Posts Tagged ‘Ministry’

Sacred Bones – 11th September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Regular readers will likely have spotted Uniform featured on numerous occasions here at Aural Aggro, and in may ways, they encapsulate everything that inspired me to start this in the first place – namely that reviewing music that moves and affects me isn’t quite enough, because only half of it’s about the music, and the remainder is about that personal reaction, and that’s more of an essay than a review. To some this may seem indulgent, and maybe it is, but the intention is that in explaining my own personal response, there may be something relatable there for other readers – and also, potentially, something for the artist, namely an insight into how their music resonates with fans, what it means to them.

I’m not dismissing the merit of reviews that endeavour to quantify the quality of a release based on various merits and so on, but when confronted with music that exists to convey the most brutal emotions in a way that almost physically hurts, you just have to go deeper, and pick it apart properly, much as in the way you’re compelled to pick at an itchy, crusting scab until it’s weeping and raw and bleeding once more in some wrongheaded attempt to understand the nature of the wound.

The particular thing about Uniform is the way in which they balance unbridled rawness, a rage so explosive and nihilistic that words cannot even begin to convey even the outline of the sentiment, one so deeply enmeshed with a choking fury that renders words worthless, and a rare literacy.

“Thematically, the album is like a classic hard-boiled paperback novel without a case,” says front man Michael Berdan. “It focuses on the static state of an antihero as he mulls over his life in the interim between major events, just existing in the world. At the time we were making the record, I was reading books by Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, and Dashiell Hammet and strangely found myself identifying with the internal dialogues of characters like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.”

These are all authors I have an immense admiration for, on account of the pace of their narrative, their economy, their capacity to deliver plot at pace, and their writing methods. Writing is one discipline. Writing to deadlines and producing quality and quantity quickly entirely another, and one I genuinely aspire to.

Uniform have demonstrated an impressive work ethic since their inception, and have been cranking out an album a year either on their own or in collaboration with The Body on an annual basis for the last few years. And never once has the quality or intensity dipped one iota, and Shame continues this unblemished record.

They have evolved over time, replaving the drum machine with a human drummer, but this hasn’t rendered them any more ‘ordinary’ and even without the harsh, pounding electronic battery of percussion, they’re still cranium-crushingly intense and head-shreddingly harsh.

Admittedly, I’ve had The Long Walk on heavy rotation for some two years now, with ‘The Walk’ not only defining that raw, aggro, nihilism that IS Uniform, but also being something of a soundtrack to life. Because life is short, cruel, and painful an there aren’t many acts who convey this as accurately as Uniform.

Shame explores all of the pains and anguish of shame and humiliation, the desire to bury one’s face or to disappear, and for all its harshness, all its abrasion, and all its brutality, Shame is an album that speaks on a deep emotional level. Shame hurts. It’s also harsh, abrasive, brutal, and as visceral an album as you’re likely to hear, and not just in clusterfuck 2020, but period.

The singles released online in advance of the album certainly give an idea of where it’s headed, but Shame needs to be heard in full – and at full volume of course – for maximum impact.

It crashes in with lead single ‘Delco’, possibly the most accessible of the ten cuts. It’s all relative, and by ‘accessible’ we’re looking at Ministry circa Psalm 69, with driving guitars dominating mangled vocals pegged low in the mix. The album swiftly descends into the depths of darkness, a murky blur of metal fury that combines the detached mechanisation of Ministry and Godflesh with the screeding impenetrable guitar noise.

The title track is tense, bleak, but there are hints of redemption at least in the intro before it turns dark and self-flagellatory. The refrain ‘That’s why I drink / That’s why I weep’ is another intertextual reference, this time made in homage to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode ‘Night of the Meek’. But it distils a dark intensity that is the essence of an internal pain that can only be soothed by a chemical anaesthetic. It’s so succinct, and so absolutely magnificent, despite being painful and ugly. We’re all fucked up, and personally, I’m more wary of those who present themselves as happy and normal than anyone else. Who are they rely lying to?

‘Dispatches from the Gutter’ is a sub-two-minute blast of gnarly noise that is virtual onomatopoeia, while ‘This Won’t End Well’ is a slow-paced, industrial trudge, and closer ‘I Am the Cancer’ is just horrible, a mess of frantically-paced guitars, mangled to fuck, and vocals, distorted beyond impenetrability, all cranked out fast and hard. And this is how this album would always have to end. It would have to be painful. It would have to be like peeling flesh. It would have to be like murder.

