Full disclosure. I was one of the fans that felt alienated by the “Black Album.” Those feelings only intensified with the release of Load and Reload. I hated their new image, the haircuts, the music, but most of all, I resented that they had turned their backs on metal. In short, I disconnected from all things Metallica.
Please don’t be angry with me. I know many fans stayed with the band every step of the way. Millions came on board during the era that caused me to flee. I don’t want to suggest that later incarnations of Metallica were anyway invalid. They just didn’t align with my personal vision of what Metallica should be.
Metallica went on to become the biggest band in the world. Any whim could be made a reality. There’s an innate coolness in having total control of one’s destiny. Their success earned my respect. Musically, however, Metallica were dead to me.
My outlook on Metallica started to change with the release of Death Magnetic. By all accounts, Metallica had set out to write a genuine thrash record. Was it a true return to form? Not exactly. What Metallica did was write their most technical album since Justice. In turn, I bought my first Metallica record since the Black album.
Death Magnetic didn’t stay in rotation long. I’m not sure what made me lose interest. The production irked me. It was difficult to ignore the distorted clipping. Maybe I simply had a hard time reconciling lingering feelings of resentment. Still, the idea that Metallica could again become a legitimate metal band took hold.
In true Metallica fashion, years passed without new music. “Lords of Summer” offered a glimpse of what a new Metallica album would sound like. It was riff-heavy with a fast tempo. James sounded angry. There was fury but also melody. It piqued my interest. What else were they coming up with at Metallica Headquarters?
Time passed. Once again, Metallica drifted off my radar. Occasionally there would be news from the Metallica camp. I’d glimpse in as a curious outsider but I was hardly waiting with bated breath. Half a lifetime had passed since I had anticipated new Metallica music. I was conditioned to not care.
Finally news arrived that the new record was ready. Opening track “Hardwired” was promptly released as a single. A professionally shot video dominated social media feeds throughout the world.
When I first heard “Hardwired ” I LIKED it. A lot. It was short. Frantic. Three minutes of Metallica going full-throttle. The song got in my head and stayed there. What was happening? Had I actually connected with a new Metallica song?
Lars attributed this newfound energy to playing Kill ‘Em All in its entirety. Celebrating their debut album was a reminder that Metallica had never really ABANDONED thrash. Setlists always had their fair share of deep cuts from the early days. Now that energy was creeping back into a contemporary Metallica.
Next came “Moth Into Flame.” The harmony guitars immediately won me over. It was clear that the band had put substantial effort into the new songs. The chorus was melodic and catchy but mixed with a minor dose of aggression. Like the first single, “Moth Into Flame” had gotten into my head. Anticipation for the new album began to take hold.
With the official street date still off in the distance, Metallica released a third single. The music of “Atlas, Rise!” speaks for itself but what captured my attention was the video. Cameras were turned loose in the studio to capture the creative process.
Keep an eye on the band when watching the video. There are so many smiles! There is a genuine enthusiasm in the room. This energy has translated to the songs. Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is not the product of an aging band going through the motions. The creative fever that fueled the early days still runs in the veins of Metallica.
With several weeks to go, I found myself excited about a new Metallica album. All three singles indicated that they had written an album worthy of redemption. It was still too early to tell, but it appeared Metallica had won back a fan that lost interest years ago.
As the release date got closer the Metallica machine stepped into high gear. 48 hours before the release date came the blitz. Hour by hour we were given a brand new video. Not only were they GIVING music away, they were having a damn good time doing it. Then came the Napster news.
Yes, apparently Napster lives. Now a legitimate streaming site, subscribers could stream the entire Metallica catalogue. Anyone with an internet connection now had full access to the new Metallica album. The thing is…people still rushed out to buy a physical copy.
I stopped in my local record store on the day of its release. To my surprise, they were completely sold out of the vinyl edition. More shocking, they claimed anyone who didn’t get a copy was out of luck. At least for a small indie shop, the distributor had hinted that there would be no additional quantities available. People were buying physical copies in droves!
With a copy of the three CD deluxe edition in hand, I spent the weekend absorbed in Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. I’d be lying if I claimed I loved the entire album. A few songs failed to capture my attention. Most of them did! In fact, as a whole, the record exceeded all expectations.
Hardwired…to Self-Destruct bares little resemblance to the fast-paced thrash of early Metallica. It doesn’t have to. Slower, mid-tempo songs happen to be some of the best songs on the album. There is no better example than “Now That We’re Dead.”
Drums drive the intro of “Now That We’re Dead.” Lars may have been the butt of many a drummer joke but simplicity works. Listen back to “Harvester of Sorrow.” The drums refrain from the speed-obsessed trappings of thrash but are essential to song’s feel. That’s exactly what is happening with “Now We’re Dead.”
The video is well-done. The latter half unfolds like a horror movie. Band members look half-dead as their faces glow in the darkness. It’s eerie. Each frame gives the impression of living skulls possessed by madness.
Kirk’s soloing is his mark on the album. After losing his demos, Hammet was left out of the writing process. His absence from a composition perspective is sorely missed. Fortunately his leads are inspired. It’s that classic wah drenched tone that Hammet fans have come to expect.
