"Hardwired... to Self Destruct" (HTSD) is the new Metallica 8 years on following the maddeningly successful "Death Magnetic" (DM) that followed the insanely dreadful "St Anger" (SA). First the good news, it is streets ahead better on every level than "SA"; though that is not exactly a tall order, let's face it. Now the bad news... it is not really up to the standard of previous masterpieces "Kill", "Lightning", "Puppets", "Justice", "Black", and I am still more blown away by "DM" over this latest release. The problem is that Metallica have raised the bar so high that it is almost impossible to surpass it, therefore they are their own worst enemy having reached the pinnacle in the early years and the unmitigated radio success of commercial friendly "Black album". They are undeniable as musicians, but the new album suffers in terms of vocals in places and some of the lyrics are immature. Now arguably Hetfield has still got the raw mechanics to make a growl sound convincing, but I was so taken in by his cleaner vocals on "DM" and "Black" that I felt disappointed that he opts for the growls on "HTSD". At times he sounds auto tuned and often goes for a multi tracked mix to hide the scorched vocals and raspiness. Some will love this approach of course, but he has such a wonderful timber in his cleaner voice that it feels like a waste when he ignores this. It seems that Metallica are making a statement that they can thrash and bash with the best of them, but they have more musical genius then just grinding out a speedy riff and growling for the duration of a song. The opening track is the worst in this regard. It just states Metallica are back and we are not taking any prisoners. But why do they need to prove that? We know they are back in force by listening to "DM". No, the title track is one I will skip. And what's with all the F bombs and swearing? If they need to resort to swearing their heads off then that shows they are no better than any of the other unimaginative metallers out there who think they need to use expletives to try and ram home a point, but I prefer my Metallica more subtle than that. Anyway, at least it is a short song. After this start, the songs improve dramatically. Next offering, is the catchy raucous "Atlas, Rise!" and it is certainly a killer track. This one has the infectious hook in the chorus, that has an old school feel akin to the earlier Metallica we all grew up to adore. I was one of the headbangers of the 80s that bought "Kill" off the shelf and played it to death on vinyl. So it is a joy to revisit this old Metallica sound. It has a wonderful instrumental break, Hammett on wah wah pedal as usual but its a powerhouse performance with a half time feel riff. Another solo follows which is a sheer delight, until it returns to the main melody. A highlight.
"Now That We're Dead" begins with an extended intro with a crunching riff, simple but effective, and it just chunks along with some amazing double kick drum. The cool galloping trot riff works nicely with the vocals. The lead break is fantastic shredding with Hetfield's chops and I admire the nice slow pace on this track, a veritable headbanger.
"Moth into Flame" is the track that verges on brilliant; perhaps the stand out track of the album, opening with a frenetic fast paced riff and very angry vocals "Blacked out, Pop queen, amphetamine, The screams crashed into silence, Tapped out, Doused in the gasoline, The high times going timeless, Decadence, Death of the innocence, The pathway starts to spiral, Infamy, All for publicity, Destruction going viral, Light it up!" The rhythms are hyper fast and Ulrich is banging the heck out of the kit; no more banging on beer barrels ala "St Anger". The mid feel is an intense 8/8 pedal to the metal riff blast. The lead break is wah wah and fast fingering all the way. Hammett certainly unleashes a tirade of metal firepower on this track. It is as if Metallica are just unleashing their fury on this track. It is old school and everything we love about Metallica. Another highlight. "Am I Savage?" is a straight forward slow track for a while until it moves into a proggish off beat riff prior to the chorus. I like how this shifts and changes throughout and the tims sigs are complex. Ulrich is terrific on this as he drums like a man possesed. It has a darker edge with the lyrics abnout the shapeshifting rage inner man can suffer from, "I don't recognise you anymore". The mid section feels like the sound on "Justice"; deep and bassy, and there is a great lead break to wrap your ears around.
