Beyond Magnetic ReLoaded - A review of Metallica's ''Hardwired... to Self-Destruct''
Even though it looks atrocious to me, the album cover actually represents Metallica's new output very well. The band looks back on its early years and successes and offers an eclectic mixture of its first five studio albums. Hardwired... to Self-Destruct includes several tracks that feature the aggressiveness, energy and speed of Kill 'Em All which surprised many critics positively. It offers several longer tracks that keep the balance between tightly performed and very rhythmic passages and more plodding and melodic parts with classic heavy metal influences as on Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets which was to be expected. Other tunes sound more clinical and are based upon groovier rhythms as on ...and Justice for All as this release finally gets the recognition it deserves by the band. A few tunes are slightly shorter, more accessible and quite catchy which represents the self-titled album without reaching the quality of its best cuts. Hardwired... to Self-Destruct basically sounds like a revamped greatest hits collection of Metallica's diverse styles in form of new songs.
This is not the first time Metallica attempts to go back to its roots. After the controversial yet very unique St. Anger record, the band tried to create a more traditional thrash metal album in form of Death Magnetic. While this album had a few excellent songs, it fell off in the second half and suffered from a terribly loud and unbalanced production. After the experimental collaboration with Lou Reed in form of Lulu, history repeats again as Metallica tries once more to release a more traditional thrash metal release. Death Magnetic and Hardwired... to Self-Destruct are actually quite similar in terms of approach, sound and style. Simply put, if you liked Death Magnetic, you will also like Hardwired... to Self-Destruct but the opposite is also true.
There are a few things where Hardwired... to Self-Destruct performs better than Death Magnetic. The new album is still overproduced but not as massively as the loudness war offered eight years earlier. While the predecessor only featured long and often unfocused, tedious and repetitive tunes, the new album finally features a song that is short, precise and concise in form of the quasi title track ''Hardwired''. I would have liked to hear more songs like this ferocious opener that sounds so motivated that one might actually think that this track is a forgotten bonus track from the Kill 'Em All sessions. Despite being more than twice as long, the pitiless epilogue ''Spit Out the Bone'' remains highly addicting from start to finish and closes the circle to the brilliant opener.
There are also a few elements where Hardwired... to Self-Destruct convinces less than Death Magnetic. The predecessor had a few fillers in the second half but the new album falls really flat on the second disc and offers quantity instead of quality. Aside of the vivid album closer, all other five tunes on the second disc are plodding and overlong, feature different unfocused song writing ideas that don't stick together and have no flow and rehash several structures and lyrics the band has already used before and employed with more urgency in the past. While the predecessor features many memorable songs that work very well in concert, the only truly outstanding tunes on the new record are the thrash metal masterpieces ''Hardwired'' and ''Spit Out the Bone'' as well as the more melodic mid-tempo stomper ''Moth into Flame'' that goes successfully back to the ...and Justice for All era. While several other tunes have good passages, the new record only features three excellent tunes that convince in their entirety out of twelve or thirteen if you consider bonus track ''Lords of Summer'' as part of this release. It's not a disaster but it's not a great ratio either.
Another reason why this record sounds two-faced to me is related to the individual performances on this album. James Hetfield sounds as convincing, juvenile and passionate as in his early years. His vocals are constantly powerful and he even mostly avoids his usual flaws and trademarks in form of silly exclamations like ''oh!'', ''uh!'' and ''yeah!'' that have dominated Metallica albums for about two decades. People like to criticize Lars Ulrich to unfair extents but it sounds obvious to me that his drum play sounds much improved on the new album as if he had taken additional drum lessons. He seemingly unforcedly keeps the speed, rhythm and urgency alive during the entirety of the challenging album closer ''Spit Out the Bone'' for example and he also adds interesting drum patterns in several tracks as in the calmer passages of ''Now That We're Dead''. He shows the numerous critics that he's still able to pull off an expert job. Both Hetfield and Ulrich deliver their best performances since ...and Justice for All in my book.
On the other side, the other two members are lacking creativity, presence and urgency on the new album. Robert Trujillo has one shining moment with a vivid bass solo in ''Spit Out the Bone'' but otherwise he doesn't take much space and offers a rather conservative background performance. He only has one single song writing credit on the entire album in form of ''ManUNkind'' which is one of the most uninspired tunes on the entire record. The most disappointing element about the new record is Kirk Hammett's performance though. He has no song writing credit at all which can't just be excused by the doubtful story that he lost his iPhone including numerous riff ideas. To make things worse, his uninspired guitar solos almost always sound the same and often don't fit to the vibe of the specific song. They often sound like bluesy hard rock solos with unnecessary spectral glides. To be honest, Hetfield and Ulrich could have pulled this record off with some young session musicians in the key of other thrash metal bands like Annihilator and Megadeth and the final result would have been the same or even better which is a very sad thing to say. Trujillo and especially Hammett need to step up and have something to prove on a potential next studio record.
In the end, Hardwired... to Self-Destruct is a very average thrash metal record that doesn't deserve the attention it gets. Occasional fans, die-hard completionist and non metal fans who are only purchasing this record because of the group's famous brand might be momentarily satisfied. More experienced, faithful and intellectual metal fans should download ''Hardwired'', ''Moth into Flame'' and ''Spit Out the Bone'' or wait until these songs will be included on an upcoming live release.
Final verdict: 65%
''Now That We're Dead''
''Moth into Flame''
''Dream No More''
''Halo On Fire''
''Here Comes Revenge''
''Am I Savage?''
''Spit Out the Bone''
Bonus track: ''Lords of Summer''« Turning flaws into strengths - A review of Sonata Arctica's ''The Ninth Hour''Walking off the beaten path - A review of Lord Symphony's ''The End of Time'' »
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