Shame sees no sign of Uniform softening, Moreover, as they try to make sense of this ugly, violent world, their music more conveys the confusion and the pain of being alive. Embrace it or don’t, but with Shame, Uniform captures the spirit and the anguish of life right now.

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Sacred Bones

Christopher Nosnibor

Fucking yes: the news of a new Uniform album is welcome news. Not that a new Uniform album is ever going to be an uplifting experience, but a soundtrack to the torment of modern life. Few bands – not only now, but ever – have so perfectly articulated that noise in your head, the pain of being alive and completely fucking trapped on this planet with so many examples of a species who seem hellbent on bringing about their own extinction, and what’s more, completely deserve it.

Many fans will be devastated to hear, then, that they’ve gone pop on the lead single for their upcoming fourth album, Shame.

Of course I’m kidding. ‘Delco’ is less gnarly than previous outings, with actual chords distinguishable among the churn, and overall the sound is more balanced, less abrasive. But these things are relative. ‘Less abrasive’ means something approximating Filth Pig era Ministry, only with a shade less treble. It’s still a heavy grind, a relentless trudge of repetitive chord cycles and petulant, pissed-off vocals channelling all the angst. Still keeping it brutal.

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Metropolis Records – 8th February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

In a sense, I was raised on so-called ‘industrial’. It was the very early 90s and I was in my mid-late teens: Ministry had broken through to the MTV major league with ‘Psalm 69’ and I worked weekends in a second-hand record shop. The other hired hand, who worked when the owner wasn’t around and drove the van carrying the shop’s contents to record fairs on Sundays, was around 15 years older than me, and was massively into all sorts, but particularly punk, new wave, and industrial shit. He’d feed me stuff like Pigface and Lard. Records and CD had a pretty rapid turnover, so recent releases often landed with us for resale within a few weeks of release after a rush of ‘mistake’ purchases off the back of reviews in the music press, and at record fair, it was possible to swipe Wax Trax! remainder12” – which included albums, often still sealed – for a pound apiece.

The fact there was a certain similarity of sound across many of the releases was, in a sense, part of the appeal: the uniformity of industrial civilisation and its attendant culture, reflected in musical from echoed a blank nihilism that simultaneously accepted and confronted the grim harshness of daily reality.

But it’s 2019 and many of the old bands are still cranking out the same trudging grind, and there don’t really seem to be that many emerging bands in the field, making for a genre that’s increasingly stagnant, continually cross-feeding from within itself without drawing inspiration or air from outside its hermetic grey-hued space. The additional contributors featured here is a case in point: the album features contributions from Robert Gorl (DAF), Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost), and Chris Connelly (Revolting Cocks, Cocksure). As a catalogue of luminaries from the scene, it’s cool, but it’s the same catalogue as you might have seen as far back as twenty years ago

Wake Up the Coma isn’t bad by any means, and it certainly has its standout moments. It’s brimming with thumping industrial-strength disco beats, bubbling basslines and stabbing synths, and in this field, songs like ‘Hatevol’ are exemplary. The minimalist slow grind of ‘Tilt’ sounds very like PIG with its woozy, grimy, stop / start synth bass and snarling vocals, fuzzed at the edges with a metallic distortion. Then again, their cover of Falco’s ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ (with Jimmy Urine) stands out for less good reasons: it’s 100% straight, with negligible deviations from the original save for a more industrial beat. And I can’t help but think ‘what’s the point?’ there have been plenty of inspired industrial covers, and I will always cite RevCo’s take on ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy’ as an example of irreverent and inventive adaptation.

No-one looking for a solid Front Line Assembly album is going to be disappointed by this. And since FLA, now thirty-three years and almost twenty albums into their existence, are always likely to be preaching to the choir, they’ve delivered firmly with Wake Up the Coma.

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Front Line Assembly – Wake Up The Coma

Christopher Nosnibor

I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Jo Quail: the two occasions I’ve seen her this year as an opening act, she’s been on not only early doors, but within minutes of doors opening. So I’m standing outside, in the rain, hearing the strains of her opening piece and feeling frustrated: the doors, set for 7:30, don’t open until 7:40, but Jo, scheduled for 7:40, starts on time. Still, the fact there’s a substantial queue before doors, and that people have packed to the front immediately on arrival is validation, if validation is needed.

