Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
The world has a strange way of producing art that seems to both match and respond to the zeitgeist perfectly. I’m filled with immense gratitude that in recent weeks there’s been a number of efforts that have aimed to soothe anxieties and provide an outlet about recent global events rather than to just try and ignore them.
These include films like Arrival and Paterson, works that try to portray humanity as being inherently good, without falling into mawkishness and novels like Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railway which offers sensible and thought-provoking takes on diversity and multi-culturalism.
For the 15-year-old in me, however, the best response came about two minutes into Metallica’s thrilling and furious new album when James Hetfield bellows over an electrifying thrash beat that “We’re so fucked, shit out of luck / hardwired to self destruct”. For the first time in a long time (in my lifetime, at least), this felt like a Metallica that didn’t feel both incredibly contrived and overwhelmed by its own shadow.
Only a minute shorter than 1996’s abominable Load, a record that best represents Metallica’s meandering, bloated identity crisis that occurred following ….And Justice for All, Hardwired….To Self-Destruct has had a longer time to gestate than anything else the band has released. Those two factors are enough to set alarm bells ringing that this could just be a collection rushed out for the lucrative Christmas market but ultimately this proves to be one of the strongest records that the band has put out since their initial rise.
If 2008’s Death Magnetic was about proving that Metallica were no longer going to chase trends then Hardwired… is evidence that they are still capable of producing lean, gritty screeds that made them a force to be reckoned with over 30 years ago. That said, it could use a cut here or there. Split over two discs, the first half of Hardwired…. feels markedly more expendable then the second half. One of the great joys about Metallica is that, at their best, the records had a distinct flow to them and this is lacking in the first six songs here. After a confident, reassuring opening it settles into a few numbers that feel as though they’re playing it safe.
There’s nothing bad as such about ‘Atlas, Rise!’ and ‘Now That We’re Dead’, but they feel out of context, giving this side a Greatest Hits feel rather than a purpose-built new work. ‘Moth Into Flame’ lifts things considerably, with the listener being jolted to life by doomy lead guitar lines and savage palm muting. As the first half concludes, ‘Dream No More’ and ‘Halo On Fire’ calms things somewhat, though not necessarily in a bad way.
‘Disc One’, in some ways, offers a glimpse of a Metallica that exists in an alternative world; a Metallica that stayed on the same level as war horses like Slayer and Anthrax, content to play by metal’s rules. The worst that can be said is that this is a Metallica that’s slightly generic (Hetfield literally riffs on the ‘Every saint has a past, every sinner a future’ idea) and unwilling to think outside of the genre, aside from the grunge-flecked ‘Dream No More’ which feels like a decent Alice In Chains impression.
Kicking off with ‘Confusion’ and its unapologetically evil guitar and machine gun riffing, ‘Disc Two’ is a far more interesting affair, leaner and more well thought out then side one. This spins into ‘ManUNkind’, equally crushing but with acoustic overtones and head-spinning dual leads. This definitely feels like a linear progression and from there, Hardwired… builds on what came before.
Meanwhile, Hetfield and company display an intelligent knowledge of when to pull back and unveil something subtle and understated (I know, I know) on ‘Here Comes Revenge’ before unleashing “Am I Savage?”, a track that lunges entirely for the jugular and (mostly) connects. ‘Spit out the Bone’ is a crushing full stop, consisting of punishing rhythm and enough guitar histrionics that it almost challenges you not to imagine it sitting comfortably with ‘Damage Inc.’, ‘Trapped Under Ice’ and ‘Seek and Destroy’, stone cold classics that Metallica used to belt out with alarming regularity.
Though purists would probably shudder at the notion, they are just as pop savvy as the Coldplays and the Swifts, a leviathan whose every move feels carefully considered. In recent years, for example, they’ve matched Bieber and Perry by releasing a theatrical concert film and Kanye by headlining Glastonbury without an album to promote. Hardwired…. feels like it’s taking a leaf from Beyoncé, not only because it features a music video for every track but because it represents a major act making the album feel like an event again.
Unlikely as it seems for a band that’s as massive as they are, it seems as though there could be some interesting chapters left in the Metallica story yet.