I’ve taken a few weeks before tackling a review of the new Metallica record, firstly because I’ve found that my impressions of such things take time to settle and secondly, I haven’t actually written about music in a meaningful way in half a decade or so… so here goes.
As an unashamed Metallica fanboy who can also appreciate the reasons that many metalheads don’t like them (which range from complaints about their corporate ways, changing their sound, Lars being a douchebag etc.) I approached the prospect of a new ‘tallica record with more than a little trepidation, because after an eight year hiatus (not talking about Lulu, nope, no sireee) and the past few decades being more than a tad controversial, it really felt like they couldn’t afford a significant misstep.
Fortunately, H…tSD is not a misstep, but feels like exactly the record Metallica needed to make at this point.
It’s not as heavy or stripped back as lead single ‘Hardwired’ (which bore the appropriate working title of ‘Riff Charge’) might have indicated but instead straddles a nice line between the Sabbath influenced grooves of the Black Album and the more rock orientated vibe of Load, although without a full on ballad on show.
It’s certainly a leaner beast than 2008’s Death Magnetic (which I loved) with less of a feeling that they’d jammed the songs out a bit too much, with some extra riffs tacked on the end of more than a few songs that didn’t strictly need to be there.
That’s not to say that H…tSD is all killer, because ‘tallica’s late career tendency to bloat is in effect and there are a fair few tracks that are tangibly not up to the quality of the rest and I might have kept back for B-sides – especially the disappointing tribute to Lemmy, ‘Murder One.’. I’m also a bit confused at the decision to stick the pleasantly chunky ‘Lords of Summer’ on the deluxe disc rather than the album proper because it utterly buries half the songs that made the album.
One of my friends reviewed the album and posited a theory that almost all albums can be pared down to a lean eight or ten tracks and the experience would be better for it. I’m prone to agree, although my choice and ordering of tracks is a wee bit different to his (see my preferred track listing at the bottom of the article.)
One of the things that makes H…tSD a joy for a long term Metallica fan is the little callbacks to previous ‘tallica songs, sounds and influences, from the Cthulu references in ‘Dream No More’, the Diamond Head feel in ‘Atlas, Rise!’ or the …And Justice For All feel in parts of ‘Confusion’ and picking out these little nods brought a smile to my face.
It is telling that this is possibly the most focused Metallica record ever and that is borne out by a look at the songwriting credits, which are exclusively given to James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich apart from an additional credit to Rob Trulljo on ‘ManUNkind’ – which is probably the weakest song on the album. That said, I enjoyed Kirk Hammet’s lead work on H…tSD more than I have at any time since …And Justice For All so perhaps Kirk taking a step back and just doing what he does best is a good thing.
The standout performer on this record is clearly James Hetfield, who’s right hand of doom is in evidence throughout and who delivers possibly his best ever vocal performance combined with some memorable and insightful lyric writing. Given that I’m a massive Hetfield fanboy, that works well for me.
Of course, there are criticisms of the album, mostly about the production – you’ll see a plethora of videos on youtube showing how the album would have sounded with Black Album or …And Justice For All era production – and the usual voices lamenting that this either isn’t groundbreaking or a complete throwback to thrash metals glory days with those contrasting complaints often from the same people…
Most of the criticism is fair, but in my eyes the positives (enjoyable songs) outweigh the mostly secondary negatives (a few weak tracks, guitar tone not quite up to scratch.)
All in all, this is perfectly good Metallica album, not of the same import as their early magnificence of course, but it will appeal to most folks who call themselves Metallica fans while being picked apart and mocked by folks who vocally don’t identify as such.
My preferred track listing for Hardwired… to Self-Destruct
2. Halo on Fire
3. Lords of Summer
4. Atlas, Rise!
5. Moth Into Flame
6. Dream No More
8. Spit Out The Bone
— Bonus Tracks —
9. Now That We’re Dead
10. Here Comes Revenge