After the disappointment of Metallica’s 2008 effort Death Magnetic, James Hetfield and company needed something to bring the Metallica name back to its glory days. Eight long years later, they delivered on their promise to revive thrash metal — but at what cost?
Known for their dominance of heavy metal during the ’80s, Metallica hit a rough patch during the ’90s. Albums such as Load and Reload failed to match the gall and sheer force of Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. As the band continued to struggle, they released some of their worst albums including St. Anger, which nearly killed the band. However, with their latest release, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, Metallica experiences a bit of a renaissance, finding their old sound in abundance.
To bring in a fresh feel, Hardwired… hits the reset button, eliminating lead guitarist Kirk Hammett from the songwriting process. Each song seems to lack a bit of an edge, but after multiple listens it’s obvious that this new version of Metallica isn’t necessarily horrible, just slightly off. There’s a softer spot on several songs, especially “Moth Into Flame” and the album’s conclusion “Spit Out the Bone.” Overall, Hardwired… feels slightly different than every Metallica release – initially a welcome refresher to the past two decades of music that couldn’t keep up.
However, this feeling isn’t necessarily amazing all the time – this album is far from being a complete and fantastic return to form. At times, the band has nothing new to talk about, and after 30 years of making music they have clearly lost their direction. The production by Greg Fidelman is far better than that of Rick Rubin on Death Magnetic, but still not up to the task of balancing Metallica’s volatile aggression. This record would have benefited from occasional overbearing guitar tones with a dash of alternative influences. Instead, Hammett’s typically aggressive style of play fails to convey itself, leading to unwarranted dull moments.
Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich play their typical role as lead songwriters, but without the production to match, the loud moments on Hardwired… teeter on the verge of annoying. With more than 75 minutes of music, this leads to repetitive themes and an overall exhausting listen. The rambling mess that is “Halo on Fire” could have been completely eliminated from the track list and would have certainly not been missed.
Metallica’s tendency to extend jams, riffs and solos plays a major role in the experience of Hardwired…, but there’s no respite. High speed and intensity work in bursts, but Metallica never incorporates prog rock or even an occasional atmospheric section to break things up. Combine this with the same lame lyrics from Hetfield, and there’s hardly an enduring moment on this record.
If there’s one thing to be learned from Hardwired…, it’s that everything is good in moderation. This LP feels like Metallica broke through their safety valve, and the outpouring is difficult to stomach. It’s nowhere near as disappointing as the material on Death Magnetic or St. Anger, but it’s still a far cry from where one of greatest metal bands of all time could be.