As creepy as the visual effects are in “Now That We’re Dead,” the video for “Here Comes Revenge” is truly unsettling. Director Jessica Cope is a giant in the world of animation. She has created a storyboard that is dark, haunted and gloriously disturbing. Nefarious plotting unfolds in twisted detail but the tables are soon turned. Instead of delivering vengeance, a would-be killer descends into insanity as his tenuous grip on reality is shattered.
“Murder One” offers another animated video. Named for Lemmy’s famous amp, the song is Metallica’s tribute to the immortal Lemmy Kilmister. Motorhead references abound. It’s fun picking up on allusions to classic songs.
Viewers are treated to a history lesson on rock and roll’s greatest troubadour. From witnessing the Beatle’s perform in Liverpool, to becoming a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, the origins of a legend are revealed. Lemmy’s days in Hawkwind are covered, as well as his notorious embrace of amphetamines and Jack Daniel’s. As a tribute, “Murder One” is both warm and lighthearted.
Metallica’s nod to black metal in “ManUNkind” garnered much attention upon the video’s release. Turns out there is a direct connection to the Mayhem biopic, Lords of Chaos. The corpse paint covered actors in the video just happen to be the cast from the upcoming film. In an album that finds Metallica reconnecting with their heavier side, a video that celebrates metal is a welcome addition.
“Spit Out the Bone” captures the spirit of early Metallica more than any recent song. Fast thrash with varied tempo changes, “Spit Out the Bone” should win over even the most resistant fan. It’s the perfect way to end Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. The album kicks off with a blazer and ends with a thrash epic.
Bonus material can often be underwhelming. Too often, extra tracks are merely a marketing tool aimed at completists. Not so with the deluxe edition of Hardwired…To Self Destruct. Each track on Disc Three is worthwhile and enhances an album that is already Metallica’s best effort in decades.
“Lords of Summer” had been a sneak preview of sorts to the Hardwired writing sessions. While that song was ultimately left off the new album, the final version kicks off the bonus disc. Hardly an afterthought, “Lords of Summer” gets the same treatment as other songs from Hardwired with an official music video.
What truly makes the bonus disc special is not original material. Metallica always knew how to choose a cover song and their good taste is on full display. With selections from Rainbow, Deep Purple and Iron Maiden, the bonus disc begins to take on the feel of another Garage Days release.
Let it be known that I adore Rainbow. Rainbow Rising is a holy grail album for me. The “Ronnie Rising Medley” consists of songs that I hold near to my heart. Originally recorded for a Ronnie James Dio tribute album, Metallica’s take on Rainbow kicks off the series of cover songs.
Metallica mercifully avoids “Highway Star” or “Smoke on the Water” when covering Deep Purple. A ballad of sorts, “When a Blind Man Cries” is a subdued, emotional blues. Hetfield’s voice is surprisingly soulful. It’s also interesting to hear Hammet tackle a Ritchie Blackmore solo. The odd cover enhances the fun aspect of the bonus disc.
The fun continues with an Iron Maiden cover. Metallica recreates “Remember Tomorrow” with the same inspired passion that made the Garage Days EP special. Trujillo gets a moment to shine as he channels Steve Harris. James does a damn good Paul Di’Anno. Kirk gives careful attention to recreating iconic guitar lines. They truly capture the energy of early Maiden yet keep their identity as Metallica.
The rest of disc three is rounded out with a collection of live tracks. Most songs were recorded at a small indie record shop in promotion of Record Store Day. The entire set is a celebration of Metallica’s early years. One can’t help but imagine this as a conscious decision. As a whole, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct reconnects with Metallica’s thrash roots. It’s fitting that this era is overtly represented in the deluxe edition. Consciously or unconsciously, it fits with Hardwired…To Self-Destruct‘s overall return to form.
“Helpless” is the perfect opener. It’s the first live track we hear and it suggests that the covers could have easily been included on the Garage Days EP.
The remainder of the sets draws exclusively from the first two records with plenty of nods to the early days. Just before the bridge in “The Four Horsemen” James screams “Metal Up Your Ass.” This was MY Metallica.
Leave it to Metallica to find a way to include Cliff Burton on a new record. About a minute into “Fade to Black,” James steps up to the mic and dedicates the song to Cliff. Everyone turns in a powerful performance but the climax comes when Hetfield yells “DO YOU HEAR US CLIFF?” An old-school fan like myself can’t help but feel a surge of emotion. Again, this was MY Metallica.
Cliff isn’t the only icon to be honored. Paul Baloff is given mention as is his notorious personality as a metal madman. “Jump In the Fire” is dedicated to “all the people that we miss” moments before launching into that epic Dave Mustaine riff. It’s a celebration of the early thrash scene that Metallica were such a vital part of.
Of course the Record Store Day tracks are part of a NEW Metallica album. The bonus disc is closed out with a blistering live version of “Hardwired.” It truly fits in with the overall feel of vintage classics. Metallica have succeeded in writing a true metal record!
Hardwired…To Self Destruct is not exactly the Metallica of days of old. One certainly detects shades of early Metallica. Some songs I image would be at home on Load or Reload. Ultimately, comparing new music to the past is futile. Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is who Metallica is in 2016…and I like this incarnation. After a long absence, I count myself among the Metallica faithful. Yes, the new album has won me over. Something tells me…I’m not the only one!