Crash Course in Criticism: Metallica mix eras in fresh, new ‘Hardwired …To Self-Destruct’

metallicaMetallica is one of the greatest bands of all time. They’ve also become the butt of a ton of jokes, and for very good reason. But they matter, and they’ll always matter, and without Metallica, the landscape of metal would be completely different.

Every time the band comes out with a new record, it’s cause for excitement and extreme anxiety. The too-smart, too-extreme people will write them off like they never fucking created “Ride the Lightning” or “Master of Puppets,” but fuck that. The reason a new Metallica record causes such conversation, be it positive or negative, is because they matter like few other bands, and they will forever. The band is releasing their new record “Hardwired … to Self-Destruct,” their 10th overall and first since 2008’s “Death Magnetic.” Look, at the time of this writing, I’ve not even had the music for 24 hours, but I’ve visited a few times and formulated something of an opinion. If you wanted to hear Metallica return to their savage sound of old, you’ll be disappointed. The bulk of the record teeters between the black album and “Load,” and I already can sense your dread. Let me finish. It also has some of their heaviest work in a long time, including one song I’d put up with the glory years.

metallica-coverAt 12 songs and nearly 80 minutes, this is a double album that doesn’t need to be this long. If they trimmed this to eight songs, this would be a goddamn great Metallica record. But the one thing that prevails throughout, is the band sounds like they want to be here. This sounds like the record they want to make, and not one second of this is forced. So even the stuff that’s more in the “Load” vein sounds good and passionate. If you’ve listened to the songs the band released online, you’ve heard all the best stuff, apart from one song, but the things you haven’t heard mostly works. I think disc one is far superior to disc two, but disc two has the album’s best track. In fact, disc one plus a track or two from disc two would be ideal. It’s crazy. Anyway, let’s take a track-by-track look at this thing.

“Hardwired” – You’ve heard this one. It’s fast, savage, and punchy, and the awkwardly worded chorus aside, it would be a fun show opener.

“Atlas, Rise!” – Another that’s premiered online, and it’s a damn good one. James Hetfield’s vocals, which are ridiculously improved on the whole record, shows the first strain of melody, and this is one of the absolute keepers on this record.

“Now That We’re Dead” – I don’t like this one, but that’s because I don’t like “Load.” This one is very much in the vein of that album, though it’s heavier. Not a terrible song, but it doesn’t do anything for me

“Moth Into Flames” – Another one that’s already been heard online. This is the perfect mix of punchy thrash and accessible melody, and it’s a really strong song. This is another keeper.

“Dream No More” – Look, if you write a song about Cthulhu, I’m pretty much predestined to like it. This sounds like a black album cut, but a good one, and the idea of the dead priest rising from his watery grave always will make great fodder for a metal record.

“Halo on Fire” – This one really doesn’t fit in any era. It’s not super heavy, though it’s pretty engaging, and this features some of Hetfield’s best singing. If you require thrash, you won’t like it. I think it’s a really interesting wrap to the first half of the album.

“Confusion” – Initially I was turned off by this one, but there are some muddy, doomy twists that I don’t expect from this band. The chorus is interesting, and some of Hetfield’s delivery is impactful. Still, if it came to requiring a single disc, I’d cut this one.

“Man Unkind” – Apropos for our current political environment, and one of the more striking set of lyrics on the record. It starts off with a weird clean tone and then slips into “Load”-style groove. Eh. Not terrible, but not essential.

“Here Comes Revenge” – Another that could have been on the black album. The rhythm section smashes pretty hard, and the guitar work would make for a pretty sure-fire radio hit in any era.

“Am I Savage?” – Ominous and heavy, this is another that would have been at home on the black album. I can see this one going over really well live. The groove isn’t obnoxious, and while Hetfield’s singing is a little grating here, he does a decent job on the chorus. Passable.

“Murder One” – This is the one legit bad song on the record. I can’t justify this one.

“Spit Out the Bone” – The goddamn best song on the record, and one that, had it been released in 1995, would be a Metallica classic. The song is fast, ferocious, and pleasingly melodic. I have listened to it over and over again, and it should be embraced as a Metallica treasure forever.

So that’s that, one idiot’s feels on the new Metallica. The album is fun and very listenable, and after all the tumult with this band’s past, I’ll take it. The heavy stuff is very good, and I am excited over the enthusiasm they pour into those ones. The other stuff makes it seem like they really want to be here, and this representation of the band at least can be taken as an honest one. We’re never getting another classic, but an album such as this that has some exciting moments that could become part of their live catalog is the best for which we can ask. I’ll take it.

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