She’s no ordinary cellist, utilizing a vast bank of pedals to conjure pulsing rhythms and a grinding undercurrent which flows fluidly as she builds layer upon layer to form cathedrals of sound – appropriate for a venue which a former church, now restored as a venue, and which boasts some of the most magnificent architecture. Her music is immense and powerful, the experience intense, moving, as the compositions transition between graceful and forceful, and Jo channels the range through her posture, at one with the instrument. The third and final piece, taken from her forthcoming LP opens with thunderous explosions and eerie, haunting shrillness, cultivating a dark, industrial atmosphere. And she certainly knows how to build a sustained crescendo: by the end of her set, I feel like I’ve emerged, battered but triumphant, from a tempest, and the respectable audience show real appreciation for an impressive set.

Jo Quail

Jo Quail

Rewind: while queueing in the rain, some irritatingly superior bozos behind me prate on about this and that. One remarks how the support has a forgettable, generic “adjective, something, something, noun’ name. He checks the event on Facebook on his phone, before trilling ‘A Storm of Light…. Yeah, adjective, something noun…” I turn and point out that ‘storm’ is also a noun, and that the new album’s really good. The smug cret thanks me dismissively and returns to babbling about cake at work and the like. I turn back to wait in silence, alone, and I’m fine with it, not least of all because A Storm of Light more than compensate the cold, damp discomfort of the queue.

With relentless, ever-shifting streams from CCTV intercut with cascading pills and the like projected behind the stage, ASOL play in near darkness and they play hard. Cranking out gritty industrial-tinged, grunge-hued post-punk with a dark, metallic sheen seems most incongruous in the setting, particularly given the nihilistic sociopolitical leanings of the lyrics. But we’re on deconsecrated, renovated ground here, and as much as I’m struck by the contextual juxtaposition, I’m struck by the clarity of the sound, particularly the drums, which cut through and pack a serious punch.

lA Storm of Light

A Storm of Light

Veering between claustrophobically taut frameworks and more organic, Neurosis-like expanses, the band create a sonic space that’s very much their own. And throughout the set, the basis lunges, hard, building in intensity as the set progresses: near the end, his instrument is pretty much scraping the floor, and he steps in front of the monitors to deliver some of the most savagely attacking bass playing you’re likely to witness. Not so much a strong performance as an act of total devastation.

Mono are considerably less abrasive, and I some ways, feel like a little bit of a step down. They sit down to play, for a start. It makes for a mellow atmosphere, but renders them invisible to anyone not in the first few rows, for a start.

Mono

Mono

Unable to get decent sight of the band, I make my way to the back, where the sound is magnificent. I can’t see anything other than smoke and strobes, but it’s ok: Mono aren’t a band to watch, even with the addition of vocals to their arsenal: they’re a band to get lot in. and that, I do. I find myself slowly drifting in the enormity of the experience: the sound, the atmosphere, the space, all contrive to create an immersive experience.

Consouling Sounds – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been five years since A Storm of Light graced us with Nation To Flames, released via Southern Lord. Anthroscene has a very different mood, and isn’t exactly a Southern Lord type of album. It’s still very much a metal album at heart, and still has the sharp, snarling throb of latter-day Ministry at its molten core – but on this outing, they’ve opened things up a way – without losing any of the fire.

Josh Graham’s take on the album is that “Anthroscene ignores genre and freely combines a lot of our early influences. Christian Death, The Cure, Discharge, Lard, Fugazi, Big Black, Ministry, Pailhead, Melvins, Pink Floyd, Killing Joke, NIN, Tool, etc. Where Nations to Flames was a very a focused sonic assault, this record has more time to breathe, yet still keeps the intensity intact. We allowed the songs to venture into new territory and push our personal boundaries. It’s heavy and intense, but always focuses on interwoven melodies, song structure and dynamic.”

It’s a slow build by way of a start: the six-minute-trudger that is ‘Prime Time’ is constructed around a stocky riff, choppy, chunky. The guitar overdriven and compressed, chops out a sound reminiscent of post-millennial Killing Joke. The vocals are more metal, and then it breaks into a descending powerchord sequence that’s more grunge. The overall feel, then, is very much late 90s and into the first decade of the noughties, and lyrically, we’re very much in the socio-political terrain of Killing Joke. Indeed, the shift in focus is as much about the album’s heart as its soul, as ASOL turn to face the world in all its madness and corruption and pick through the pieces of this fucked-up, impossible mess. It’s practically impossible not to be angry; it’s practically impossible not to feel angry, defeated.

‘Blackout’ grinds in with some big chuggage, and ‘Life Will be Violent’ is remarkably expansive as it howls through a barrage of percussion that blasts like heavy artillery for eight and a half minutes. There are no short songs here: Anthroscene is the post-millennial cousin of Killing Joke’s Pandemonium. Only, whereas Pandemonium was pitched as prophetic and prescient, Anthroscene is clawing its way through the wreckage that is the future now present. Yes, the damage is done, and we’re standing, looking into the rubble as the dust drifts across a barren wasteland. But we’re too busy on social media and with faces buried in smartphones and tablets to even contemplate what we’ve done, and our children, heading inexorably toward an existence bereft of meaning as they too bury their faces in smartphones and tablets and Netflix on the 50” flatscreen, have no idea.

