Published Nov 16, 2016After 2003's St. Anger, the bar was set fairly low for Metallica to write and record a full-length that would top it, and they handily succeeded in doing so with 2008's Death Magnetic. The latter record showed the thrash vets still had something left in the tank, and Hardwired…To Self-Destruct largely follows suit, even after the lengthy eight-year wait between releases.
Yet, they would have been wiser to trim more of the fat from the 12-track, two disc affair. In comparison to Death Magnetic's thrash-first approach, Hardwired… features more mid-tempo material reminiscent of the band's divisive Load/Reload years, which bogs down the record's second disc in particular. James Hetfield's lyrical themes of man versus self don't function at their best when paired with longer runtimes and slower, snarling riffs on "Confusion," "ManUNkind" and "Here Comes Revenge," and the waltzy "Am I Savage?" and Lemmy tribute "Murder One" suffer similar musical fates.
That said, there's plenty to enjoy on both six-track halves. Saving the second disc from being a complete slog is "Spit Out the Bone," a seven-minute thrasher complete with solos from both bassist Robert Trujillo and guitarist Kirk Hammett, and even some rare double-kick action from drummer Lars Ulrich. Hardwired's first disc is frontloaded with more of the speedy material. Both "Moth Into Flame" and "Hardwired" are strong, energetic singles marked by lyrical bleakness, Hetfield not mincing words about the kind of year it's been as he exclaims, "We're so fucked / Shit out of luck."
Elsewhere, "Atlas, Rise!" benefits from a strong chorus and some well-placed tempo changes, and the band serve up another impressive multi-movement piece with "Halo on Fire," like "Fade to Black" and "Master of Puppets" before it, marked by classic Hammett cleans, Hetfield pushing to reach his shriek in each chorus and a muscular lead in the triumphant finishing key change.
Though it will undoubtedly exceed listener expectations, Hardwired… still shows Metallica are at their best when they're loud, fast and mean. (Blackened)