From their humble beginnings in the 1980s San Francisco thrash metal scene, Metallica have since become one of the most popular and successful bands of all time. The magnitude of their popularity paired with the breaks the band takes between new albums creates a great deal of fanfare and hype with every new Metallica release. Their new album, “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct,” was released eight years after their last, “Death Magnetic,” making it the longest period between albums the band has ever taken.
While “Death Magnetic” was praised as a return to form by fans and critics, others complained about the album’s (admittedly poor) production. As the ban explored other ventures—Lou Reed collaborations, music festivals, movies, etc.—fans waited eight long years to see if Metallica could build from the momentum of “Death Magnetic.”
The answer to that question arrived in mid-November with the release of “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct.”
The opening track, “Hardwired” starts the album off with a ferociousness unseen from the band in some years. Drummer Lars Ulrich powers the song with fierce double-bass work as frontman/guitarist James Hetfield proves once again why he’s one of the most noteworthy riff-writers in rock. Other songs, such as “Moth into Flame,” “Atlas, Rise!” and “Spit out the Bone,” recall the band’s early thrash-metal sound and fit in perfectly with the Metallica catalogue of heavy classics.
“Now That We’re Dead” is a well-executed piece of hard rock songwriting as the chugging guitar riff creates a groove similar to the band’s biggest hit, “Enter Sandman.” Hetfield’s lyrics spell out a morbid love song in the same vein of “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult. While this subject matter is rather unusual from the group, Hetfield’s delivery handles this very well. “Halo on Fire” is the only song on the album that could be seen as a “ballad” and is cut from similar cloth as “One” and “The Day That Never Comes” from previous releases. That being said, the guitars in the song’s second half supply many great moments for both Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett.
One of the most interesting things about the album is the fact that every song has an accompanying music video. The video for “Confusion” is particularly gripping, reflecting the song’s lyrics about PTSD and war-related trauma. Other great videos include the band’s tribute to late Motorhead frontman Lemmy in “Murder One” and the intense black and white video for “Halo on Fire.”
The production issues brought by Rick Rubin’s handling of “Death Magnetic” have been cleared up. Producer Greg Fidelman doesn’t push the volume to infinity like Rubin, creating a much better overall sound. For example, bassist Rob Trujillo’s brief solo in “Spit Out the Bone” is excellently mixed in a way that I doubt would have worked on “Death Magnetic.”
The album isn’t without faults, but these are quite small. Hammett’s solos are a tad underwhelming and tracks “Am I Savage?” and “Here Comes Revenge” would have been better off scrapped from the album’s two discs. However, “Hardwired” may be the best album the band have released since 1991. The band’s die-hard fans should feel very pleased knowing that Metallica still have what made them icons in heavy metal.