Metallica - Hardwired . . . To Self Destruct (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Hardwired . . . To Self Destruct (2016)

Blackened recordings

It’s sometimes said that Metallica was the metal band that it was OK for punks to like. As someone who spent a lot of time hanging out around halfpipes between ‘87-’89, I can confirm that it’s true. Kill ‘Em All (1983), Ride the Lightning (1984), Master of Puppets (1986) and ...And Justice For All (1988) was an incredible run. They were a band that was able to be highly successful and even sell a million records without ‘selling out’. That all started to change with Metallica (1991), more commonly known as The Black Album. With Bob Rock handling the production the music subtly changed and the band seemed to be actively pursuing fortune and fame. Load (1996) and Reload (1997) confirmed this plodding new musical direction. By the end of the 90’s, most of Metallica’s early fans (myself included) had jumped ship.

St. Anger (2003) marked another musical change. Some unfortunate production choices and a lack of guitar solos kept it from being all that it could be, but it was a step in the right direction. It certainly felt satisfyingly reactionary at the time. At least it was heavy and it mercifully ended the Bob Rock era. The Rick Rubin produced Death Magnetic (2008) was a long hoped for return to form. Unfortunately, it had been so long since Metallica had been any good that many people failed to recognize it. Most people my age never even gave it a chance. I would argue that if Death Magnetic had been the follow up to The Black Album, it would be remembered as a classic. If Hardwired...To Self Destruct could continue the momentum, I would consider it an unmitigated success.

The minds behind the Hardwired...To Self Destruct marketing campaign did a good job of generating interest in the album. Metallica even managed to catch the attention of some of the old timers who missed Death Magnetic. The one song at a time rollout put the best material forward first. If you liked the preview tracks, you’ll like the record. If you didn’t, it goes downhill from there. The simultaneous release of the album and videos for every song was also inspired. There was certainly no lack of hype. In a lot of ways, this mirrors Iron Maiden’s 12 song 90 minute LP Book of Souls (2015). Another band that has done it all decides to throw caution to the wind and embrace excess. Hardwired weighs in at 12 songs and a whopping 80 minutes.

The near title track, “Hardwired”, starts disc one off with a bang. It’s an intense and extremely enjoyable three minutes. It’s the shortest song on the album by far, and probably the best overall. “Atlas, Rise!” is longer and more melodic, but is also a ripper. “Moth Into the Flame” is the other great song among the first six. “Dream No More” is cool if for no other reason than it returns HP Lovecraft inspired material like “The Call of Ktulu” from Lightning and “The Thing That Should Not Be” from Master. The other two tracks, “Now That We’re Dead” and “Halo On Fire” are decent but unexceptional. Metallica was trying to sell this LP as a return to their thrash roots. I can certainly hear a little Kill ‘Em All and quite a bit of Black, but there’s also plenty of Load/Reload. Hardwired is really a mix of everything the band has done up to this point. I was hoping for more Lightning/Master/Justice.

Disc two is not quite as strong as the first. “Confusion”, “ManUNkind”, “Here Comes Revenge” and “Am I Savage?” all show flashes of brilliance, but never seem to reach their full potential. The most disappointing song on Hardwired has to be “Murder One”. The tribute to Lemmy is contrived and plodding, and doesn’t really do the man justice. It’s certainly a lyrical tribute to the late Motӧrhead frontman, but it never captures his spirit. Closer “Spit Out the Bone” rewards us at the end of the record. It’s a rager, and the only one of the longer songs to maintain its intensity all the through. Kirk Hammett spoke about losing a phone with thousands of riffs on it. You can kind of tell. Most of the riffs are good, but they rarely reach true face melting greatness. His solos feel the same way. James Hetfield’s lyrics are mostly on point, and he alternates between his later era singing and his earlier barking. (I love the bark.) Despite his many naysayers, Lars Ulrich is rock solid. He and Robert Trujillo are a formidable rhythm section.

As good as the marketing for Hardwired was, Its packaging is pretty lackluster. Aside from the fact that the cover is eerily similar to Crowbar’s Odd Fellows Rest, it’s just dull. I’m sure they paid someone big money for this layout. I’m also sure that they were trying to make a bold statement with the stark whiteness, but it falls flat. The album is also available as a deluxe three disc version. I would have to recommend this for any serious fan. The bonus disc has the previously released non-album single “Lords of Summer” and two more unreleased tracks. The biggest draw for me was the nine minute Ronnie James Dio tribute “Ronnie Rising Medley”. (It’s similar to “Mercyful Fate” from Garage Inc.) They don’t include any of the big hits, but it’s really cool. There’s also a ten song live set from Rasputin Records. All the songs, with the exception of “Helpless” and “Hardwired”, are from Kill ‘Em All and Lightning. It’s got a bare bones production that proves that these guys can still play fast.

So what’s the bottom line on Hardwired...To Self Destruct? It’s mostly good and even occasionally great. If they could have tightened it up to 8 or 10 songs in an hour or so, it would have been even better. The material gets stretched a little thin over the course of nearly 80 minutes. The deluxe version gives you over 155 minutes of music. It’s difficult to score. There’s lots of good stuff, but also a fair amount of filler. Overall, I don’t think it’s quite as strong as Death Magnetic. That being said, the public response has been overwhelmingly positive. The timing was perfect and people old and young seem ready to embrace Metallica again. Fans from any of the band’s eras should find something they like here. This doesn’t prove that Metallica is back as much as it confirms it. If you gave up on them in the past, it’s time to take another listen.