HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT by Metallica
Genre: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal
Favorite Tracks: “Moth into Flame,” “Here Comes Revenge,” “Spit out the Bone”
When a band decides to release a new album after an extended period of leave, there are several different routes they can take. On one hand, an act can go all out and create the most ambitious project they can think of, a la CHINESE DEMOCRACY and its thirteen million dollar production cost. On the other, bands can go in the opposite direction and reel in some of their eccentricities and quirks, like Faith No More’s SOL INVICTUS and its relatively tame vocals when compared to Mike Patton’s usual performances.
Metallica went with the second option on 2003’s solo-less snare-drum apocalypse ST. ANGER to the widespread ire of fans, and have decided to go with a third option on HARDWIRED TO SELF DESTRUCT: stick to what has worked in the past, but polish it and make sure it’s as technically proficient as possible. Such a thing worked wonders for Queens of the Stone Age’s LIKE CLOCKWORK, which brought nothing new to the table, but was so well-performed and written that literally no one cared. While HARDWIRED is not on that level of quality and doesn’t have the grit of some of their classic albums, or the nine-minute instrumentals that 2008’s DEATH MAGNETIC featured, it still provides enough well-crafted, testosterone-driven metal to prove there is still a lot of fuel in Metallica’s collective tank.
If you have ever heard a Metallica song before, and I would like to know what rock you have been living under for the last 30 years if you haven’t, then you generally know what to expect: heavy riffs, an intricate rhythm section, massive, stadium-ready choruses, a blend of polish and rawness, and an occasional finger-plucked, contemplative ballad. The major new development is the fact that HARDWIRED takes place in two parts, with a more streamlined, traditional first half and a more epic, varied second half. Disc One starts off with a slight twist with the title track, which is half as long as any other song and whose fire is much more instantaneous and direct. It was a smart change-of-pace for the band, and immediately grabs the listener’s attention.
The rest of Disc One follows the expected formula that would grow stale if not for the fact that Metallica didn’t have the presence and charisma to lend life to it. With the exception of occasional artificially loud drums that unwisely favor volume over power, the production and performances haven’t lost their strength and ability, especially Hetfield’s commanding vocals. “Moth into Flame” stands out the most due to its surprisingly sharp satire of self-destructive fame seekers, allegedly inspired by Hetfield watching a documentary on Amy Winehouse. The only misstep comes in the concluding track of Disc One, “Halo in Fire,” which initially sounds like it’s going to be one of the bands ballads a la “Unforgiven,” before giving up on the idea and going on for way too long.
In contrast to how Disc One is down-to-earth and rooted in reality, Disc Two is more over the top in terms of themes and inches closer to thrash territory, though never quite managing to reach it. While “Confusion” provides a surprisingly poignant look at PTSD, especially compared to how metal typically treats war, the rest of the disc is much more “extreme” and detached from reality. Most of the time it’s quite entertaining, like the blunt yet menacing “Here Comes Revenge” and “Spit Out The Bone,” which could have been written from the perspective of SKYNET or the Cybermen. However, the tribute to Lemmy Kilmister, “Murder One,” is esoteric to Motorhead diehards, and “Am I Savage” is a little too lethargic to give context to its groan-worthy attempts at being disturbing. (“Sharpened edge touch liquid flame / Deepened seed soaks anger’s reign / Arching back, shape-shift derange / Father, how I watched you change”)
When I first saw the cover for HARDWIRED, I was worried that “Am I Savage” would be the norm, but fortunately, songs like it are the minority. It may be too clean for some, but Metallica still has power, and that’s just as important to rock and metal as grit. Their sonic assault has been tempered but not outright neutered, and the writing can be sharp and tasteful or entertainingly over-the-top while always remaining gripping. It won’t replace any of their classics and it never rises above “solid,” but given some recent subpar releases from veteran rockers (REVOLUTION RADIO, DYSTOPIA, CHINESE DEMOCRACY), HARDWIRED proves Metallica can still rock after 30 years.