For many Metallica fans, the wait for a follow-up to 2008’s relatively well received Death Magnetic has been a mixture of feverish anticipation and premonitory nervousness. By dragging out this album’s gestation for the best part of a decade, Metallica have hinted at a reluctance to commit to any one musical path. The emergence of the turgid and overlong Lords Of Summer in 2014 didn’t do much to cultivate optimism either. But 2016 has already been a great one for the biggest heavy metal band of all time, not least because the two tracks they allowed us to hear this summer were, by most people’s reckoning, as good as anything Metallica have released since the Black Album. Joyously, the good news doesn’t end there, because while it is far from perfect and, at 88 minutes, a good half an hour too long, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is easily Metallica’s strongest album in 25 years.
It opens with the title track, a vicious burst of prime thrash with an irresistible chorus and enough spirit and venom to silence anyone who thought Metallica were too old to nail this stuff anymore. In contrast to much of Death Magnetic’s hideous production and distracting sloppiness, Hardwired… is precise and brutal. Maybe Lars has been practising more, or maybe some computer trickery is involved, but Metallica sound closer to the devastating machine of Master Of Puppets than they have in decades. The same applies to Moth Into Flame, another monstrous slab of authentic heavy metal that exhibits strong links to the band’s 80s triumphs but without sounding like a half-hearted attempt to go back to their roots.
In fact, nearly all of this album’s first disc is up to the same standard, most notably Atlas, Rise!, with its irresistible Maiden-saluting guitar harmonies, strong whiff of NWOBHM worship and a blistering solo from Kirk Hammett. ‘Die as you suffer in vain!’ roars Hetfield, ‘Own all the grief and the pain/Die as you hold up the skies/Atlas, rise!’ Never mind the music, it’s unbelievably thrilling to hear Papa Het singing lyrics like that, instead of the clumsy self-help twaddle he’s peddled in recent times. Similarly, the slow-burning, Sabbath-infused menace of Dream No More is gloriously grotesque, as Cthulhu makes his first appearance on a Metallica album since 1984, ‘inhaling black skies’ as Hetfield vividly puts it.
- The first reaction to Metallica's new song Atlas, Rise!
- The Black Album Quiz: how much do you know about Metallica's masterpiece?
- Metallica: We haven't made our best album yet
- New Metallica in the style of ...And Justice For All
The downside to Hardwired… comes on its second disc. Furious closer Spit Out The Bone aside, the songs suffer from the same problem that has plagued every Metallica record since Load: an inability to self-edit. A few superb riffs aside, Confusion, Am I Savage? and ManUNkind are too long and lacking in incisive dynamics. Here Comes Revenge is the best of a patchy bunch, but the less said about plodding, forgettable Lemmy tribute Murder One the better.
The negative stuff doesn’t really matter, though. The best news is that Hardwired… is, for the most part, a strong metal record with some fantastic songs and countless moments that will make you think ‘Yes! Metallica!’ You may even desire to hear some of these songs live. Most importantly, you will feel relief that the excruciating eight-year wait was worth it.
Metallica’s bassist Rob Trujillo on the making of Hardwired…
THERE’S A LOT GOING ON ON THIS ALBUM!
“There are times when the well is dry, and there are times when you’re firing on all cylinders. James has so many riffs, and they’re all great! A James Hetfield riff that isn’t considered great would be considered by any other band to be their pivotal moment. We’re blessed.”
WAS IT DIFFICULT WRITING LESS FOR HARDWIRED… THAN DEATH MAGNETIC?
“I don’t dwell and think, ‘OK, this isn’t a Trujillo, Hammett, Hetfield, Ulrich album.’ It’s still us. A Kirk Hammett solo is a Kirk Hammett solo. When I play bass, I play the best I can deliver and I’m very proud of it.”
WHAT WAS GREG FIDELMAN LIKE TO WORK WITH?
“I enjoyed working with Greg, it’s a lot of fun. Even on the very last day, we were supposed to be finished, but Greg and I snuck in the studio, we went back and tried a few things on Spit Out The Bone. It was a couple of days before we were playing Minneapolis, and Lars walked in and was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?!’ And I was like, ‘Dude, just leave us alone!’”
HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?
“Greg was like, ‘Just trust me, Lars’, and in 20 minutes we retouched the whole song. And it wasn’t that what we did before wasn’t great; we just wanted to try a couple more things and we got motivated. That’s kind of passion that is amazing to me. And this is Greg’s first production with the band! We’re gonna do more with this guy. I’m thinking about the future!”