"Halo on Fire" is another of the albums highlights; dynamic riffing with softerand great lyrics "Obey, obey, Come won't you stay, Sincere, sincere, All ends in tears, Endure, endure, Thoughts most impure, Concede, concede, But both shall we bleed, Oh, halo on fire, The midnight knows it well, Fast, is desire, Creates another hell I fear to turn on the light, For the darkness won't go away, Fast, is desire, Turn out the light Halo on fire!" The softer approach is welcome, acoustics and muzzled bass. Hetfield has a great voice here and uses it rather than screaming throughout. The half time feel is killer, with some really melodic riffage, and an infectious vocal treatment. The duel lead break is absolutely sensational. The outro is mind boggling, with brilliant infectious tune injected with the signature Metallica sound. The icing on the cake is the lead soloing finesse of Hammett as a capstone. Another highlight for sure along with "Atlas" and "Moth".
"Confusion" is just a wall to wall assault of raucous metal, with some great lead breaks and thrashing drums. Opening riff is like "Am I Evil" and partly you might hear portions of riffs from the "Justice" album. It could be misconstrued as the sequel to "One" though no where as brilliant. A bit of a throwaway to me but still delivers metal to the max.
"Dream No More" opens with a slow doomy riff. The feel is like "Harvester of Sorrow" meets "Sad But True". It grows on you with every listen, and finally I was enjoying the doomy crunchy riff. "You turn to stone" is quite a memorable lyric.
"ManUNkind" is a very intense track with killer riffing and very heavy lyrics. The lead break is simply stunning and it has a melodic chorus that stays with me. Like all these tracks there is an accompanying video clip and it features a parody of a Satanic metal band that snort drugs prior to going on stage and then proceed to cut themselves and bleed all over the insatiable crowd. The crowd are even more ravenous when the band throw the spiked pig's head to them, causing some fans to gourge themselves on it. The band resemble Black Metal legends Mayhem so is perhaps just having an affectionate dig at them; but it is a real eye opener.
"Here Comes Revenge" is another throwaway with a pedestrian riff and vocals. The song blazes past almost without notice among some of the stronger tracks. The riff is too close to "Leper Messiah" and other Metallica of the past for my comfort, but it is not as bad as anything on "St Anger". The lead break fires up and relieves the mediocrity. Oh well, some will love it as usual, but this does little for me personally.
"Murder One" is dedicated to Motorhead's Lemmy; in fact the film clip is a tribute to him showing him with Hawkwind and explaining why he left and how he conquered with Motorhead as a result. The "Aces High" and "Man in Black" lyric is a clue but the clip makes it obvious, beautifully animated in a style akin to the Gorillaz video clips. The music is not as good as the clip but it cranks along with some angry vocals and a simple guitar motif but not as high standard as other tracks. The lead break is worth sticking around for, one of Hammett's most manic lead shreds. "Spit Out the Bone" closes the album with a slice and dice metal riff motorvating along with purpose and power. This is absolutely one to wake up the senses with machine gun riffing and speed drumming. Once it gets going the pace is as fast as "Damage Inc" or "Whiplash" which will delight all Metallica addicts. There are some amazing riffs on this one, and a relentless tempo throughout with some detours into Pantera like chunks of metal. To cap it off the filmclip is brilliant with violent battling red ninjas, looking like a demented form of Star Wars Royal Guards complete with force pikes that electrocute their prey. The Iron Maiden like skull creature is a nice touch wrapped around a dystopian apocalyptic framework. The riffs at the four minute mark are superb, and it moves into a Slayer like metal feel at the 6 minute mark, as dynamic as anything on the metal scene today. A super fast lead break takes it away to the final chorus and mega fast riff. It ends the album on a high note.
So there you have it. It delivers and the news is good overall apart from some lapses in to mediocrity in the second half of the album. There are at least 4 killer tracks that will have the Metallica universe buzzing; namely "Atlas", "Moth", "Halo" and "Bone"; as good as anything I have heard from Metallica. The other tracks are not so high standard but still deliver a whallop in their own right. It will appease the depraved Metallica fans who have to wait so long in between albums, and for those who were not that impressed with the Lulu album prior. It will be interesting to hear how other fans feel about this but I was underwhelmed apart from the aforementioned highlights. It should have been a masterpiece given the experience and undeniable talent but a lot of this album feels lazy and uninspired. It deserves 3.5 stars for the great tracks without a doubt.