Making Metallica Metal Again? (3/3)

For those of you who awaited patiently for ten days for a follow up article in a supposed week long series, you are all suckers, just like the several hundred thousand people who purchased St. Anger in its first week on sale in stores.  In this series that wouldn’t die, we’ve finally gotten around to listening to the new Metallica album Hardwired to Self-Destruct enough to give it a decent review and to stack it up with several listens to their peers in the “Big 4” and “Extended Family 7”, all of whom have released a wealth of worthy new material in recent times.  Now, back  in the popularity scale of things, it really might as well have ever been the “Big 1” of thrash metal considering this band’s popularity.  There really has never been nor ever will be a metal band as popular as Metallica, it was yet another commercial success to debut at #1 on the charts in every country anyone has ever heard of, and in a weird flashback to the halcyon days of 1996 when music was at an inarguable peak compared to now, replaced the final album of hip hop legends A Tribe Called Quest at the top of the charts in the United States with over 300,000 copies sold.  I liked that album a lot, since it was the first Tribe album since 1998 and you’ll hear about it in my year’s end list that I swear I’ll publish.  And like a long winded, short attention spanned, scatter brained millennial retard who still listens to 1980’s thrash metal bands in 2016, I’ve ruined this introductory paragraph worse than Metallica ruined Lou Reed’s career and literal pulse when they viciously killed him by aiding in the sheer suckitude of LULU.  Anyone who didn’t listen to Hardwired to Self-Destruct yet isn’t reading this and has already left the page, but in case you didn’t, I’ll provide links to every song that are legal.

So a few notes before we get into this thing:  On the day before the album released on November 18, Metallica released every single song on the album as a single and released music videos for every song on the album, further turning their backs on their vicious anti-free music stance. This will help the review greatly, since I don’t have to link to one of Lars’ loved/hated piracy links, and can also lazily provide my sources. This is also the first Metallica album to feature songs written only by Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield, and this is mostly blamed on Kirk Hammett losing his cell phone.  This album was produced by Lars, James and Greg Fidelmann, who was blamed for the poor mixing and recording of Death Magnetic, but the blame mostly lies with the loudness war in my opinion.  And this album was released in a double album format with double CD packaging for a 77 and a half minute album, which would fit on a single CD, notably the Load album had the marketing gimmick of being 78 minutes and 59 seconds of new Metallica on a single disc.  Which we now know was a total fucking ripoff, because 78 minutes and 59 seconds of listening to Load is 78 minutes and 59 seconds too long.

So back in August, “Hardwired” was very much a shock to the metal community when it came out with sudden and immediate impact.  It was indisputably a thrash metal song hearkening back to the Metallica heyday, it was their shortest song since “Motorbreath” on Kill ‘Em All at a brisk three minutes long, and it marked the announcement of the first real Metallica album since Death Magnetic. Despite the surface laughability of a chorus that goes “We’re so fucked, shit out of luck, hardwired to self-destruct”, Metallica actually sells this as a rally call by using it in a song that’s meant to be a chest beating rejuvination of a statement for their old asses.  They’re back and want to be taken seriously, they want to sound like the edgy, defining thrash metal band they started as, and also want to damage control the wake they’ve been leaving behind them in recent years.  But it sounded fucking awesome as a surprise first single (the first half of “The Day That Never Comes” is very much awful) , and having a song like this proved to be the exception when the album released and every other song stretched the five to nine minute length as Metallica traditionally does.

“Atlas, Rise!” immediately jumps into something that’s a welcome return out of the old geezers in Metallica, the twin lead guitar attack.  A lot of people have described this song as similar to Iron Maiden, which is definitely an accurate and honorary statement.  Iron Maiden staged a very successful comeback last year with The Book of Souls, which if I had written the rest of my top 15 of 2015 list, would have been the crown achievement.  Iron Maiden’s The Book of Souls was a very bold and late-career redemption act for them, and it seems Metallica is taking some inspiration.  This song here is a tribute act to what inspired them back in the 80’s through and through, and that in itself makes for solid shelf Metallica which will always rank above the “experimental” garbage heap of LULU and St. Anger or the boring, monotonous drag of the Load/RELoad cycle.  Anyway, in 2016, I can’t see how a song like this could be disliked by a Metallica fan.  They’re back to a straightforward classic thrash metal sound here, and the only thing that really isn’t bringing the A-game is Lars Ulrich and his pedestrian drumming.  Which is going to become the main and recurring complaint out of me in regards to this review, so here’s the first warning sign.  Lars Ulrich is just… Lars fucking Ulrich, you know exactly what I mean.  This is a cool song, total guitar driven attack in the actual thrash metal style with some pretty decent solos and even the vocals sound good, especially compared to Dave Mustaine these days.  Just had to point that one out there so far.

