Album Review : Metallica - Hardwired...to Self-Destruct (2016)
Metallica had the strangest career arc of any bands that is, theoretically, considered to be iconic. Their first four albums earned them permanent rock gods status and yet they've never seemed to have done anything right ever since. Anything from the infamous Bob Rock-produced black album to completists worst nightmare LuLu got them an insane amount of criticism from fans who irrationally wanted their thrash metal phase to last forever. Because of that, Metallica have become estranged from their own artistic ambitions and...pretty confused. The band is now firmly middle-aged and convinced they're thrash metal musicians again because that is what pleases their fans and released a new album titled Hardwired...to Self-Destruct last Friday. The result is imminently competent, somewhat phoned-in and...uh...middle-agey?
My first listen of Hardwired...to Self-Destruct was underwhelming to say the least. It inexplicably made me want to purchase a bungalow and drive my inexistent son to baseball practice. Perhaps do some motherfucking landscaping in the front yard. Hardwired...to Self-Destruct is undoubtedly inspired by early Metallica material, yet feels more like a jam session than an album. It's exactly what you'd expect out of a "good" Metallica album: fast guitar riffs, occasional solos, original song structures presented with a punk rock simplicity, thoughtful lyrics, it has all the elements of a good time, it just doesn't add up to more than the sum of its part. The only song who passed the test on first listen was the closer Spit Out the Bone, where the Californian quartet dials the intensity and aggression up a notch. It is still my favorite song on the record many spins later. It could've been a B-side to Master of Puppets *.
I was ready to write a long diatribe on how our abusive love for Metallica's thrash metal phase rendered them unlistenable, but then I started to slowly warm up to Hardwired...to Self-Destruct. I'm sticking to my guns saying this album is confused, but it is in an endearing way. Metallica is TRYING. Not only they're trying to please us, but they're trying to have fun which is key to good music. The aptly titled Confusion revisits the past by riffing off their cover of Diamond Head's Am I Evil? and re-exploring musical and lyrical ideas from their timeless classic One. ManUNkind, while being somewhat of a corporate rock mess, has an infectious chorus that you'll sing out loud in your minivan while commuting back to the suburbs. Moth Into Flame was another personal favorite. Its simple, straightforward structure and punk rock delivery will remind fans of the band's debut effort Kill 'em All **.
The more I listened to Hardwired...to Self-Destruct, the less qualms I had with the first part of the album. While it has only twelve songs, it is technically a "double" album. It's thrash metal alright. It's a little edgeless, sure, but it would be unfair to compare it to their early material. Fifty year-old men cannot make the same music than angry twenty year olds. What consistently bugged me about this record is its lack of vision. The band isn't really saying anything or exploring any concepts. They just slapped some songs together and did their best to cover everything their fans theoretically like about the band. Atlas, Rise! is a decent song, but I only have a vague clue of what it's about. At one point, James Hetfield blares out: Crucify and witness/Circling the Sun/Bastardize and Ruin/What have you become? What the fuck does that even mean? When I say Metallica have become estranged from their own artistic ambition, this is what I mean. They don't seem invested in their ideas anymore.
It would be an overstatement to claim that I liked Hardwired...to Self-Destruct, yet it's not a terrible album. If you only listen to Spit Out the Bone (posted above), you'll think Metallica have found the fountain of youth, but it is BY FAR the best song on the record and the only one that sounds this "thrashy". I'm one of the few people who actually enjoyed the direction they were going in with Load and Reload. I thought it was a natural progression for a band growing older and exploring the possibilities of mainstream music. Hardwired...to Self-Destruct is a decent throwback, sure. But it feels like a bit of a midlife crisis. It's "acceptable" thrash metal. Music that your wife will tolerate if you listen to it in the den. It's technically sound, conceptually hollow *** and hopelessly domesticated. Maybe it's time we cut Metallica some slack, guys. Maybe it's time we put this "Kill 'em All to ...And Justice" fantasy to rest because right now we're just confusing old and rich men into doing music they think we want. Nobody's getting younger here. Especially not us.
Bangers: Spit out the Bone, Moth Into Flame, Atlas, Rise!
* Knowing Metallica it might've been leftovers from that era. You never know with these guys.
** Jesus, that iTunes version is $59,99. Who the fuck would pay this much money for an iTunes album?
*** What once was their bastard little brother band Megadeth released a conceptually loaded album earlier this year. If you have to choose one, definitely choose Mustaine here.