But this is no by-numbers template-based regurgitation: Anthroscene is sincere, and original. The squalling guitars of ‘Short Term Feedback’ sizzle and squirm over a barrage of drums and throat-ripping vocals as A Storm of Light revisit industrial metal territory, tugging at Ministry and early Pitch Shifter by way of touchstones. Elsewhere, the lugubrious ‘Slow Motion Apocalypse’ fulfils the promise of the title, but perhaps with more emotional resonance than you might expect.

Anthroscene is harsh, but evokes steely industrial greyness in its dense, claustrophobic atmosphere. A challenging album for challenging times.

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Metropolis Records – 13th October 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve lost count of how many bands and songs I’ve encountered that reference ‘dream machine.’ The first was perhaps back in maybe 1992, aged seventeen, on purchasing Scenes from the Second Story by The God Machine. Although I had read Naked Lunch, Junky, and Queer (which was the limit of William Burroughs material available in my local Waterstones), I had yet to discover the weirder and more wonderful, experimental side of Burroughs, let alone his accomplice Brion Gysin, who was as responsible for the advent of the cut-ups as Burroughs himself. It was electronics technician, computer programmer, and peripheral Beat Generation associate, Ian Sommerville who invented the stroboscopic device know as the Dream Machine in 1960. I do sometimes wonder how many of those references to Dream Machines are aware of its origin and history, but given Burroughs’ popularity in industrial / related circles, the chances are probably fairly high. Which then leads to the question – just how much is this about trip, and how much about hip?

Inertia have been kicking out technoindustrial tunage for almost two and a half decades now. Over that time, they’ve acquired a respectable fanbase and released a slew of albums. As is always the case with the ‘goth’ scene, it’s all happened more or less invisibly, underground, and internationally rather than domestically.

Dream Machine is very much an album which follows established templates: insistent, bubbling synths heave and grind over thumping sequenced beats with a toppy edge and hard dancefloor edge. It’s solid, and it has tunes. It’s got the right balance of attack and melody, edge and groove. In fact, it’s pretty much back-to-back tracks you could get down to on the dancefloor at a goth night, and steel toe caps would be recommended.

The drum pattern at the start of ‘Only Law’ is a near-lift of the intro to ‘Burn’ by The Sisters of Mercy, before it all goes Music for the Masses Depeche Mode. It’s not just the insistent synths and jittery sequenced bass, or the hard-edged beats, but the soulful, melodic, backing vocals. Elsewhere, ‘Thorns’ goes Ministry circa Twitch. But for the most part, as is so often the case with longstanding technoindustrial acts, I hear Depeche Mode, with a dash of early Nine Inch Nails. I’m by no means averse to the sound, the style, or the influences: in fact, I’m a huge fan of both DM and NIN and have more Wax Trax! 12” than I could play in a week.

So where’s the beef? It’s all a bit samey. I feel like I’ve been listening to the same hardfloor techno-driven industrial-strength electro grooves for more than twenty-five years. Cybergoth, Darkwave, EBM, Aggrotech, Industrial Dance Music… the terminologies matter not. Some came, some went, but musically, it’s much of a muchness and I’m not up for debating the semantics of microgenre aesthetics.

Dream Machine is ok. It’s got some decent tunes. And it sounds like countess albums I’ve heard before.

AAA

Intertia - Dream Machine

AnalogueTrash – 17th March 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

First impressions matter. The opening seconds of ‘Beware of the Gods’, the first track on The Last Punks on Earth remind me of ‘Corrosion’ by Ministry. As such, my attention is well and truly grabbed, even before the album breaks. And when it does break, it’s a shouty, snotty, snarling drum-machine driven punk racket reminiscent of early Revolting Cocks that comes hammering from the speakers. Combining gritty, overdriven guitars and pounding, insistent mechanised beats with aggressive vocals and surging electronic noise and grinding synths, it’s not pretty.

‘We Are Freaks in the Sky’ has that classic Wax Trax! sound all over it, while ‘Sarah’s Song’ is an exemplar of the full-tilt industrialised Eurodisco of the late 80s and early 90s. KMFDM is a fair reference point for the driving, danceable technoindustrial nihilism that defines The Last Punks on Earth.