“Now That We’re Dead” is a definite change of pace from the last two songs, where those emanated the 1980’s thrash era of Metallica, this one goes for The Black Album and its big riff and hook style with straightforward song structure, so uh, Metallica 1988 to 2003.  Which as we usually know these days, is a death sentence for post Black Album Metallica.  Well this, this sounds more like the big single than “Hardwired” or “Atlas, Rise!” does, even though those are the songs getting big promotional air time right now apparently.  It isn’t a bad song, but it isn’t great either, although something like this is preferable to the first half of “The Day that Never Comes” as well.  This sounds like big old butt rock radio friendly Metallica, although in a heavier tone than something from Load or RELoad, and in a less obnoxious tone than St. Anger.  And in a better produced tone from Death Magnetic.  And all around a million times better than any single second contained on LULU.  It’s just a very basic and typical song of Metallica that you would expect to hear out of 2016 Metallica. Boring Lars Ulrich really fits in well in this style of Metallica because he can’t keep up with actual thrash anymore.

“Moth Into Flame” was the second song to be released from this album, and this was a great choice.  The riffing in this song is once again, Metallica deciding the revolutionary idea to play actual thrash metal again.  Sure, Hetfield doesn’t exactly sound as scary or convincing as Chuck Billy or Tom Araya still do, but this is still fine enough for 35 years in for vocal delivery.  Kirk Hammett is spamming the wah-pedal in the solo but whatever, that’s Kirk Hammett.  I don’t whine about Kerry King like that much either.  These guys are doing what they do.  Lars actually is beating the shit out of his drums for once at some points in this song too, so I have to appreciate that while it lasts.  Live footage so far has had him straight up skipping parts that featured this heavy double bass drum work, so way to go Lars.  That said, this was another enjoyable song and definitely belongs on the worthy shelf of Metallica material.  Keep this one far away from the “Mama Said”‘s and “Nothing Else Matters (Elevator Remix)”es and more towards the 1980’s.

“Dream No More” sounds like the name of a Faith No More tribute act, had to mention that.  This song sounds a lot like the Black Album again, it has those big building choruses and basic riffs that are vaguely thrash but mostly anthemic stadium metal of the late 80s/early 90s.  The chorus mentions Cthulu so that manages to get some callback points and there’s some cool solo sections.  These songs do kind of drag on for a long time, which in itself is another thing typical of Metallica since the early 90s.  They always did rely on making very long songs, and Hardwired to Self-Destruct isn’t different aside from “Hardwired”. This song was pretty alright.  Not great, doesn’t sound like Faith No More but does sound like a great name for a cover band of theirs, there’s another video on Youtube about the recording of this song which was demo-ed as “’91”, so it sounds very much like 1991, Black Album Metallica.

So now Metallica is going to go for a song in the style of their slower 80’s material, like “One” or “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, and it ends up sounding quite contemporary as played by a bunch of old dudes in dad rock age, but it’s not bad either.  I guess some more Black Album tendencies are going on here in the verses too, but this stays firmly in their Death Magnetic return to making mid paced thrash metal.  This would be a song on Death Magnetic, but this has much better production than that loudness war destroyed final product.  Lars Ulrich was right when he said he pirated Death Magnetic, because the production values on this album still far outweigh the horribly bricked mix on that one’s legally sanctioned release.  There’s some decent solos in the mid section of “Halo on Fire”, and then at the end we get a big fat stadium anthem cheer outro sounding section from Metallica with a pretty cool guitar solo going on at the same time which all speeds up toward the end.  I actually liked this song too, it was very good for a 35 year old band of old dudes who include Lars Ulrich among themselves.

For reasons unknown, Metallica released Hardwired to Self-Destruct in a double album format on CD even though it was only 77:26 in length.  Metallica promoted the album Load in 1996 as 78:59 seconds of new Metallica, on one single CD, and in my opinion Load is 18 minutes of listenable music and almost an hour of embarrassing garbage.  So far on one CD, Metallica has outlasted the quality of Load, RELoad, and most certainly St. Anger and LULU by thousands of light years. They still sound exactly like Death Magnetic with better production work though.  So now we go onto the second disc of this album that would fit on one disc anyway.

“Confusion” starts off the second disc of the album with a lock step military thrash march riff but ends up yet another mid paced Black Album styled groover.  It has the most interesting music video so far, this one being about a woman in combat and PTSD, which goes along with the theme of the lyrics.  However, this song is definitely isn’t comparing with your “Disposable Heroes” and “One”s of past Metallica songs about the aftermath of war.  There’s also some solos drenched in the wah-pedals on this song, and more of Lars’ signature basic bitch drumming, so this isn’t going to win any points with the thrash comeback crowd outside of the intro and outro, but it wasn’t exactly Load/RELoad era slow and unmemorable either.

