is a rollercoaster ride that takes you from, well, Death Magnetic to Lulu! Hardwired… is equally as bloated and arrogant as The Book of Souls, equally deserving of a good editor, but incredibly there’s a little less that counts as filler, and it’s such a relief to hear Metallica back in this mindset again that it’s easy to be forgiving. Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is a stupid name, and the artwork is equally stupid, but the songs inside are consistently good, and much heavier than you’d expect - somewhere between Metallica and Death Magnetic for the most part, with enough ...And Justice For All and even Master of Puppets influence to put a grin on your face and erase any unfortunate Loadisms. This is heavy metal through and through, and the approaches to outright thrash feel far more natural than the sometimes awkward Death Magnetic. Hardwired... is more consistent and less experimental than its predecessor, with better performances from all and even a much better production, which helps elevate it even more when you directly compare the two.

And yes, even Lars pulls his stick out; although he’s still the weakest element of the band and rarely progresses beyond basic time-keeping compared to some drummers, he’s very much a part of the Metallica sound and doesn’t actively disappoint in the way his eternally poor image would suggest. And the songwriting is nearly all terrific, despite Kirk Hammett’s lost iPhone making this the first Metallica album ever that he hasn’t contributed to songwriting on – ever! The good news comes thick and fast; thank all the gods, there’s no Unforgiven IV! There are no instrumentals, either, or barely any ballads, despite a couple of songs (Sweet Revenge, Halo on Fire) threatening to turn that way at moments. This is by and large Metallica relaxing, having fun, and even rocking the hell out. Opener Hardwired is the best short song the band have written in years, galloping thrash riffs meeting a hungry-sounding Hetfield head-on to great effect. Even the ‘we’re so fucked, shit out of luck’ lyrics fit when you recall that 2016 was a crappy year for Bowie and Lemmy’s deaths alone. The solo from Hammett is no slouch either (maybe we should thank the gods he did lose his iPhone…?) Metallica sounding more amped-up and ready to go than we’ve heard in a good long time.

This continues into the next of a good run of songs in the first disc in Atlas Rise! a six-minute mini-epic that takes in both classic Metallica thrashing and, surprisingly, classic metal melodies that sound almost Maidenesque. Now That We’re Dead slows the pace a little and ups the grove, allowing the guitarists to show off even more with some great leadwork and setting the stage for Moth Into Flame, probably the best actual song present. It hits a speedy tempo quickly, throws in more NWOBHM melody, has a catchy vocal hook, and is so smoothly and impressively put together with lots of the sort of joyously enjoyable riffs that we’ve missed hearing from Metallica – terrific stuff. And even the moments present where the band slip back towards Load territory aren’t so bad, being closer to Metallica in actuality; Dream No More sounds like Alice In Chains covering Enter Sandman and even turns into a Thing That Should Not Be throwback towards the end. The parts of Halo on Fire that rely on Hetfield’s ballad-y singing are no letdown, and the more aggressive surrounding metal is pretty great too, hitting those epic heights well.

Sadly, the second disc can’t quite keep this run up. Confusion starts off well with an interestingly thrashy opening riff and the doomy tone works well, but it’s just a bit too long at over six minutes. ManUnkind suffers both for its stupid name and for being the most overtly Load-like track present, but redeems itself a little with its catchiness and a tremendous bit of soloing, while the stomping swagger of Here Comes Revenge is heavy metal at its finest. I’d definitely have cut Am I Savage? which builds tension for a little too long with a bizarre bit of tech groove metal falling utterly flat, and Lemmy tribute Murder One is possibly the worst track present, repeating a dull, slow riff that makes it sound like yet another Metallica throwback rather than the sort of galloping bruiser Lemmy deserved. Thankfully we get that galloping bruiser right after in the form of finale Spit Out The Bone, a touch of such classics as Blackened and Battery to its up-tempo thrashing and some of the real energy that the rest of Hardwired… hinted at.

If that energy was consistently layered across a shorter album, we’d be talking about a modern classic. But Metallica are their own worst enemies, making this bloated and overindulgent yet somehow managing to rise above its shortcomings and make its best parts truly excellent. If only the band had spent a little less time making music videos for every single song and a little more time trimming the fat! Instead, their egos mean that Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is a weighty, lumbering colossus that will be argued about for years, rather than the slim, streamlined beast the band surely still have in them. Enjoy the highlights, watch the videos (some of them only to be viewed once, although they do have interesting moments, like ManUnkind’s Jonas Åkerlund-helmed honest-to-god 90s Mayhem concert, giving a glimpse of the upcoming Lords of Chaos film) and by all means get the deluxe edition for a third disc with a genuinely terrific version of 2014’s demo Lords of Summer, the Ronnie Rising medley from a 2014 Dio tribute, Deep Purple and Iron Maiden covers, and plenty of live cuts. Appreciate that Metallica in 2016 are very nearly sounding like they did thirty years ago again, even if they can’t help but self-sabotage; appreciate that the good, thankfully, vastly outweighs the bad. And celebrate that metal’s biggest band are back on our side again.

Killing Songs :
Hardwired, Atlas Rise!, Now That We’re Dead, Moth Into Flame, Here Comes Revenge, Spit Out The Bone
Goat quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Metallica that we have reviewed:
Metallica - S&M2 reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Metallica - Ride the Lightning reviewed by Adam and quoted CLASSIC
Metallica - Reload reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 62 / 100
Metallica - The Videos 1989-2004 DVD reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Metallica - Some Kind Of Monster DVD reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
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