Hardwired... to Self-Destruct
Reviewed By Andrew McKaysmith
Metallica are one of only a handful of bands where objectively reviewing a new album is near impossible. Straining against the legacy of albums that not only defined a genre, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets are essentially two of the most continuously influential albums in recorded music history. Add the massive commercial success of the "Black" era, the bizarre if not well intentioned "Load" series of albums, then throw the seriously demented Napster/St. Anger/Some Kind of Monster/Lulu episodes into the mix. Anything Metallica has done for around 25 years is viewed as either rocks or diamonds. So what then of the new release Hardwired... To Self-Destruct?
I'll get what many of you will want to know out of the way first up: Is the album any good? Yes it is. As in it's easily their best album since "Black". At times it's seriously good and raises the ghost of past glories. But there's also some serious flaws...
So what works well? The opening quintet of songs are absolute bangers. The kind of songs you just knew that they had in them for so long. "Dream No More" is the standout; it's early days yet but this track could enter the pantheon of 'tallica's top 10. Just about everything works well on these songs and I found myself unconsciously nodding along and smiling - the arrangements, Kirk's solos, Robert's (barely audible but definitely there) bass runs, James' vocal cadence, and most importantly, great heavy metal riffs... it's all there. Of the remainder of the album the same could almost be said for "Here Comes Revenge" and "Spit Out the Bone".
What doesn't work well? There is no easy way to say this however Lars is yet again the culprit. Fans and the media love the guy. He's so cordial and dedicated to the cause. It pains me to say that a bloke as sincere as Lars increasingly comes across like a guy who years ago acted on a tip, and without knowing much bought a majority shareholding in what was then a Penny stock, only to see that stock soar over the coming decades to what is now a Blue Chip stock - and he still retains status as a key decision maker.
The drums are yet again far too high in the mix. At times the bass drum sounds like a cardboard box (e.g.: "Now that we're Dead") and the snare often cackles like some insane cartoon witch. The intro to "Confusion" is almost certainly written to accommodate Lars' penchant for overtly simplistic rhythmic patterns and the riffs in "Murder One" are cruelled for the same reason. I kept thinking that if Chris Adler could do for Metallica what he did for Megadeth.... What an album we would be listening to.
Enough about Lars, and in spite of what you have just read, there are genuinely no "weak" songs on the album. There are peaks in each but no real valleys that bottom out to canyons, and sonically it sounds as though it has more in common with "Garage Inc." than anything else in their catalogue. Passages in some of the tracks sound as though they could have been written by any of their NWOBHM heroes - "ManUNkind" is the best example of this.
The "Deluxe" version contains 12 tracks proper that are followed by well over a dozen bonus tracks comprising of covers, live tracks, and a re-arranged "Lords of Summer". This is the version most of you will have access to via the plethora of streaming services out there.
When it's all said and done, due to interest in a new 'tallica album, it's game on. As Jamey Jasta now famously decrees "High tide raises all ships", and given the relative strength of this album let's hope this leads to increased interest from radio and media types in our beloved genre.