And these music videos are getting more interesting, this one being directed by Jonas Akerlund and featuring a tribute to the early 90’s black metal scene out of Scandinavia.  You know the one, when Mayhem had the whole beef when Dead shot himself and Varg killed Euronymous before he became the genre’s single biggest troll?  Anyway, they couldn’t have picked a worse song on the album to make this video for since the sound of this one is a big anthemic arena rock approach as well.  “Faith in man unkind” is definitely the most laughable lyric on this album, though even that kind of wordplay beats “I am the table”.  I really didn’t enjoy this song all that much, it was repetitive as usual for these overly long Metallica songs but to an annoying degree at 7 minutes.  Actually this one kind of does remind me of the Load/RELoad era in it’s thrash-less, boring and overly long approach.

“Here Comes Revenge” is definitely starting off in a non-thrash style with that weird ass guitar, but this song actually does lock into a great groove and then faster section afterwards.  Even though this is another radio friendly and anthemic sounding track typical of what you would expect from Metallica in 2016, I actually enjoy this one as well.  The verses are dominated by simplistic drums and rhythmic low riffs which Hetfield sounds pretty over the top against, but that’s what I mean about typical of 2016 Metallica.  It’s all getting to be a bit much nine songs in now, it’s a Metallica record from 35 years into their career and Lars Ulrich has still yet to play a single interesting fill in as many years.  And do you like 7 minute long songs?  Because this is yet another 7 minute long song, but again, it’s fucking Metallica and this is what they do.  I get it.  A 78 minute double CD which would have fit on one CD full of 7 minute long songs.  If only Tool would have a new release in the works, they could release it on four 18 minute long discs for the overly long song box set contest winner.

Very obvious tribute to “Am I Evil?” in the song title, and this song will be nowhere near as great as Metallica’s cover of “Am I Evil?”, but yet another song that is eerily reminiscent of the style on Load/RELoad in the main riff and verses.  The chorus is pretty hilarious with the shouting of the title, but so far this and “ManUNKind” are definitely the worst songs so far.  I really don’t have much positive to say about this other than that it’s better than anything on LULU and St. Anger by any sort of measurement you like.  Actually, I guess in the bridge the song manages to try a St. Anger-esque one note riff breakdown before the wah infected solo part.  Yeah this is not good.

And this is Metallica’s very obvious tribute to the late Lemmy, complete with tons of Motorhead referential lyrics and a slowed down groove approach that avoids the throwbacks to the 90’s and instead recalls some of that simplified Motorhead approach.  Eh, this song isn’t really much other than their version of Motorhead’s own “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” song, and I can appreciate it at that.  Lemmy was god after all, so god is dead and no one cares, and the world keeps turning and burning.  The guitar solo in this song is actually pretty sweet though and is intentionally reminiscent of the early 80’s.  That was a nice bonus.  Lemmy was awesome and pretty soon we’ll be hitting a year since he died.

Okay.  Sorry for doubting you, Metallica.  Holy fucking shit.  This, this is what anybody who has enjoyed Metallica is typically a fan of.  Thrash metal in it’s actualized form, a fast and ruthless approach that this band just really isn’t regarded for in its releases in the past 20 years.  This is by far the best song on the album and anyone should just hit the play button above if they haven’t heard it, because this is Metallica’s most accomplished piece of damage control they’ve recorded in possibly ever.  This is the song to check out from this if you fall into the “everything after *insert year between 1986 and 1996 here* sucks” category.  “My Apocalypse” finished Death Magnetic in a similar “br00tal” manner, but this song is just better, more thrash metal throwback oriented, and one of the few 7 minute long songs on the album to not be over-extending the welcome at that length.  This is probably the best Metallica song since the 1980’s or Black Album, so it has that strength at the end of the record.

And now I’ll give a quick rank up of the songs contained on this album, best to worst:

Spit Out the Bone
Halo On Fire
Atlas, Rise!
Moth Into Flame
Dream No More
Now That We’re Dead
Here Comes Revenge
Murder One
Am I Savage?

So after all things considered, where does this rank among this cycle of the Big Four of Thrash Metal and their recent string of releases, their first since the years 1990-1991?

Slayer – Repentless (released 9/11/2015) – 400/666
Megadeth – Dystopia (released 1/22/2016) – 475/666
Anthrax – For All Kings (released 2/26/2016) – 425/666

Metallica’s new album Hardwired to Self-Destruct receives an official rating of 950/1332

Why such an odd score? Because both of Metallica’s discs were longer than Slayer’s single disc.  Metallica made a valiant effort and scored at a 475/666, competing with Megadeth’s record for the best of this round, as both bands stepped their game up after the worst albums in their careers with LULU and Supercollider and managed to prove their worth once more in 2016, the year of the thrash.

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