The old-school thrashers have been mighty kind to us this year. 2016 has been a thirty-year throwback with fast and refined albums by MEGADETH, ANTHRAX, DESTRUCTION, SODOM, TESTAMENT and now METALLICA — with KREATOR and OVERKILL (two of the most reliable speedsters still playing today) coming 'round the bend with new joints. Though it appears DESTRUCTION is aiming for the velocity award with "Under Attack"'s relentless fury, it's so refreshing to hear all these legends collectively zoom in 2016, METALLICA in particular.
As a listening public, we've had a little time to digest "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct" and naturally the boo birds (which this writer will admit to being one of them until "Death Magnetic" gave reason to believe again) are gonna boo. Yet the overall reaction has been positive and this includes the less-than-metal "Load" crowd who hopped aboard METALLICA after "The Black Album" changed the band's course and metal itself. Why this matters is that "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct" is the METALLICA album designed to satisfy every METALLICA fan.
As a double album, it's no surprise the mean time of the tracks come in around six and a half minutes. "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct" isn't perfect and its ceaseless marathon mindset is its primary itch. Nonetheless, it's a damned fine outing. Unlike the frequent bloating and occasional stumble-bumming on "…And Justice for All", METALLICA are, these days, expert musicians and they know how to fluidly move their songs. "Halo On Fire" is eight minutes long, but it's a beautifully crafted prog epic. Amen, halleluiah, the seven-minute-plus thrash fiesta "Spit Out The Bone" is the most euphoric song METALLICA's crafted since "Damage, Inc." and their most majestic since "One".
Why "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct" is so operational is METALLICA's sensible placements of thrash, progression and the straight rock elements that made them crossover breakouts when the metal industry was undermined by slowdown mandates during the early 1990s. There was plenty of thrash on "Death Magnetic" to give hope this album was going straight toward "Kill 'Em All", if not "Ride the Lightning", which it does. It also goes to "…And Justice for All", "The Black Album" and smidges of the "Load" albums to give their long-drawn tracks here verve.
"Hardwired" and "Spit Out the Bone" wisely serve as the thrashing bookends to "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct", the former jumping back into "Kill 'Em All"'s fires and ejecting a modern polish with a punk bite. Robert Trujillo's rumbling bass forces Lars Ulrich to keep up on "Hardwired" and what a fun trip that is. Criticize Ulrich all you like, he remains one of the best double kickers out there. Plotting riffs hoisted from "…And Justice for All" and "Kill 'Em All" (and early IRON MAIDEN on the choruses) for "Atlas, Rise!" METALLICA creates a humming beast that contends with their formative years.
"Now That We're Dead" capitalizes on a rewriting of "Enter Sandman"'s crunching melody ("Dream No More" doing the same with a funky dime drop over "Sad But True") including a bitching intro. It settles into a mid-tempo stomp rocker with ebbing choruses and a snazzy progression showing off the congruity between James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Trujillo as a monster front line. The song's breakdown loses not an inch of sweat, keeping its mutant march huffing. "Moth Into Flame" is a whirling blender of everything METALLICA has ever attempted including breathtaking thrash bursts; every minute of its 5:51 run time exhibits the merge between moshing and rocking that makes this album such a success.
The wonderfully plotted "Halo On Fire" rationalizes METALLICA's need to drop back on the "Load" albums with its soft, if moody guitar and bass-plinking verses as set-up to its pissy choruses. Hetfield's cleans and growls are at their most appetizing. METALLICA pounces on the opportunity to take "Halo On Fire" even higher as they methodically build atop one rocked-out measure after another (at one point hitting an emotive high designed to chomp into your heart) on their way to a thrash-bombed, guitar-fried finale.
Most bands would be thrilled to end their album on such a high note, but "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct" continues on with "Confusion" on disc 2, a pretty good huff rawker that could've made its point in three less minutes. Yet the riffs are stacked stiffly and Hammett's solos are greasy enough to keep your wheels moving, particularly if you're listening to "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct" behind the wheel. Trujillo drops bass echoes all over the intro to "ManUNkind", another experimental trip for METALLICA as they shove some BEATLES and a jive kick into their rambling sociological rant. It may not fully ignite, but "ManUNkind" deserves a salute for its bravery and willingness to go another step forward in METALLICA's evolution.
"Here Comes Revenge" is one of the meanest tracks on the album and it doesn't have to match "Spit Out the Bone"'s jaw-dropping quickness. "Here Comes Revenge" self-pocks "The Black Album" and "…And Justice for All" with kleptomaniacal fervor, turning out a kickass boot grinder yielding its epitaph of vengeance. One gets the impression the U.S. military will be all over this song as a motivation jam for SEALs, jet pilots and grunts as they once did with "Enter Sandman". Ditto for the skulking doom-jive of "Am I Savage?", a song that should make longtime metal fans smirk at its nicking of MEGADETH's whirligig guitar spiral on the bridges. The cosmos works such wonders, doesn't it?
"Murder One" likewise trudges instead of storms, but its riffs are so nasty you can grasp subliminal whiffs of the sewage from which they were conjured. Hammett's solo here is appropriately sludgy and the grubby affair is a purposeful set-up to "Spit Out the Bone"'s dashing spree. While it's tempting to say "Spit Out The Bone" doesn't need the extensive intro and filler parts to pull it out for seven minutes, the fact METALLICA plays their fucking guts out on this track makes it a long overdue thank you to the thrash maniacs who paid everyone else's dues. Writer's note, I get giddy shivers of pleasure at the four-minute mark even after eight listens.
The three-disc version of "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct", is worth the investment as METALLICA drops another long, fast and rowdy cut, "Lords of Summer", along with outstanding covers of DEEP PURPLE's "When A Blind Man Cries" and IRON MAIDEN's "Remember Tomorrow". The "Ronnie Rising Medley" is a touching tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio circa his RAINBOW years. The true highlight of the bonus disc comes with a live recording of METALLICA's Record Store Day performance on April 16, 2016 at Rasputin Music in Berkeley, California. The setlist, old school, is comprised only of "Kill 'Em All" and "Ride The Lightning" songs, huzzah!
Trujillo deserves a ton of credit for indirectly inspiring METALLICA to come up with their best outing in eons, sharp as "Death Magnetic" was. The malleable Trujillo plays in any speed, any key and his contributions are both understated and flown like a battlefield flag. Hammett is still a raging demon on the frets and Hetfield has stood the test of time as a vocalist, much less guitarist. Ulrich has his fans and detractors and a tongue that flings out more than Gene Simmons while he plays, but he's well-buttoned to these songs. "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct" is thus the combustible engine of chaos METALLICA's audience has not only expected but demanded from them.