I must confess that it would be very, very easy to find a bigger fan of Metallica than I am. To be perfectly blunt, I haven’t heard a new album by the band that I’ve liked in twenty-five years – and even that was a reach because I thought the Black Album spent more time plodding than rocking. No, I’ve always been a bigger fan of the earlier, “thrash” side of Metallica than I have been of the “giant dinosaur” years, and a bigger fan of both than I have been of everything the band has done since 1992.
Because it’s been so long, I just assumed that the time for me liking Metallica had passed, but now the band has gone and proven me wrong by finally flushing all the timely and fashionable bullshit they’ve been toying with for the last quarter-century and just making an old-school, shred metal album.
Fans who remember Metallica’s blazing glory days – before the Black Album gave the band a taste of superstardom and screwed everything up – will recognize that sound as though they never left it (or it never left them) the moment “Hardwired” blazes out and opens the album. The tightness of this performance it astounding: here, Hetfield, Hammett and Ulrich hit the ground running full-tilt (Bass player? There probably is one* but, as was the case in the eighties, the instrument is basically inaudible in the mix here) and don’t break stride even once on their way. Some fans might complain about that but, as long as they keep listening, they’ll find it harder to find issue. Lars Ulrich’s patterns are faster than they’ve been in years and, combined with Hetfield’s grindy rhythm guitar as well as Hammett’s incendiary lead, they’ll be completely swept away in no time at all.
After they get caught up in it, not only will listeners find themselves unable to escape this torrential run-tie, they’ll find themselves with no desire to do so. While each of the other eleven songs on Hardwired… To Self-Destruct mark themselves as being a minimum of two and a half minutes longer than the album’s opener (and, on average, they’re between three and a half and four minutes longer, actually). Regardless, that just means there’s more of them to love. Particular stand-out tracks like “Now That We’re Dead,” “Moth Into Flame,” “Halo On Fire,” “Confusion” and “Spit Out The Bone” all strike a solid balance between metal styling and dramatic performance, which basically means they’re hard and they’re busy but do not stretch long enough to get boring. There are solos and there are keenly built introductions capable of setting a mood, but none of this running could justifiably be called masturbatory or languid. Only “Dream No More” and “Am I Savage” really test the bounds of how self-indulgent the band will get before they begin to inspire yawns – and they’re not even the longest tracks on the album; they’re just the most static.
In the end, after “Spit Out The Bone” sprays some oral napalm before slamming the doors closed on the album, many listeners may be left wondering how something like Hardwired… To Self-Destruct could have happened. After all, Metallica hasn’t made anything that’s sounded like this in over a quarter century; in fact, the band has gone in pretty much every direction BUT this since 1990. So how’d it happen? Who cares – it’s best not to over-think it – it’s just best to accept that Metallica is finally BACK. Here’s hoping they stay a while.
* No disrespect to Robert Trujillo intended.