Back in April 2014, Metallica both performed and released a thrash metal inspired song called “Lords Of Summer” – much to the excitement of fans worldwide. I stated the following in my review, “This track sounds like the culmination of their first six albums with a mix of elements from Kill ‘Em All through Load. If this song is an early indication of what’s ahead, sign me up!”
I will not proclaim myself as Nostradamus, however, I am happy to report that my earliest predictions turned into reality. Hardwired…To Self-Destruct – their first album since 2008’s Death Magnetic.
In the year 2016, Metallica composed some modern thrashers that triumphantly resurrected “the hammer of justice” and recaptured the youthful spirit of their first five albums. Metallica’s first three singles – “Hardwired,” “Moth Into Flame,” and “Atlas, Rise!” – possess the groundbreaking attitude and confidence of their most illustrious work, which morphed Hardwired…To Self-Destruct into the most highly anticipated Metallica release of my lifetime.
The most refreshing aspect of this album’s marketing campaign; listeners have solely focused on Metallica’s music and no other dramatic nonsense: production, haircuts, style changes, etc. As a lifelong Metallica fan, the most surreal feeling in the world occurred last Thursday night when I purchased my copy of Hardwired…To Self Destruct. The following review is a track-by-track analysis dedicated to my fellow Metallica fans. Enjoy!
Back in 1988, Metallica released …And Justice For All – a genre-defining masterpiece that lyrically focused on political corruption, climate change, and humanity’s self-inflicted demise. Twenty-eight years later, Metallica might be getting older yet “Hardwired” continues to summarize humanity’s downfalls, especially as James Hetfield screams, “We’re so fucked/ Shit out of luck/ Hardwired to self-destruct.” When I first listened to “Hardwired,” my blood pressure spiked as if I just rediscovered masterpieces like “Whiplash,” “Metal Militia,” and “Motorbreath.”
- Atlas, Rise!
Without question, “Atlas, Rise!” is the definitive gem of Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. This song contains the crucial blood boiling ingredients of Metallica’s greatest lore – galloping riffs, complex time changes, and massive amounts of dual guitar harmonies. “Atlas, Rise!” also features James Hetfield’s definitive chorus of the 2000s, “Die as you suffer in vain/ Own all the grief and the pain/ Die as you hold up the skies/ Atlas, Rise!”
- “Now That We’re Dead”
Throughout this record, Metallica revisits the songwriting dynamics of The Black Album, Load, Garage, Inc., and Death Magnetic. Fans of those albums will enjoy the groovier guitar chugs and melody driven chorus of “Now That We’re Dead, ” which falls into a category reminiscent of “Whiskey In The Jar” and “The Unforgiven 3.” While I enjoy this track, it could be considered “skip worthy” since the following songs possess thrashier riffs and hooks.
- “Moth Into Flame”
“Moth Into Flame” – is one ruthless DaVinci-like masterpiece that resurrects the spirit of old Metallica unlike anything else in their catalog since 1988. When the twin guitar harmonies shift into guitar chugging triplets, listeners will instantly feel the synergy of …And Justice For All. “Moth Into Flame” merges ruthless thrash precision with gargantuan melodies in the vein of “Blackened” and “The Shortest Straw.”
- “Dream No More”
If listeners enjoyed The Black Album, Load, and “– Human” off S&M, get ready for a riff-heavy onslaught unlike anything else in Metallica’s catalog. “Dream No More” channels Alice In Chains inspired sludginess atop of vintage James Hetfield power chords and summons the ethereal doom of “The Thing That Should Not Be,” “Sad But True,” and “Devil’s Dance.” Longtime listeners will enjoy the H.P. Lovecraft references, especially as Hetfield yells, “Ktulu awakens.”
- “Halo On Fire”
“Halo On Fire” is Hardwired’s grandiose epic – the essential Metallica ballad highlighted with guitar driven acrobatics. When Hammett and Hetfield harmonize from the 5:05 mark forward, those moments of virtuosity encapsulate what Metallica fans love to hear from both guitarists. This song leans in the musical direction of Metallica circa Load and Death Magnetic, an epic combination of “The Day That Never Comes” and “Outlaw Torn.”
From the start of Side B till “Spit Out The Bone,” Metallica stylistically shifts from progressive thrash towards mid-tempo headbangers. Around the 1:00 minute mark of “Confusion,” James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett combine the wicked riff delivery of …And Justice For All with the slick heaviness ofThe Black Album.
As depicted in the music video, “Confusion” focuses on veterans who struggle with PTSD. Rising rates of suicide amongst veterans has morphed into a nationwide epidemic. I encourage listeners to absorb the message; “Leave the battlefield/ Yet its horrors never heal/ Coming home from war/ Pieces don’t fit anymore/ Make it go away/ Please make it go away.”
“ManUNkind,” is a standout track that summons the aura of Black Sabbath circa Sabotage. The bouncy riffs and bluesy rhythms fire away at volumes reminiscent of “Hole In The Sky.” Black Sabbath is very close to finishing their illustrious career and “ManUNkind” feels like a heartfelt goodbye to the godfathers of heavy metal. If Metallica listeners enjoyed their Black Sabbath cover of “Sabbra Cadabra” off Garage, Inc.- this song must be added to your playlist!
