There is no questioning that Metallica has contributed greatly to the metal genre in their 30+ year careers. They created some of the best records of the 80s with albums like Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice For All. But following the huge success with their self-titled album, which came out six years before I was even born, their work has been mediocre at best. Whether it be issues with writings or production, the group has seemed unable to come close to the great content they seemed to be able to easily pump out decades ago.
This is why I was not eagerly awaiting Hardwired…To Self-Destruct as much as many other fans of the band. I never even bothered to check out the singles before the release, deciding to go in blind to this 78 minute double album. Maybe it was the expectations, but upon a first listen, and each subsequent listen, I found myself enjoying this record more than expected. While not perfect, there is a strong argument that this is the best Metallica album to come out in my lifetime. While not comparable to their classics, it does go back to what made their self-titled album such a commercial success.
I would say the first half of this album could have been passed off as a solid record on its own. The first four songs, especially, are some of Hardwired’s best material. The first track, “Hardwired,” is a short, aggressive track that outlines the album’s overarching themes of how mankind is destined to destroy themselves. The lyrics are not great by any stretch but the song itself is still excellent enough to make up for it. “Atlas, Rise!,” is one of the best constructed songs in the tracklist, with James Hetfield really delivering an empowered performance. The song compares the band’s struggle of carrying their massive legacy to that of Atlas carrying the Earth on his shoulders.
A personal favorite of mine is the subtly sentimental yet dark track, “Now That We’re Dead,” which describes someone waiting to see their deceased lover on their deathbed. It is one of the best written tracks on here and has a strong guitar riff that has remained stuck in my head. While the premise is played out, “Moth Into Flame” is certainly an entertaining song, detailing celebrities draw to danger. It continues the theme of self-destruction well and will certainly make for a solid single.
While not quite as great, the final two tracks on this half do not drag the quality down. “Dream No More” is a continuation of the band’s interest in the character of Cthulhu, depicting a violent image of the creature bringing atrocities to Earth. The music is fittingly epic and powerful, making it a good sound for the subject material. While not terrible, I do not see the need for the 8+ minute length of “Halo on Fire.” I like the slower rhythm it gets into but I do not think the lyrics justify having this spotlight put on them.
I think the second half of the record is where Metallica did most of their experimenting, for better or for worse. I do think “Confusion” is a very solid start, diving into the mind of a soldier with PTSD. The song certainly sells the emotion of the subject in a deeper way than I expected and that certainly deserves credit.
This half also house two tributes to metal artists we have lost. The first “ManUNkind” is a tribute to Mayhem members Per “Dead” Ohlin and Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth who passed away in the early 90s. I am going to be honest, I do not know anything about Mayhem so I personally do not see how this fits as a tribute to them, but I will say this captures the idea of man being naturally evil excellently. The ideas of looking for faith in humanity, despite the horrendous acts we have committed, works well in the album’s narrative.
The second tribute is clearer with “Murder One,” named after the amplifier of Motörhead’s Lemmy. While the song does not sound like something Lemmy would have created, the lyrics are thoughtful and fans of Lemmy and his legacy will likely find great appreciation in this.
The tracks “Here Comes Revenge” and “Am I Savage?” have always felt more like throwaways to me. The former, continuing the themes of wrath, really does little to add to the strong statements made before it. “Am I Savage?” is interesting at least with its allusions to werewolves and turning evil and aggressive but, again, it does not add much to the record to me.
This gets to my biggest issue with Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. The album, while never boring, does overstay its welcome a bit. There is a great album in here, it just needed to be trimmed to get there. If this album was eight great songs off of this I would probably be inclined to give it a much higher score. That is how much I am enjoying the good songs off of this.
Luckily, this album sticks its landing with the closing track “Spit Out the Bone,” arguably the best song on this entire project. The song is over seven minutes of thrash greatness with all members going in hard one last time. Hetfield belts out his smart critiques on technology, saying we might as well lose our flesh and replace ourselves with machine. It is a last jab of social commentary that this record needed to end with.
Fans will be delighted by how great this project came out. Even with its flaws, I still am having a fun time with it and this has given me an excuse to listen to more Metallica which is never a bad thing. It has a broader appeal which works in its favor and while the band does not try anything new, they are sticking to a safer formula in order to make better music, which I appreciate.
Best Tracks: Atlas, Rise!, Now That We’re Dead, Confusion, ManUNkind, Spit Out the Bone
Worst Track: Murder One