The wait is finally over. After eight years of seemingly doing anything and everything they possibly could to delay making a new record, Metallica have unveiled the opening track from their forthcoming tenth studio album and it’s ever so slightly surprising.
Joyously, Hardwired is only three minutes and 18 seconds long. For those who felt that the material on Death Magnetic was needlessly long-winded and lacking in focus, this fast, furious burst of straightforward thrash comes as a hugely reassuring shock. Hardwired is essentially what Death Magnetic was supposed to be: a partial return to Metallica’s early days as purveyors of succinct metal songs. It seems unlikely that it would’ve made the cut for Kill ‘Em All, of course, but this is certainly the most to-the-point and focused thing that Metallica have written in 25 years.
The band’s approach to production appears to have changed slightly over the last eight years – on this evidence, the new album will be less rhythmically sloppy and less sonically clumsy than its predecessor, which suggests that either Lars Ulrich has been practicing more or that Metallica have been using Pro-Tools to tidy everything up. If neither of those things are true, then maybe this is just Metallica returning to some kind of good collective form, because Hardwired gets to the point and stays there in a way that the band have failed to manage since the Black Album. The lyrics are a bit iffy, but James Hetfield hasn’t really penned a classic for a long time and at least Hardwired sounds like a genuine statement of intent, rather than the kind of half-baked twaddle that marred most of the lyrics on St. Anger back in 2003. Perhaps the point of Hardwired is that it’s a straight-ahead, balls-out thrash arse-kicker: on those terms, it does the job and certainly points to some degree of renewed vitality in the Metallica camp.
The downside to all of this is that Metallica’s new album, Hardwired… To Self Destruct, is apparently a two-disc affair, with only 12 songs clocking in at a hefty total of 80 minutes. That level of self-indulgence might work for some bands, but if Hetfield and co. have been guilty of anything over their last few albums, it’s an inability to edit their own material and despite the title track’s thrilling brevity, it’s an inevitability that the new record will feature some really long songs (but not the turgid Lords Of Summer, which is mercifully restricted to an appearance on a forthcoming triple-disc deluxe version). We can only hope that “long” doesn’t necessarily mean “too long” – after all, Master Of Puppets was eight minutes long and could hardly be more perfect, so Metallica are undoubtedly capable of being adventurous without being boring, but it’s been a while since they’ve released an epic of real note.
There are couple of cringeworthy song titles to negotiate on Hardwired…, too: ManUNkind is the kind of heavy-handed play on words you would expect from overly-earnest metalcore bands rather than (fairly) old and wise metal legends, and Am I Savage? is just a very silly title that begs the response: “Not really… at least not since …And Justice For All, eh lads?” But these are minor gripes and all may be explained when the full album is released.
Psychotic fanboys will doubtless hurl praise at Hardwired… regardless of its contents, but for those who have occasionally (or continually) struggled with Metallica’s last two decades of studio material, the sheer length of the new album is likely to prang a few nerves. That said, this first song does offer a glimmer of hope that Metallica album number ten will be a) well worth checking out and b) much better than grumpy cynics are expecting. But as is always the case with the world’s biggest heavy metal band, opinion is guaranteed to be divided when the album is released on November 18. Bring it on.