Genre: Thrash Metal
Producer: Greg Fidelman, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich
Release Date: November 18, 2016
Metallica is one of those artists – kind of like Michael Jackson before his passing – who have done great things in 80s and early 90s, but in the 2000s have basically become laughingstock for the mainstream audience. In addition to their musical decline with their universally hated St. Anger, the horrendously produced Death Magnetic, and the disastrous Lou Reed collaboration Lulu, the band has gained notoriety from shenanigans like suing file-sharing software Napster, and the band publicly complaining how the music business is so down in the dumps these days that the band “has to” tour so the band members could keep their big mansions, private studios and luxury vehicles. These are hard times for musicians, indeed.
Now, the band has released Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, their first (non-collaborative) studio album in eight years. In my previous review I harped on Avenged Sevenfold for surpassing their musical godfathers in sounding tired and middle-aged. Now, in mere couple of weeks, that statement has become obsolete, as Metallica sounds better and more energized here than in roughly twenty years. During the years of silence the band seems to have carefully studied their days of greatness, with many of the new songs emulating specific aspects of their classic albums; the high-speed thrash of …And Justice for All; the mid-tempo shredding of The Black Album; and in few, regrettable cases, the odd grooves of Load and Reload. Tracks like “Atlas, Rise!” feature a lot of very Iron Maiden-esque layered, harmonic guitars. That is the closest the album comes to experimentation, but then again, Hardwired doesn’t really need that. It’s good enough that the band is doing what they do at least decently for the first time in roughly 20 years.
The lyrical content features mostly cynical observation of the human condition, exploring the themes of war and abuse of power; something that the band is known for. Occasionally they also just go with clearly the first thing that pops in their mind: the chorus of the title track goes “We’re so fucked / Shit outta luck / Hardwired to Self-Destruct”. Not only is that lazy, but it is trying so hard to be edgy that it makes most Swiss Army knifes feel second hand embarrassment. Fortunately James Hetfield grunts his way through his lines in a way that usually diverts the listener’s attention away from the lyrical content.
Hardwired… To Self-Destruct reminds me of the recent David Bowie comeback album The Next Day: while the album doesn’t even try to reinvent the wheel, and occasionally borrows so heavily from the band’s past material it borders on self-plagiarism, it’s a joy to see the band doing what they do best in an adequate, serviceable fashion. Cutting off some of the excess fat could’ve made the album somewhat better, but even as it is, it is probably the best result anyone is allowed to realistically hope from Metallica at this point.