Let’s not beat around the bush, the name is terribly off-putting.
Hardwired followed by the ellipses and then, to Self-Destruct — the M Night Shyamalan-esque twist, that comes in right at the end, clearing up all doubt about exactly what it is the album suggests it is hardwired to do. That said, were this the title of an album by Fear Factory or one of its cyber-metal brethren, or even some sort of post-industrial band, it wouldn't be an issue. But this is Metallica we're talking about — a band that has given us such iconic album titles as Ride the Lightning, ...And Justice for All and Master of Puppets.
Also, in a post-Some Kind of Monster (the documentary mind you, not the song) world, Metallica’s battle with anger and personal demons has become very passé. And so, this whole vibe — presumably, how the band is wired in such an explosive way that it will only hurt itself — is far too played-out and clichéd.
I’ve commented previously on how the album cover is very un-Metallica. In fact, it looks a lot like Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light. As fantastic as Dave Grohl’s crew is, that’s not the best first impression you want to send out about a new Metallica album.
Two strikes: So far, no good.
Now, let’s look at the most important component – the music.
And for the large part, the music is good. And the first impression is that eight years in the making, this 77-minute-long double album that is Hardwired... to Self-Destruct (released on 18 November by Metallica's own label Blackened Recordings) sounds right. Having parted ways with longtime producer Bob Rock after 2003's St Anger, Rick Rubin was brought in to give 2008's Death Magnetic a new sonic feel. Unfortunately, despite sporting some top-notch tracks, the mix was cluttered and sounded like the musical equivalent of trudging through a vat of thick treacle.
That's where producer Greg Fidelman's mix comes in. And it's a breath of fresh air.
I had noted the production quality in my review of the title track — and first single off the album — Hardwired and the good news is that the rest of the album sounds equally well-produced.
But how does the album stack up in terms of the actual music?
Let's look at the positives first.
With its lovely winding solo, coherent structure and a few guitar parts that sound a little like Iron Maiden, Atlas, Rise! has all the makings of a live favourite. The modern rock track that is Now That We're Dead contains a powerful main riff and a solo that modern day G 'n' R would probably kill for. Moth to the Flame is a high-quality stomper with — something that's becoming a signature so far — a driving main riff and powerful drums that indicate Lars Ulrich perhaps still has it.
This brings us neatly to my favourite track off the album — Spit out the Bone. Intense, fast, brash and a genuine throwback to the golden era of Metallica, this track feels purposeful, which unfortunately, cannot be said about a fair few on Hardwired... to Self-Destruct. Spit out the Bone is a little over seven minutes of drums, bass, guitars and vocals coming together in perfect harmony. This is a stand-out track that's up there with the likes of Creeping Death, Battery and Hit the Lights.
And now, the negatives.
Principle among these is the fact that the album is terribly bloated. There's far too much filler on here and at least four songs could have been culled to craft a solid tight final product. Dream No More is Sad but True revisited with all the swagger of the track that gave birth to Kid Rock's American Badass and none of the substance. Confusion (seemingly a slowed-down version of Death Magnetic's Cyanide), ManUNkind, Here Comes Revenge and Am I Savage? are eminently forgettable, while Murder One — presumably in honour of the late great Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister — will probably slip under your radar. Apparently, not even the memory of the late Motörhead frontman could inspire a track worthy of being a tribute to him.
As a whole though, and this is strictly musically-speaking, it's hard to shake off the sense of uni-dimensionality that emerges from Hardwired... to Self-Destruct. A clue to this probably lies in the writer credits, wherein barring ManUNkind (Robert Trujillo picks up a credit on this one), every other song is credited only to Ulrich and James Hetfield. The story goes that this was because Kirk Hammett lost his phone 'containing 250 musical ideas' and as a consequence, was unable to contribute to the songwriting process, bar the solos, where his influence is clear. The byproduct of this is that the riffs throughout the album are less like the intricate Hetfield-Hammett interplays of yore and more like Hetfield-heavy efforts full of lightning fast downstroke-heavy chugathons and little else.
Onto the lyrics, which sway from the juvenile (see the nonstop cussing of Hardwired) to the on-the-nose obviousness of a couple of jabs aimed at Donald Trump (who probably had no chance of becoming US president when the album was written) to the rare moments of sublimity: 'Seduced by fame; A moth into the flame' (Moth to the Flame) is one of the finest bits of writing from this band in years.
Ultimately, this would probably be perceived as a 4/5 or 4.5/5 were it to be released by any other band, and this is a view that's bound to be taken of any offering by a band that has the sort of back catalogue Metallica does. And as such, the album is nowhere near the high water mark the band consistently hit during the 1980s. And while Metallica has been trying hard to step into the future with one foot firmly in the past, the band would do well to look at the fortunes of friend-turned-foe-turned-friend-turned-whatever-he-is-now Dave Mustaine and Megadeth — a band that has been consistently reinventing itself with more hits than misses to its credit.
Still, Messrs Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujillo can look proudly at Hardwired... to Self-Destruct as the band's finest offering in a decade and second-best studio LP in two decades (second only to 1997's ReLoad).
But is that good enough?