Metallica – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct

Posted: 16 November 2016 in Albums
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Blackened Recordings – 18th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a new Metallica album. You don’t need to be a superfan to know that this is a big deal. Much was made in the press in their approach to promotion for its predecessor, Death Magnetic, with no advance CDs or streams and music journalists being herded in to listen to the album but with a list of caveats and prohibitions, and while that was a full eight years ago, the same approach has been taken, with streams only being made available a mere two days ahead of release to minor-league press like myself (granted, I was given the opportunity to sign up for the listening event, but being minor-league and not residing in London, it wasn’t going to happen). Still, in this day and age, doing something different is what counts, and of course, it’s easier for acts the size of Radiohead, U2, and Metallica (and would it be wrong to mention Bowie at this juncture?) to go for inverse hype, either keeping the album under wraps or even slipping it out with zero warning because it’s going to sell by the truckload anyway, and there will always be royalty-paying radio airings of tracks and all of the other things that provide the main earnings for big-name artists after the release, and if it gets people talking, then job done.

Typing this review feels awkward. I’ve long vowed to avoid the mainstream and the major league, preferring to give coverage to acts no-ones heard of. Everyone has an opinion about the new album by U2, Radiohead, Metallica. What can I add to the general noise? And am I likely to pick it apart in the kind of depth the real fans want? Forums and fan sites chuntered a bucketload about the mixing and mastering of Death Magnetic. Going back an album further still, the virtual riots over the production, specifically the drum sound, on St. Anger still echo on. Personally, I prefer the tangy blue French cheese Saint Agur over any Metallica album, but I digress. It seems that everyone’s out for Metallica, but no-one really talks about the songs these days. I’ll come to the songs shortly, because however vociferously critics and self-professed fans alike bitch about the albums and the spoutings of the band members (or one in particular), none of the noise makes any real difference. Their albums sell by the truckload regardless. Their gigs still sell tickets by the truckload.

Like many, I was properly introduced to the band through their redefining eponymous ‘black’ album in 1991, although of course it’s easy to understand why many of their longstanding fans were pissed off by the new sound. They had betrayed their thrash roots, and were now a commercial proposition. But really, do I give enough of a shit to be ‘qualified’ in the eyes of the masses to dissect a new Metallica album? Perhaps it’s my lack of shit-giving which precisely qualifies me.

The come barrelling out of the blocks all guns blazing with the full-throttle call to arms of ‘Hardwired’: ‘we’re so fucked / shit outta luck / hardwired to self-destruct,’ Hetfield spits in the refrain. If the musical composition itself sounds like ‘Wherever I May Roam’ crossed with Psalm 69 era Ministry (‘Hero’ in particular), it at least sounds like they mean business. It’s also the album’s most concise cut, clocking in a more nine seconds over three minutes.

Following on from the max-impact opener, ‘Atlas, Rise!’ is chugging juggernaut of a song, showcasing a straight down the line metal sound and a suitably preposterous and overblown guitar break. It’s taut and tetchy, and it too sounds like Ministry circa Psalm 69 but with some characteristic latter-day Metallica licks thrown in, and the same is true of ‘Spit Out the Bone’ over on disc two. There’s almost a sense that they’re casting their eyes back to 1990 and thinking that perhaps, that was the point at which things went awry, artistically, at least, although this dissipates as the album progresses.

The hefty drumming drives the throbbing riffage of ‘Now That We’re Dead’ before it descends into post-Black Album Metallica by numbers, and everything I’d dreaded Hardwired would be. Look, it’s not that I’m anti-melody or dislike harmonies, but they can be a hindrance to the heaviness of a metal song, and Metallica are particularly guilty of working to a blueprint. Sure, it’s their own blueprint, but I’m not feeling the danger here.

Hardwired… To Self-Destruct may be a monstrous double album which contains almost two hours of music (that’s twelve tracks, the majority sitting in the six or seven minute region) but to berate Metallica for being overblown or indulgent is entirely redundant. No, the real issue here is that it simply doesn’t feel like an album eight years in the making. Compare it to, say, Swans’ last album, or Killing Joke’s latest. Bear with me on this: Killing Joke have something of a formula, and tend to hammer out tracks built around a single riff for around six minutes, but there’s nothing tired or sluggish about Pylon, and Swans’ The Glowing Man is about four hours long but is the work of a band pushing themselves into unknown territories, and beyond. These feel like immense vital albums: Hardwired does not. Ok, so they manage to churn out a waltz-time lunger in the form of the cheesily-titled ‘ManUNkind’ and it serves to bring variety to proceedings, and ‘Here Comes Revenge’ locks into a churning groove to pretty potent effect: you can get down to this. While there are some undeniably great moments – from the expansive play-out segment on ‘Halo on Fire’ and the heads-down riff of disc two opener ‘Confusion’ – there simply aren’t enough of them. But that isn’t to say that this isn’t a solid enough album.

It was but a few weeks ago that I passed something of a shrug in the direction of the latest Neurosis album, for which ’30 years in the making’ essentially translates as ’30 years refining a stylistic blueprint’, and Hardwired suffers from very much the same creative malaise. The band vary likely believe strongly in what they’re doing and have spent the last eight years perfecting the material and ensuring it sounds exactly the way they want it to, and y’know, that’s ok. It sounds good. The guitars and bass are solid and suitably dense. The drums sound fine, on my speakers, at least. I haven’t spent three weeks listening to it on a loop through headphones, admittedly, and this is very much a broad overview of the album.

Ultimately, it would be wrong to criticise an album for what it is not, and instead, the critical focus ought to be on what it is. Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is a Metallica album. The first in a long time. A lot of people will love it; a lot will be enraged by it, for myriad reasons. But it sounds like a Metallica album and does what you’d expect a Metallica album to do. And that’s no bad thing. You want a Metallica album? You got one.

 

 

Metallica - Hardwired

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