It’s been eight years since ‘Death Magnetic’, the longest gap there’s been between non-collaborative Metallica studio albums. For a lot of fans and critics, a return to form is a necessity, after being underwhelmed by most of what the metal heavyweights have released over the past fifteen-or-so years. Is double album ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’ that return to form?
Creatively, there’s something missing here, and that’s a pretty dangerous trait for a near-eighty-minute double album to have. Unfortunately, in 2014, Kirk Hammett lost his phone in Copenhagen – his phone contained over two-hundred ideas for riffs – that’s both a disaster for a creative mind and a good advertisement for data backups. There’s a regular feeling of flatness throughout the album, and a few unadventurous anti-ideas. ‘Hardwired’ has sections that sound like a faster version of the amazing ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Atlas, Rise!’ has guitar sections that would sound majestic and powerful if not for their resemblance to ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ by Iron Maiden.
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Lyrically, the recurring “You turned…to stone!” segment of ‘Dream No More’ gets a tad overbearing and ‘Murder One’ mentions ‘aces’ a few times, that old trope of ‘80s metal. Other than that, there’s really just an apparent lack of notability. Also, the second disc includes a song called ‘Manunkind’, a title that is difficult to take seriously.
As far as performance levels go, ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’ is fairly straight-laced. It’s safe, but if you like your rapid guitar solos and paint-by-numbers James Hetfield shouts, then while this album is hardly metal gold, it’s a diehard fan-pleaser. ‘Now That We’re Dead’ is perhaps the best example of all four guys coming together to musically lunge through the speakers, on the first side of the album anyway. It’s hardly their greatest showcase of talent, but lightning-riding Kirk Hammett licks frequent the track, and Lars Ullrich imagines his drums are Napster and beats the hell out of them. ‘Halo On Fire’ proves that to some extent, Metallica still know what they’re doing when combining pure heavy metal with emotional balladry. The song serves as both the record’s angel and devil.
‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’ features some production traits of Metallica that we’re used to. The over-the-top compression of ‘Death Magnetic’ and that ill-advised drum sound of ‘St. Anger’ are both things of the past, and for a lot of people, nothing else matters. The mix is very ‘studio’, but everything that needs to be emphasised is emphasised, it sounds heavy, and that’s great. Hair is standing on necks, veins are popping out, that is some optimum heaviness.
As mentioned, the length of the album is its own worst enemy. The content is inoffensive but for the most part, fairly generic, and that really doesn’t merit the time it’s given. There are moments of tedium, and the powerful ending note of ‘Spit Out the Bone’ isn’t enough to cancel out those moments. 21st century Metallica has been polarising, and while ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’ might be a step up, it’s nothing new.