It has been eight years since Metallica released Death Magnetic, an album that was heavily criticised for it’s brick-walled production and lack of dynamic range, but saw the band try to relive their Master of Puppets heyday. Eight years! This makes Hardwired… one of 2016s most anticipated releases, if not THE most (unless Tool put something out in the next month…).
Opening track “Hardwired” was the first single released and harks back to the good old days of machine-gun drumming, barked vocals and thrash riffs. The refrain of “we’re so fucked, shit outta luck, hardwired to self destruct” resonates much deeper post-US Election. Not that it was the intention of course. Funny how life imitates art sometimes.
“Atlas, Rise!” continues the thrash onslaught. James’ right hand palm-muted chugging in full force (seriously, Hetfield must have THE best picking hand. He’s so fast and precise). Kirk Hammett’s wah-wah solo serves the song well and overall it has a NWOBHM, Iron Maiden feel to it. “Now That We’re Dead” slows things down slightly and I’ve heard some people criticise this particular track but it’s not too bad at all. I think the song as a whole could’ve been slightly shorter and I could hear “Enter Sandman” in places but overall I liked it. They groove very well on the doomy “Dream No More” which sees them using lyrics once again inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos (first time on a Metallica record since 1984’s Ride The Lightning) The song itself is a slow-burning, Sabbath-esque number.
The first half of the album (this is a double disc) wraps up with the awesomely epic “Halo on Fire” which treads the line between straight up Hard Rock and intense Metal. The way the track culminates with Kirks leads was an adrenaline rush for me. I couldn’t help but move to it. Kirk didn’t contribute to the song-writing on this album which marks the first time ever that that has happened. However, his presence is still felt throughout with his creative lead guitar work.
The second disc is longer than the first and kicks off with “Confusion” – a mid-tempo number chock full of great riffs and once again, killer work from Hammett. The song itself is written from the perspective of a soldier with PTSD. “ManUNkind” is a sort of ‘Hard Blues’ song that starts off with Rob Trujillo’s bass in the forefront (he received a co-writing credit for this one) and an odd sort of clean, bluesy, guitar part before it shift gears into the familiar Metallica ‘scooped’ crunch sound and Papa Hets trademark aggressive bark. This is another song I’ve seen get criticised and whilst at times it does come across as a few different ideas just slapped together, it didn’t annoy me but I do think that perhaps they could be guilty here of overthinking. Some of the time changes feel a bit strange to me too.
“Here Comes Revenge” is another song that has a bit of “Enter Sandman” about it but this may be the portion of the album where it drags on a bit for me. There is a blistering guitar solo and the chorus has enough about it for me to get into it, but the verses are where it gets bogged down – almost ballad like with Hetfield’s crooning. However, that said, on repeated listen this song did grow on me. “Am I Savage?” is another plodding paced doom track that Metallica like to do, but whereas something like “The Thing That Should Not Be” or “Sad, But True” goes somewhere and gives you that payoff, “Am I Savage?” never really does. It does, however contain a great solo. So bonus points for that.
“Murder One” is a tribute to the late, great, legendary Lemmy Kilmister. I get that Motorhead was very influential on Metallica but to take a bunch of song titles and Lemmy’s lyrics just doesn’t work, and it comes off as really cheesy. I think this approach could’ve been better if they played it double time and would be more favourable had it been a straight Motorhead clone.
The album closes with the best song on the second disc by far, “Spit Out The Bone”. We’re back in Thrash country for this one. This is fierce, fast and brutal. There are subtle nods throughout the song to every part of their career. Blast beats and thunderous drumming from Lars and for all the aggression and violence, it is precise and melodic. The pace of the track shifts naturally and allows for some truly quality moments, such as Rob Trujillo channelling the man himself, Lemmy, with a, sadly, too brief distorted bass solo.
At 77 minutes 29 seconds this is a lengthy album, but for the most part it flew by for me. The first disc is the better of the two, as songs like “Murder One” and “Am I Savage?” do bring the pace and momentum down. However, even if you class those songs as missteps, this is still a solid album chock full of great songs and riffs.
I can’t fault Metallica here though. They have released a fantastic album and with the length that it is, you’re always going to have the odd lull. Each member is in cracking form and either Lars has been practicing or there was some studio wizardry at play. Recommended listening no doubt. Hardwired… is not Metallica resting on their laurels, this is Metallica screaming at the top of their lungs “We are still here, and we’re not going anywhere”