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Metallica - Hardwired...To Self-Destruct CD (album) cover

HARDWIRED...TO SELF-DESTRUCT

Metallica

 

Prog Related

3.46 | 81 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Despite Metallica never having made an album quite like this before, this album sounds like Metallica had been making albums just like this for decades, and that's both a good and a bad thing. Not only is this a "pure" heavy metal/thrash metal album that lacks any diversity to anger the hardcore faithful that had grown tried of justifying Metallica and later "betrayals" to themselves (and I say this as somebody who enjoys both Metallica and a good deal of what came after), it also finally shows the band making a thrash metal that shows no hint whatsoever of the structural pattern, introduced on Lightning, that had lasted through Justice and that ultimately shaped Death Magnetic. The band sounds completely comfortable in its own skin as the old man godfathers of thrash metal, and this album is a full-blown celebration and glorification of that style, without needing to rely on past successes as a crutch. So what's the bad news? The bad news is that, as wonderful and amazing as it is that the band has finally found its way back to what, in a certain sense, it probably should have been all along, they've gotten back to it so late in the game that, frankly, they're just not that great at it anymore. The album is filled with riffs and performances that sound great in 15-second increments, but as nice as many of the individual segments are, they don't ultimately get cobbled together into especially great songs. It doesn't help that Hammett is weirdly flat and subdued on this album; he doesn't have any writer credits on here, and while I don't entirely know what went into that, I do know that there isn't a really iconic Hammett solo anywhere on the main album (there's one in "Atlas, Rise!" that comes close), and that's a disappointment. It also isn't great that the main portion of this so ridiculously long, stretching over two CDs and lasting nearly as long as Load (and longer than Reload); I kinda regret that they couldn't find a way to rework and combine the better sections of the various songs to make a stronger 45 minute album as opposed to this somewhat weaker 78 minute one.

There are a few songs that require special mention beyond "this is enjoyable thrash metal when on and you'll forget about it 10 seconds later," fortunately. The opening "Hardwired" is the shortest song on the album by a mile (only 3:09) and makes incredibly effective use of its time, combining break-neck speed with a nice riff built around a downward phrase followed by an upwards rolling one, and the brief Hammett solo, while a pale shadow of earlier efforts, is rousing in context. The following "Atlas, Rise!" has some clear differentiation in the two main guitar parts and a number of dramatic moments that take a good stab at hearkening back to the band's peak, and it's full of interesting rhythms and harmonies that make it into at least a minor classic. Later on, "Halo on Fire," which closes the first disc, is the longest track on here (8:15), and in addition to some especially rousing instrumental parts it has the album's best "chorus" (to the extent that this album has choruses) when James sings "Turn out the light, halo on fire!" I can't really say if the various riffs in this song are really that much better than the individual riffs that appear on the bulk of the rest of the album, but I can say that they fit together better here than the riffs fit together on most of the other songs.

That leaves nine other songs on the main album and ... oh boy ... hmm ... umm ... hmm. I like every one of them when they're on! I remember almost nothing about them when they're done! "Confusion" has an opening that alludes to the "Am I Evil?" single, and I like the churning riffage that emerges from that introduction. "Here Comes Revenge" has an anguished screaming guitar sound over the pummelling main riff that I like. "Am I Savage?" features a peculiar Hammett guitar sound over one of the main riffs that I think sounds pretty neat. "Spit Out the Bone" has a lot of speed and energy in the grand tradition of speedy energetic Metallica thrash closers, and it's nice. And the rest is fine, I guess. One thing I find interesting was that I received a comment from someone soon after this came out mentioning that they thought that I might end up liking the second disc a lot because the lack of clear structure and organization of the riffage makes it more "progressive," but ultimately I don't really feel that way at all.

So that's the main album, which has lots of enjoyable aspects but ultimately doesn't come together in a fully satisfying manner. The good news, then, is that, upon initial release, this album was easily obtainable in a 3-CD "deluxe" addition (I honestly don't even remember seeing the 2-CD version available, or if it was the cost difference wasn't enough to convince me not to get the larger one), and I'm glad that I got the deluxe version, because the third disc is an absolute delight. The first track, "Lords of Summer" was released as a single in 2014, so I guess they decided it wouldn't be a good idea to include it on the proper album, but that's too bad, because it's better than anything on the main album other than the first two tracks. The main riffs are a great combination of memorable and powerful, and there's a great slithering Hammett solo that grows into something really cool, and this one really feels like it could have belonged on one of the band's best albums. The next few tracks are covers, and while I could see a Metallica fan rolling their eyes at these and thinking these are a waste of time, I find them a blast. There's a nice cover of the Deep Purple B-side ballad "When a Blind Man Cries," and the studio cover of "Remember Tomorrow" (from the first Iron Maiden album) and the live cover of "Helpless" (a Diamond Head song that kicked off Garage Inc. way back when) are both lots of fun, but the most fun comes from a medley of Rainbow songs (called "Ronnie Rising Medley") that the band had previously recorded for a Dio tribute album. "A Light in the Black," "Tarot Woman, "Stargazer" and "Kill the King" are referenced here, and while Rainbow-purists might be horrified by this (how many Rainbow purists are there anyway??), I absolutely love this.

And then there's a truckload of live stuff! In April 2016, in honor of Record Store Day, Metallica put on a brief concert at Rasputin Music in Berkeley, CA (a fine establishment that, along with Amoeba, was essentially my home away from home during grad school) that only included songs from Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning, and oh how I love listening to this. The Lightning choices aren't especially shocking (the title track, "Fade to Black," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Creeping Death"), and to be honest it's not that shocking to hear them do "The Four Horsemen," but hearing the band tear through "Hit the Lights," "Jump in the Fire" and "Metal Militia" makes me believe in the power of music to keep somebody young, and I would have loved to have been present for this. And finally, the disc closes with a perfect bookend, the first live performance of "Hardwired" (which, again, starts the album) before release, and my feelings towards the set finish up pretty positive on the whole.

Still, as great as the bonus material here might be, that doesn't change that I find the main album a bit of a slog, so I can only go so high with the rating. There's no reason for a Metallica fan not to buy this, but there's pretty much no chance that it will convert somebody who doesn't already really like the band. This will go down in history as a second-tier Metallica album, and honestly, there are much worse things in the world than that.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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