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Album review: Metallica – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct

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It’s been eight insanely long years since the last full-length studio offering from heavy titans Metallica.

Metallica – Hardwired... to Self-Destruct

Truly, the road to what would become Hardwired… to Self-Destruct has been a long and patience-wearing one for all involved. With ventures like the bizarre Through the Never (2013) film and the band starting (and stopping) their own festival called “Orion Music + More”, it seems that the Californian quartet has been doing everything bar making a record for the best part of the last decade.

But, after years of build-up, Hardwired… is now mere days away and to make up for the long studio hiatus, this album is made up of almost eighty minutes of adrenaline-pumping rock.

Opening with the thrashing title track ‘Hardwired’, the record truly picks up steam early, with open E-string guitar chugging from axe-wielders James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett as well as a flurry of punishing blast beats from Lars Ulrich. At roughly three minutes, ‘Hardwired’ is all-killer-no-filler, refusing to relent in its speed and aggression for even a second. It’s simple, primal thrash, adhering to the sub-genre’s most basic ideology of “shred first, ask questions never”.

Follow-up ‘Atlas, Rise!’ maintains a small portion of its predecessor’s speed but, for the most part, is closer to mid-paced, setting the precedent for the rest of the record to follow.

That’s right: Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is not a thrash album. Rather, it is a release that utilises the conventions of a number of heavy styles, from NWOBHM to melodic death metal to thrash to doom metal, all of which become apparent as the album proceeds.

‘Atlas…’ ditches the blast beats from ‘Hardwired’ but retains some of the open-string guitar-work, while also adding brilliantly melodic riffs during the chorus. On ‘Atlas…’ especially, there is a great synergy between the riffs and the vocal delivery from Hetfield, exemplified perfectly as his pre-chorus bark of ‘Die as you suffer in vain’ is complemented by a brilliantly harmonic guitar behind it.

Furthermore, speaking of Hetfield’s vocals, they are doubtlessly at a peak right now. Metallica’s front-man lays out a near-flawless performance on Hardwired…, creating some truly empowering melodies over the course of the record’s two discs. From thrash-tinged shouts to soaring clean notes to even some pulse-pounding growls, Hetfield can do no wrong here.

Moving on, ‘Now That We’re Dead’ takes the record on a stunning left turn, sounding closer to Metallica’s Load (1996) era than anything else the band has made since. The mid-pace remains, the blast beats are once again absent and the powerhouse shredding from Hammett and Hetfield now becomes more chord-based. While the similarity to the band’s ‘90s output is by no means overt (and is certainly not intended as a criticism), it’s doubtlessly the closest they have got to that sound since they adopted a more “raw” style on St. Anger (2003) and then the “pure, noisy thrash” approach on Death Magnetic (2008).

Second single ‘Moth into Flame’ is the most melodic song up to this point, practically drowning in perfect, head-banging rhythms, addictive leads and high-flying refrains. Of all the entries in Hardwired…, this is doubtlessly among the strongest.

‘Dream No More’ roars its way into existence with doom metal chords that gradually evolve into a fully-fledged riff, with the track’s heaviness, raspy delivery from Hetfield, slower speed and Hammett’s downbeat solo making it eerily reminiscent to Icon (1993)-era Paradise Lost.

The closer for Hardwired… to Self-Destruct’s first half is the lengthy and ingenious ‘Halo on Fire’. For years now, Metallica have had the tradition of incorporating that one “sad-turned-anarchic” song into every album they create; from ‘The Unforgiven’ on the ‘Black Album’ (1991) to ‘The Day That Never Comes’ on Death Magnetic to ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ on Master of Puppets (1986) to ‘One’ on …And Justice for All (1988), it’s practically become a guarantee that there’ll be one more gradual song per record.

‘Halo…’ is the closest Hardwired… to Self-Destruct gets to that archetype. And while it doesn’t follow the ‘One’-style structure entirely, its grandiosity and complexity are both undeniable. Boasting an impressive three guitar solos, the instrumentation balances the clean, harmonic and technical perfectly, with the track’s softer verses finally giving the bass of Robert Trujillo some spotlight.

As the second half begins with the duo of ‘Confusion’ and ‘ManUNkind’, however, things begin to look just slightly bleak. At this point, the mid-pace composition of Hardwired… has gone from new and intriguing to just being the norm, and neither song can even hold a candle to the epic ‘Halo on Fire’. Neither truly sticks out or is anywhere near as memorable as any of the cuts that came before.

‘Here Comes Revenge’ claws the momentum back slightly, with its riffs sounding like a mix of thrash and Swansong (1996)-era Carcass while the verses perfectly blend melody, energy and head-banging rhythm, much like ‘Moth into Flame’ before it. However, things return to the realm of the mundane with ‘Am I Savage?’. The entry is somewhat superior to ‘Confusion’ and ‘ManUNkind’, purely due to a brilliant post-chorus guitar shred, but once again, for the most part, this is another track where very little sticks.

‘Murder One’ is a loving tribute to fallen rock god Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, and that fact comes across unabashedly as Hetfield bellows “Aces high!” in a distinct and unbridled unleashing of harmonic emotion during the chorus. In fact, vocally, this is Hetfield’s best track, mixing powerful highs with dark lows.

However, as great as this record is – with its fair share of missteps, of course – nothing compares to its closer: the intense, heavy, thrashy, eargasm-inducing ‘Spit Out the Bone’.

Everything about this track is brilliant; it is a return to the thrash sound of opener ‘Hardwired’, with the style made all the more special by its rarity on this album. The guitars constantly stun while Trujillo – about halfway through the track – delivers the best Metallica bass riff since 1991’s ‘My Friend of Misery’. Absolutely everything falls into place for this masterpiece of a metal song; doubtlessly, it is a candidate for best stand-alone heavy track of 2016.

Complete with two rip-roaring solos, Hardwired… halts with what is indeed a grand finale, saving its very best for the very end. It leaves listeners on an immense high note, implementing in the minds of most that this has to be the best Metallica album of the past 25 years. Despite a few missteps on the generally benign ‘Confusion’, ‘ManUNkind’ and ‘Am I Savage?’, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is one of Metallica’s most versatile works, predominantly mixing thrash, melo-death and classic metal to make an enigmatic concoction that is guaranteed to draw fans back again and again.

And with each listen, it will only get better.

Hardwired… to Self-Destruct will be available physically and digitally via Blackened Recordings on 18th November.




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