You know those “it really makes you think” bits of trivia where people explain to you that you’re going to spend a cumulative year and a half on the toilet in your life? This is generally designed to be both a cool illumination of the obvious, and a wake-up call to folks that they should make the most of their non-pooping time because WOW do we ever spend a lot of time pooping.
I have a feeling that if at the end of my life someone were to tell me “Mark, you have spent _____ amount of time arguing with your buddies about Metallica”, I would say “Wow, that’s a lot of time to devote to arguing about Metallica!” Then I would die, still thinking that Lars Ulrich is a bad drummer.
Lucky for me, smartphones have made it possible to argue about Metallica while also going to the bathroom. I waste less time this way, and it also just feels like really appropriate synergy.
Metallica just released a new record. It doesn’t have Lou Reed on it, which should make some people happy. It also doesn’t have that hilarious garbage can snare drum, and I’m not sure of whether or not that is a positive or a negative. One thing is for sure, though: This is an album by the band Metallica. Although, when you see the title, you think it’s a Megadeth album. I was under the impression that Megadeth held some kind of a copyright deal when it came to putting an ellipsis in an album title. But here we are.
I have some friends who really love Metallica. As someone who has lukewarm feelings about the band at the best of times, I get into some spirited conversations with my friends about whether or not this band has done anything worth talking about since 1988. Well… anything worth talking about in a non-joke context.
I knew that my friends would be interested to hear my unfiltered thoughts about their heroes’ new masterpiece, so I listened to the whole thing. That is more than I can say about any Metallica album since 1996. Please keep reading below for a track-by-track gut-check on how this album sounded to me.
Hardwired – Pretty fun thrash song for being completely tuneless! I like the part in the middle where they play Enter Sandman. Man, that’s a classic. The breakdown just before it ends capitalizes on a riff that didn’t need capitalizing on, but overall this song is okay.
Atlas, Rise! – This sounds a lot like The Black Album to me, particularly the chorus with the mid-tempo drums. Actually, the drums in the chorus are kind of terribly performed. Is something still generic when the band playing it had a hand in creating the genre? Because… if so, they’ve done a really great job of being themselves on this record so far. Oh boy, the solo section of this song enters some Iron Maiden mode that is so far the highest point of the record. More melodic soloing, you thrashing dummies!
Now That We’re Dead – This song is also Enter Sandman. When these guys play live and somebody breaks an E string, what even happens? They must just have to stop playing entirely. This song is a really boring slog until the bridge, which is pretty fun. Also the guitar solo is hilarious and has whammy dives in it, so that’s worth listening to.
Moth Into Flame – The intro to this song proves that this band is at its best when it is actually Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden, a very good band, probably would have done a really great version of Moth Into Flame. This song is in the key of E. The solo section doesn’t manage to make it interesting this time, and actually sounds pretty sloppy by the end.
Dream No More – This song has a half-time groove that feels very Black Album-ish to me. This is perhaps the first song to have a real melody in the verses. I think I actually like Metallica more when they’re playing sluggishly. This song is kind of fun in a faux-evil kind of way. Also a great bridge section and guitar solo.
Halo on Fire – Opens with a great pack of intro riffs, and then turns into “Until It Sleeps”. Despite that, this song is pretty fun. Definitely the most melodic track on the “first disc” of this album and also the proggiest epic.
Confusion – This whole song went by without me realizing that I was listening to a song. This should have been a six-song record, maybe.
ManUNkind – While it has the worst title of all time, this song kind of swings. This is the first song on the record that I would call “catchy”. More groove-metal than thrash, and the album needed this.
Here Comes Revenge – The only thing notable about this song is that they felt like it was worth putting on an album. So take note of their bad decision-making.
Am I Savage? – I think that I might be Metallica’d out at this point and it’s all sounding tired to me at this point. Hahaha. “Oooooh, tooth is fang.” Hahaha. You’re hilarious, Metallica.
Murder One – This song is terrible. Like the worst metal cover of Immigrant Song ever.
Spit Out The Bone – This is the thrashiest song on the record and also the best. There’s more fun stuff in the 7 minutes of “Spit out the Bone” than the rest of the record combined. They should have just released “Metallica Spits out the Bone!” as an EP, and we all could have said “Haha! Metallica is worth keeping around!”
Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is actually better than I was expecting it to be. It is certainly the most that I have enjoyed a Metallica record in 20 years. That being said, I’ve never really liked Metallica, and there are really only two great songs on here. The rest are just competent with flourishes that occasionally transcend the monotonous thrashing.
The production is similarly just “good-enough”. The album sounds fine, but there’s very little of interest going on beyond a slick studio recording. The drums on this record, while not produced in a manner that I would call “hilariously bad”, are pumped up beyond reason and sound overwhelming and kind of silly. It’s standard practice for modern metal recordings to involve drum triggers, but the kick drum on Hardwired… is so obviously a trigger and taking up so much room that it becomes very distracting on some numbers.
Overall, though, this is a pretty solid bunch of songs. This is coming from someone who isn’t even a big Metallica fan (see, I like heavy metal). I have to give them credit for not just crapping out some mega-commercial rock record with a dozen Bob Seger covers on it. It could have used an edit and would have been better if it were 30 minutes shorter, sure. But it’s not a disaster.
Thing is, they’re older dudes and I’ll also give them credit just for giving up on trying to learn new tricks. They were really, really bad at new tricks. Notoriously bad. They haven’t introduced a new trick in 25 years that hasn’t been a terrible idea. An album that mixes straight-ahead thrash metal with occasional smatterings of The Black Album style mid-tempo plodding is exactly what these guys ought to be doing.
They are not David Bowie. They are not the kind of artists capable of reinventing themselves.
They are the AC/DC of thrash metal. They had a series of good ideas when they were young men. And they should stick to those ideas and take ownership of them, as they have here. Their fans will appreciate it, and the rest of us won’t be able to make as much fun of them this way.