Where were you eight years ago? In my case, I was 10 years old, still in primary school and at a point where I hadn’t even heard the name Metallica yet. In the years since however, metal music has become a huge part of my life, allowing me to experience first-hand the rabid anticipation that led up to the November 18th release of Metallica’s tenth LP Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, their first full-length studio album since 2008’s Death Magnetic. Yes, the thrash metal icons are finally back and, after a few stop-gap releases which have ranged from pretty good to downright perplexing, have delivered a double album which is faster, heavier and more unrelentingly brilliant than anything they’ve done in the last two decades, if not longer.
To describe a band as having ‘gone back to their roots’ when discussing a new release is practically an old cliché, but for any fans who have bemoaned Metallica’s deviations from their thrash metal origins over the last 20 years, this will be welcome news. The band reclaim their thrash crowns from the outset, with the raging title track kicking off the first disc and immediately destroying any doubts anyone may have about Metallica’s ability to create attention-worthy music in 2016, and the record’s quality and pace rarely falter from then on. Two of the tracks released earlier in the year, Atlas, Rise! and Moth Into Flame, prove to be two of the album’s highlights, with their crushing heaviness and infectious refrains continuing to impress, making them likely candidates for future live favourites. Metallica sound fully re-energized throughout Hardwired, producing some of their best material since their late 80s/early 90s heyday, and with each member playing to their strengths throughout. Frontman James Hetfield’s vocals have been through many different incarnations over the course of his career, but his mix of melodic singing and his trademark raw bark really impresses on this record, particularly on Halo on Fire, another of the album’s most memorable cuts.
Yet, for all the metalhead-pleasing greatness, the album is not without some small flaws – at 77 minutes in total, the album is considerably longer than any of their classic releases, which in of itself is not a problem, but the second disc contains a couple of less memorable tracks which, while not necessarily bad, help only to disrupt the band’s momentum slightly. As was the case with Death Magnetic, a little bit of self-editing on part of Papa Het and co. could have prevented the album from beginning to drag as it passes the 60-mintue mark. Still, this problem is immediately rectified as soon as the album’s crushing closer Spit Out the Bone kicks into gear, quickly establishing itself as Metallica’s fastest and heaviest album closer since 1988’s Dyer’s Eve.
However, the focus on speed and aggression that permeates several tracks is not to suggest that Metallica have forgone all the other influences which the band has proudly worn on its collective sleeve in the past. Many of the tracks are as melodic and catchy as they are heavy, with several choruses and riffs sounding like they could fit in well on previous albums Load (1996) or Reload (1997), which infamously featured more of a bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll vibe than their earlier material. The band also revisits their early inspirations several times on this record, particularly with the Lemmy Kilmister tribute Murder One and on disc 2 opener Confusion, which certainly must have been influenced by the Diamond Head classic Am I Evil?, already famously covered by Metallica in the 80s. Special mention should also go to the album’s production. Sonically, this album sounds much sharper than Death Magnetic, the main downfall of which was its over-compressed production, making Hardwired a much easier listen.
Listening to this album left me in no doubt that Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is Metallica’s strongest effort in some time, encompassing all the best components of their career so far, and proving why they continue to be the biggest band in metal. Simply put, if you’re a fan of Metallica this is an essential purchase, as its everything you’ve been waiting for. Get ready to bang your head!