‘Tallica!!!! I can feel the earth rumbling as Metallica fans anticipate Friday, November 18th, the official release date for Hardwired To Self Destruct. This will mark Metallica‘s tenth studio album (yes I did not include Lulu and for good reason) and the first since 2008’s Death Magnetic. So before I jump into the new material, it might be important to understand just who I am when it comes to the mighty Metallica! I am a Metallica fan through and through, but I got there through a somewhat unconventional route. I blame two things, the incessant badgering from my good friend Andrew, who recognized the virtues of Metallica very early on and Aerosmith.
Throughout the 80’s (and to this day) I was a metalhead, back when Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Whitesnake were all considered “metal”. When “thrash” started to seep into the scene I was not immediately impressed. I found that it (or at least most of what I had heard up to that point) lacked the required amount of melody to satisfy my teenage musical needs. Often the singers were horrific and the production values did very little to help their cause, frequently muddy and indecipherable. My first experience with Venom back in 1984 left me very skeptical of anything tagged “thrash” and so Metallica (and Megadeth and Anthrax and many others) were unjustly ignored by me.
In 1990, two things happened that ensured I would board the good ship Metallica and never look back. The first was a concert announcement that made me sit up and take notice. On June 29th, Aerosmith/Metallica/Warrant/The Black Crowes were to play at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium. I love Aerosmith, I love Warrant and I had been just turned on to The Black Crowes‘ debut album. In spite of Metallica, this was going to be a killer show and tickets were obtained. Until this point I had ignored all of my buddy’s pleas to give his favourite band a shot, but he decided that the iron was now hot enough to once again try again. He was regrettably going to miss this concert, as he had planned a trip to Europe many months before the show had been announced. So knowing he was going to be gone for a couple of months, he conveniently dropped off all his Metallica Cd’s for me to “borrow” while he was away, “just in case I wanted to listen to anything prior to the concert“.
Well he was wrong! They basically remained untouched prior to the concert. Seeing as this is not a concert review, I will keep this short. An awesome show all round, but (and this is the BIG HORNS IN THE AIR BUT), Metallica live blew my mind. Opening with “Creeping Death“, I suddenly got it and I would never be the same! First song, I am on my chair screaming “DIE DIE DIE MOTHERF*CKER DIE“! I came home sporting a very fashionable Metallica T-shirt. My buddy’s Cd’s became my soundtrack until he returned from Europe to reclaim them and then laugh at me. Ok. I admit it, he was right, I was an idiot.
Working backwards from there, those first 4 albums are truly masterpieces in every way. I loved the Black album, I enjoyed Load and ReLoad, but will admit that they lost some of their “snarl” on these two. I may be in the minority, but I really enjoyed St. Anger, with very raw and emotional vocals and some killer songs “Frantic” is worth the price of admission alone and “Shoot Me Again” is one of my favourite ‘Tallica tunes ever. I completely understand the opinions out there; yes, the production was strange; yes, the drum sound is strange, and the lack of Kirk shredding a solo or two was also strange, but I can live with strange. Lastly, we have the Rick Rubin produced Death Magnetic. This was to be the return to form of the mighty Metallica sound and I for one thought it did exactly that. For my ears Death Magnetic seemed to be a modern sounding continuation of …And Justice For All, long complex arrangements were back but the songs came from a more mature band; I could have done without the “Unforgiven 3” but that’s just me.
So here we go, time to buckle up, turn it up and dive into the Hardwired To Self Destruct CD (or actually CDs, as the album is a double disk affair, each containing 6 tracks). “Hardwired”, the lead off title track, kicks in HARD! If you are a fan of the band and are not banging your head by the time the song kicks into gear, than there is something seriously wrong with you. This is three minutes of blistering fun thrash metal with a facemelting Hammett solo that pins you to the wall! Brilliant, I am in! DIE DIE DIE MOTHERF*CKER DIE! Ooops sorry flashback there.
The album then delivers three back to back to back solid, 100% Metallica songs. “Atlas, Rise”, “Now That We’re Dead” and “Moth Into Flame” are all six minute classic sounding ‘Tallica in all their glory. The usual crunchy riffing, melodic hooks and lots of tempo changes. It’s a welcome feast for Metallica hungry ears. Track 5, “Dream No More” provides the first left turn on the record, a mid tempo riff chugs through the verses with a hauntingly different vocal delivery from James. I really like it and, as the song hits the first pre-chorus, the guitar change just before James sings “and he haunts you, and he finds your soul….” sounds so familiar. I love how the song revolves around Ktulu awakening! It took me a second listen to place why that guitar riff sounded familiar, but it sounds very close to the intro riff of LA Guns’ “Face Down” from their Vicious Circle record. Call me crazy, but I hear it pretty clearly.
Closing out Disc 1 is “Halo On Fire”, melodic and moody tune. James delivers a solid vocal performance, but this is indeed the most mainstream “rock” song we have heard thus far. Very commercial, I freaking love it, but the thrashers might be heading for the door.
“Confusion” leads off Disc 2 (that’s the name of the song that starts Disc 2, not my frame of mind heading into the second half). It is, however, how I start to feel by the end of this tune. After such a solid first half, I feel that other than one great chugging guitar riff found within the song, “Confusion” is a bit of a filler. “Manunkind” throws another curveball, with an almost Hendrix/Cream psychedelic feel. Not exactly “Master of Puppets”, but an interesting listen and, unlike “Confusion“, I think it adds to the listening experience.
Unfortunately, this is where the album quite frankly seems to run out of gas. As strong as tracks 2-3-4 were on Disc One, we get the exact opposite with “Here Comes Revenge”, which is OK and might become a grower, but “Am I Savage?” and “Murder One” are simply “meh”. Fortunately, I did not give up on the album and stayed til the end of the credits because closing track “Spit Out The Bone” almost single handedly salvaged Disc 2. An intense 7 minute epic thrasher reminiscent of “Battery”, “Spit Out The Bone” is what this Metallica fan was begging for and a killer way to end the album.
From a production standpoint, Hardwired is one of the best sounding records in the Metallica collection. Sonically, the tones and overall mix of the album is second possibly to the Black album and maybe not even. The guitars are just so clear and crisp. With such a great first half, it pained me so when the album started to unravel some on Disc 2 but even still Hardwired is a great listen that will most likely make my top ten list for 2016. Sometimes more is not always better; lose “Confusion”, “Am I Savage?” and “Murder One” and this album would have been more focused, more fun and may have jumped into my top 3!