Review: Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct
A little context: I’m a big Metallica fan. I have been for over twenty years now. What’s funny is unlike most fans, I discovered Metallica through Megadeth in a sort of six degrees of Kevin Bacon moment; it took me three Megadeth records to finally arrive at Puppets. Sad but true.
But the truth is I lost track of Metallica right after 1996’s Load, an album that completed their transition from being everyone’s favorite Bay Area thrash metal band to a full-fledged hard rock one, bifurcating their fanbase in the process. Since then these retired thrashers have fallen under hard times, with the band probably hitting rock bottom in 2003 with St. Anger (2011’s Lulu doesn’t count as a true Metallica only release), a record that was not only a complete flop, but was poorly recorded as well. And though its follow-up, 2008’s Death Magnetic, was a semi-return to form, it had the dubious title of being one of the worse records ever recorded, making national headlines and becoming the defacto whipping boy for the Loudness Wars. Now eight years later the band have finally decided to drop a new record entitled Hardwired…To Self-Destruct, a double album no less, with the sole aim of reaffirming their position as a force to be reckon with. So is Hardwired the record that puts these boys back on track or does it continue the band’s downward spiral into commercial oblivion?
First the good news: Hardwired may very well the best album they’ve put out since their now infamous self-titled one back in 1991. Tracks like “Atlas, Rise!,” “Moth into Flame,” and particularly the album’s finale, “Spit Out the Bone,” all offer up a modicum of Bay Area thrash that should satiate even the most stalwart of old school Metallica fans. Furthermore, Hetfield’s vocals are simply outstanding throughout, offering an emotional dynamism that is hard not to appreciate even if their bite is bit subdued compared to the good’ole days when electrical chairs were delivered via lightening strike (I miss those days. I really do. -Dave). He has always been an adapt songwriter, but on Hardwired his lyrical skills are on full display here, especially on tracks “Confusion” and “Halo on Fire,” which are both lyrically very catchy yet also very substantive as well. And though each song’s thrash to hard rock ratio is still a lot lower than say a given tune off of the recently well received other “Big Four” albums, Hardwired‘s mid-tempo offerings are still no less as effective. Tracks like “Now That We’re Dead” and especially, “Sweet Revenge,” service up terrific melodies with an equally infectious refrain, with the later song destined to become a live staple.
But though Hardwired is indeed a solid album in its own right, it is not a solid double album. There are plenty of songs on this record that should have clearly not made the cut, including the album’s three minute opener, “Hardwired,” which is way too repetitive and wears out its welcome fairly quickly, and the track “Dream No More,” which is supposed to play homage to the song “Call of Ktulu” off of their 1984 classic, Ride the Lightening, but doesn’t even come close. And although as I said the record’s finale, “Spit Out the Bone,” is fantastic, the two tracks before it, “Am I Savage?” and “Murder One” are certainly not. Both suffer from an extreme case of rhythmic drag, without any memorable riff to or sing-along style refrain to speak of. So once again, Angry Metal Guy’s 45 Minute Rule still applies.
Production wise, Hardwired splits the difference with its awful predecessor. One one hand, Greg Fidelman’s mix is superb and wonderfully balances all stake holders involved. On the other, Dave Collin’s master is still too compressed, with both treble and bass taking the biggest hits. Trujillo isn’t completely lost in the shuffle but his bass certainly looses its potency at times. Same is true for Ulrich’s drums which in addition to being only passable for government work, just sound awful on this record compared to say A7X‘s latest. What’s even worse is that if you bought the 24-bit/96kHz master like I did, you got a slightly more compressed version than the Mastered for iTunes standard-res edition. Thankfully, they offered the MFiT version to all high-res customers as an alternative download (I believe they have officially taken down the 24-bit/96kHz version entirely at this point due to complaints). Also, it’s unclear to me if the vinyl master is truly dedicated so proceed with extreme caution. Regardless, this record is a big step up production wise from the prior two. It’s just no Black album which is a shame.
The bottom line is as a post-Black Metallica album goes, Hardwired is probably as good as it’s gonna get. Yes, it’s too long, and yes, it’s more hard rock than metal, but if you cherry pick your favorite ten tracks off this record, I’d claim you have another Black album on your hands – for better or worse. I know for old school diehards this record is still going to come off as a disappointment, failing to live up to the the band’s holy trinity from the mid-80s. But for modern era Metallica fans as well as those of us who just want to relive our youth, this record is a raging success, and actually has me looking for my old Puppets tee. Rock on.