It’s been 8 years since the last Metallica studio album (2008’s Death Magnetic), and over twice that length of time since I bought one of their records. The last Metallica release I paid to listen to was 1996’s controversial Load album.
I’ve listened to the album a few times now and I am pleased to say that it is, if nothing else, better than Load.
While the band will never have the sheer power and presence that they possessed during their 1980’s glory days, they have managed to capture the spirit of Metallica as best they could.
Even Lars Ulrich’s drumming sounds enjoyable. It’s not great, and there are far too many snare fills for my taste, but it gets the head nodding. The bottom line is, Metallica are back. And their new record could have been a lot worse than it is!
The album leaked online a few days before its official release earlier this month, and amateur critics were keen to start slagging it off almost immediately. “This is shit,” “Gay as f***!” you get the general idea. The truth is, James Hetfield is on top form on this record, turning out easily some of the best riffs he’s composed in almost 20 years. And there’s no ‘Enter Sandman.’ All the songs rock and they haven’t made another ‘Unforgiven’ or attempted to write a sequel to ‘Nothing Else Matters.’
But maybe that’s the problem. It’s okay, but it’s not amazing. Metallica have been stuck in a creative rut since their self-titled 1991 comeback album (aka The Black Album). You can almost sympathise with them. They lost Cliff Burton (something which should never, ever be made light of by any metal fan – ever, by the way!), then they got ridiculously famous, aging and developing their own mental health, drink and drug issues along the way. Suddenly, they were over 30, out of fashion and out of touch with the underground that spawned them.
They could easily have split up. They didn’t, a fact which is as much down to how much they are worth financially as any pride on their part (one thinks of managers saying ‘come on guys, do one more tour. See how it goes’). The result of Metallica’s decision to continue beyond the ’80’s is a quarter of a century of mid-paced, mediocre corporate rock/metal, half of which should never have left the studio floor.
Hang on a minute, aren’t I supposed to be a fan? Well, yeah. I am. I have been since I was 12 years old and that’s why I feel qualified to be so brutal towards them. I’ve spent the last twenty-odd years wondering what the fuck is going on with these guys. I’m mature enough to know that doing an old-school thrash album in 1992 would have been commercial suicide at their level, and they had to do something. But was country-and-western ballads and Lars wearing feather boas really the answer? Maybe it was the coke. We all did stupid things in the ’90’s to be fair.
I think this is an in-joke on The Jimmy Fallon Show, but not these guys. Leave it to Adele – Please!
It seems as if James Hetfield is on the same page as the fans again though with this record, and there are more than a few …And Justice For All moments on this album, with both his vocals and his guitar riffs. James appears to be leading the way songwriting-wise, which has left songs sounding quite similar, but consistently so. Fact is, he is one of the best rhythm guitarists out there (of any age), and he’s on top form here. There are some great riffs on this album. Nothing new or ground-breaking, but not too shabby either. There are some cringe-worthy lyrics in places, and the chorus to ‘Moth Into Flame’ does sound a little bit like The Proclaimers to my ears, but overall it’s a solid album. For every middle-aged moment, there are moments of greatness. ‘Halo On Fire,’ the closing track from disc 1, is vintage ‘new-Metallica,’ and I hope they play it live. I doubt I will go and see them, but if I did, it would be great to hear.
The production is solid too. I don’t think Lars Ulrich is capable of letting any producer give him a good snare sound, but it’s a big improvement on some he’s churned out in recent years. He might even have practiced a bit before recording this time round! Bassist Rob Trujillo does his job and respectfully stays in close to the drums, never for a second forgetting the legacy of his forebears Burton and Newstead (and even old Ron Mc Gubbny!). He reminds me of Judas Priest’s Ian Hill in that respect. He gets the job done and leaves room for the songs. Solid is an understatement. Kirk Hammett still hasn’t read the memo about learning some new licks, and he is his usual self on this album, wah pedal and all and he’s welcome, as cheesy as it is. He and James were my favourite guitarists growing up, alongside Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, and it’s always good to hear him play.
This is a double album and there is also a 3-disc deluxe-edition available with some cover versions and live tracks for a slightly higher price. Despite it’s length (over two and a half hours with bonus tracks!) it doesn’t drag on like their last album did. I think Death Magnetic is a good record, but I found myself getting bored listening to it, something that isn’t happening here.
I was going to go through the album track by track, but you can read that elsewhere online. All that remains for me to say is, give the old boys a chance. Metallica are all well over 50 now, and they’re doing their best again, something which was hard to believe five years ago. I like having them around and I’m glad they’re back. If I rock as much as this when I’m 50-odd, I’ll be happy, even though I will be doing it for a lot less money!
Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is out now on the band’s own label, Blackened Recordings.