- Here Comes Revenge
Believe it or not, Metallica, the self-titled phenomenon known as The Black Album, celebrated its 25th anniversary this past August. For my fellow guitarists, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett phrase their riffs in a style that recalls The Black Album on “Here Comes Revenge.”
However, my one complaint; I do not like the drum samples underneath Hetfield’s quiet verses – right around the 1:11 – 1:45 mark. Those drum samples feel completely out of place – in the vein of eighties pop or Megadeth’s Risk, especially for a song that resurrects the aura of early 90s Metallica.
- Am I Savage?
When I listen to “Am I Savage?” away from the album, this song contains some evil Black Sabbath inspired riffs that deserve to be commended. However, Side B needed another thrasher at the midway point. “Here Comes Revenge,” “Am I Savage?,” and “Murder One” equate to 25 minutes of mid-tempo pacing.
“Lords of Summer” would have been a better fit at the number four position. As I said in the beginning, “Lords of Summer” combines the up-tempo thrashiness of Kill ‘Em All with the vocal delivery of Load. In my opinion, Metallica possessed a more impressive number that I consider A-Side material.
- Murder One
Lemmy Kilmister used to start off every show by saying, “We are Motörhead and we play rock n’ roll.” “Murder One” is known as Lemmy Kilmister’s favorite amplifier and this song reads like a Shakespearean sendoff to rock n’ roll’s greatest outlaw. Between the Motörhead references in the lyrics and Metallica’s animated music video that celebrates Lemmy’s legacy, fans should immediately gravitate towards this track and respect the band’s efforts to pay homage to their hero.
- Spit Out the Bone
When I first listened to “Spit Out The Bone,” my jaw hit the floor in amazement. I literally felt like I heard the second coming of “Damage, Inc.” Even at age 53, James Hetfield sounds insanely powerful and youthful over standard tuning. In the year 2016, his vocal performance matched his prime from 1986-93, especially when he screams, “Man overthrown.” That ear shattering bark is ruthless and his downpicking has never sounded better!
Every band member shines across this track. Rob Trujillo’s distorted bass approach around the 2:45 mark is the perfect tribute to Cliff Burton. His virtuosity has strengthened Metallica’s current sound and he inspires his bandmates to push their limits as musicians.
Kirk Hammett also rediscovered the fountain of youth, as his utilization of melodic harmonies and sweep arpeggios might be the standout moment of this record. “Spit Out The Bone” features an unforgiving solo where Hammett reintroduces neo-classical shred techniques into his musical vocabulary.
From a percussion standpoint, Lars Ulrich’s double bass kicks conclude this album on the highest possible note. Metalheads across the web take shots at him whenever they can; they mock his ability to keep time or move away from the snare and hi-hat combination. “Spit Out The Bone” is a clear demonstration of Ulrich’s ability to lash out hard-hitting beats underneath Metallica’s meanest riffs.
Before I finish this review, I wanted to mention some important tidbits that helped influence my opinion of Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. There are multiple videos online of Metallica in the studio. James Hetfield is frequently shown writing songs like “Hardwired,” “Moth Into Flame,” and “Atlas, Rise!” with his famous white Elektra flying V that he played throughout the early – mid ‘80s. That guitar is responsible for some of the greatest riffs in the history of modern music. Without question, it makes perfect sense that Metallica’s most impressive material on Hardwired featured Hetfield’s white Elektra – no price tag in the world could replicate that musical chemistry.
Not to change my narrative but this must be acknowledged. Metallica fans should feel disappointed that Kirk Hammett received no songwriting credits on this album. For anyone unfamiliar, he lost his iPhone that contained a majority of his ideas and as a result, Lars Ulrich primarily focused on utilizing James Hetfield’s material. Hardwired…To Self-Destruct severely misses his creative input, as he is responsible for some of Metallica’s greatest work – “Fade To Black,” “Creeping Death,” “Dyers Eve,” “Enter Sandman,” and “Bleeding Me.” To his credit, Kirk Hammett is a team player and still put forth a valiant effort towards his guitar solos – his most impressive solos as a lead guitarist since Load.
Regardless, the positive aura surrounding Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is the result of Metallica having one of the best decades of their career. Death Magnetic was a phenomenal comeback record – it spent four weeks at Number One on the Billboard Charts. The last eight years have reignited their creative spirits and there is a genuine friendship and brotherhood among all four members, which fuels the “Battery” in Metallica.
Overall, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct features some of Metallica’s greatest work since The Black Album. “Hardwired,” “Atlas, Rise!” “Moth Into Flame,” “Dream No More,” “Halo On Fire,” “ManUNkind,” and “Spit Out The Bone” will remind longtime listeners, “This is why we love Metallica.” Some might forget – Metallica are nearing their mid 50s. In my opinion, this album is even more impressive since the band is much older now. Yes, some of their contemporaries like Anthrax still release modern classics but Metallica deserve credit for writing such aggressive material all these years later. They continue to carry the torch for heavy metal – a genre that desperately lacks excitement right now. Listeners should be thankful to have such a healthy and thrash metal inspired Metallica in 2016. James Hetfield once sang the words, “Good day to be alive, sir.” To my fellow Metallica fanatics, right now is great time to be alive. No life till leather, Metallica certainly kicked some ass tonight.