Was it worth the wait?
So the new Metallica rekkid is on the whole pretty damn good!
I’ve been living with it for a while now, ahead of last weeks release and short lived but much hyped pre sale fanfare and well, while it’s the best thing they’ve done in nearly twenty years, it’s certainly not the best thing they’ve ever done.
With eight years between this one and Death Magnetic, it’s the longest the guys have kept us waiting by two whole years. For all their greatness, maybe starving us for new material (I don’t consider Lulu or the Lords Of Summer single as part of the Metallica canon) has lessened our expectations a little. By no means is Hardwired… a slouch of an album, not at all, but being brought up on razor sharp, devastating riffage and vocals dripping with pure vitriol and savagery combined with a genuine, heart racing anxiety that comes with playing the classics on full volume, Hardwired To Self-Destruct falls a bit short.
I think they took their whole discography and put it in a blender and the songs move in and out of old album flavours with super obvious homages everywhere. There’s bits of everything, even most of the riff for Breadfan! Recycling their own material seems to be the order of the day – Dream No More actually sounds like a King Nothing Part two! I caught myself singing ‘where’s your crown…’ after things naturally moved into that part of the song!, and the back half of Lemmy tribute track Murder One, especially the solo feels like My Friend Of Misery’s cousin.
Many people consider the Black Album Metallica’s turning point from thrashers to rockers, but when you put all their albums together, it is very clearly a bridge. It’s an album of crushing riffs done at mid pace. By the time you get to Load/Reload that’s where they loosened up too much and it’s from that point on that James Hetfield‘s riffing became rather lazy. He is still the King of downpicking and has a ridiculously awesome groove but lately (as in the last 20 years!) a lot of that mid paced, built around the snare riffage from the Loads through to Death Magnetic do nothing but give the songs a plodding along for far too long feel. A big fat groovy riff is totally fine but I feel they really lack something that lights a massive fire. For Whom The Bell Tolls or Sad But True or even Wasting My Hate have very simple riffs but they are catchy as hell and actually lead somewhere. I think a lot of the big riffs on here might sound good but ultimately go nowhere and make them more or less indistinguishable and kinda forgettable.
I’ve listened to this though half a dozen times and for the most part it’s only when listening at that point in the song on that particular riff that I remember it.
A funny thing is that I have the album playing from my phone in the car and in order, Kill Em All comes on straight afterwards. There are more amazing, longer lasting and memorable moments on Hit The Lights then on all of this album. A song written thirty five years ago by a bunch of teenagers.
Production wise it is totally fine and all they ever needed to deliver. It certainly sounds ‘stock’ – which Lars Ulrich was so against on St Anger – but there’s nothing wrong with that. If fact, the more I think about trying to match it up to something in particular the more I keep coming back to Garage Inc. The production is almost identical and the overall feel is very similar. I love Garage Inc, the sound, the loose but crushing rhythm, but it’s also an album of covers and that’s what this album feels like. It feels like Metallica covering Metallica songs that no one knows. If that makes sense – Great songs, maybe not great Metallica songs..
Lars has s a couple of surprisingly solid moments with fills I wouldn’t have expected him to pull off (or want to pull off) anymore. My one gripe is that the double bass sounds like he is slapping puddles on most of the songs but not on the albums highlight, the venomous Spit Out The Bone (where it is more of a solid rumble). The album closer that is as close to old school ‘Tallica as they get. It’s also Jaymz’s finest moment on the album.
Halo On Fire is the most personable track on display here, All others, while delivered with the best vocal performance Hetfield has offered in decades, lack any real believability. They sound good but they don’t hit you in the feels. Halo does, it exposes some emotion and maybe it’s because he has always had difficulty expressing it, that he put it all in one fantastic track and let the others be typical Het.
You have to feel for Kirk Hammett losing an iphone full of song ideas that ultimately never made the album (well, I really can’t, I’m sure he can afford iCloud or Dropbox to sync his stuff!) but this has to be the weakest performance from him ever. I paid particular attention to all the solos and lead breaks only on one play though and they are pretty much all rubbish. You can tell it’s him, the wah wah, the blues scales, it’s all signature Hamster BUT, they contribute nothing. There is not a single solo that makes any of the songs better. Solos in the past MADE the songs – The solo on The Thing That Should Not Be scared the shit out of me when I first heard it’s doomy tones and the ripping solo on Through The Never is a blinder and probably one of his best. It just feels really really lazy, done with no effort and there because the song structure says it’s time for a solo.
Rob Trujillo does as he is told all the way through to the final song where he gets a Burtonesque moment in the sun and gets let off the leash for a few bars. Other than that, it could be anyone following those root notes and not straying from this path, This is truly an Hetfield/Ulrich effort on every front.
With today’s short attention spans meaning bands, even Metallica, only having a very small selling window, the fact they went and released a video for every song prior to and on release is a very smart move. For a fortnight it’s been nothing but Metallica in my feeds. The videos, the band doing silly promo stunts (and looking like they are enjoying the promo trail for the first time in years too) the logo name generator… a Metallica album release has always been an event and it’s great to see they can still generate that hype (albeit with a shorter lifespan) after so long. The Black album spawned six singles released over a full year and a tour that lasted for three. It’s a feat few have matched and I’m not sure anyone has bettered but it shows how fast things move now.
Overall, it’s a damn good record, but a classic it’s ain’t. I’m just glad they have new material so they can hit the road again!