There’s little to no respite over the course of the album’s ten tracks, which offer up a savage and bleak postapocalyptic cultural worldview. Ok, so the name might evoke the blank postmodern irony of Nathan Barley, as might the band’s image and sound, but their brutal genre-clashing noise is exactly the music that these fucked-up times demand. The darkest dystopian fictions have become our reality, and on The Last Punks on Earth Syd.31 capture the zeitgeist with a violence, venom and vitality that’s pure and compelling.

Syd.31

Cleopatra Records – 9th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Why? Why, Al, Why? I ask as a huge ministry fan, and also as someone who has a lot of respect and admiration for what Cleopatra Records do. I practically wore the magnetism off my copy of Christian Death’s Decomposition of Violets album in my teens. I’m not averse to dredging through the archives and giving long hours to the appreciation of murky live recordings from the early 80s, either: my copy of The Cure’s Concert and Curiosity was played until it stretched, and the number of Sisters of Mercy bootlegs, many of quite dubious quality, that I played to death and still own is testament to my obsessive bent and borderline insanity.

This release is undoubtedly of historical interest. But given Al Jourgensen’s (rightful) disavowal of the early Ministry releases, this feels like a shameful barrel-scraping exercise. It’s pretty much unanimously accepted as fact that Ministry only started to become worthwhile with Twitch.

The first four tracks which occupy side one of the double album were recorded live in Detroit in 1982. With some reedy lead synths, dry bass synths and chorused guitars, they sound like A Flock of Seagulls. Only not as polished. With a shouty, punk vocal and drum style, it’s a pretty ragged affair, the sneering, snarling Johnny Rotten style vocals echo into the abyss while the synths are almost buried at times. Even overlooking the mix – the recording quality isn’t that bad – it still all sounds pretty naff – although the material is, on balance, better than anything on With Sympathy. In context, it makes sense: Jourgensen penned much of the material which went onto Twitch and was already working on edgier sounding material before the release of With Sympathy in 1983, but the record label weren’t interested. Still, ‘Love Change’ sounds like The Human League covering ‘Funky Down’. Edgy it isn’t.

The ’82 and ’83 demos are unadulterated synthpop tunes and are very much of their era. ‘Game is Over’ casts some shades of grey with hints of Killing Joke and The Cure, but then, it’s perhaps easy to forget that the tone of much commercial rock and pop was darker than we’re accustomed to now: even acts like Howard Jones and Mr Mister had a certain dark streak to their music and lyrics. Ah, different times. ‘Let’s Be Happy’ is a bouncy goth disco track. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, but it’s still difficult to reconcile with the band Ministry would subsequently become, and the less said about ‘Wait’ the better.

‘I See Red’ sounds more like Twitch: built around a thumping EBM groove, heavy electro percussion and processed vocals. Likewise, the heavily percussive, bass-driven ‘Self-Annoyed’ represents the sound of Wax Trax! in the mid to late 80s, and is immediately more recognisable as Ministry/related.

And while this is billed as a Ministry release, the myriad offshoots and side projects have produced some corking tunes through the years, so to find some of them represented here is actually a cause for celebration. That said, it’s not hard to appreciate why the unreleased Revolting Cocks cut, ‘Fish in Cold Water, failed to see the light of day before now. It may pack the sleazy disco grind of their Bigsexyland era material, but comes on like a mad mash-up of Talking Heads, U2, Bowie, and Harold Faltermeyer. ‘Drums Along the Carbide’ is way better. But then, you already know it, as a different version featured on the debut album under the title ‘Union Carbide’. Still calling to mind the attack of ‘Beers, Steers and Queers’, the battering-ram drums and scraping feedback providing a welcome cranial cleanse.

Dub versions of ‘Supernaut’ (released as 1,000 Homo DJs) and the Pailhead track ‘Don’t Stand in Line’ feel like too much filler however awesomely full-on the drum sound is, and the ‘banned version’ of ‘(Let’s Get) Physical’ doesn’t sound any different, and it would take a fair bit of time with an ear twisted to the vocals to determine any differences or the reason why it was banned.

The PTP track, ‘Show Me Your Spine’ is disappointing: it’s got a good beat, but isn’t a patch on the monotone psychopathic technoid groove of ‘Rubber Glove Seduction’, and again, it’s apparent as to why it failed to make an official release at the time.

In all, it’s rather a mixed bag. The majority of the material has curiosity value, but this is very much one for the fans. Even then, I’d recommend sticking to the albums released during the band’s lifetime, including those of the various side-projects.

Ministry_-_Trax!_Rarities_(cover)

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