The last time Metallica released a studio album, George W. Bush was still in office. This release will precede President Donald J. Trump by mere weeks. So what, right? Well…it is *8* years. We were given “Death Magnetic” and we, the Metallica faithful, were mostly sated. There were production (*mastering*) problems that squashed dynamics and prompted several versions of “remixed/mastered/EQ’d” from the Guitar Hero III stems. Much better. So, we come back to today – the official release and while the vinyl hasn’t arrived at the door, the videos links have arrived in the email box. I did a song-by-song deconstruction of “St. Anger” when it came out, but, sadly, it’s been lost to the mists of history – even archive.org can’t find it. So, I thought I’d do that with this one, the new one, the shiny one, the one where the first three singles gave Metallica fans around the world hope that there might be a return to their thrash roots. Let’s do this.
01 – “Hardwired”
Churning. A snare that sounds like a snare – that’s a positive. Very punky vibe, but with enough chugging to make a metalhead happy. Nice delay on the vocal – well placed and not overbearing. Nice chorus. The solo breakdown feels like a solo and the post-solo section is solid. I dig it. I’m also digging the double-bass. *Finally.* This has a good vibe to it. I’m enjoying it a lot. The slowdown at the end is really nice. Good song.
02 – “Atlas, Rise”
Decent enough intro. It’s reminding me of the punk-infused stuff we used to get in the early-80s. Decent riffing. The vocals are good. Pre-chorus is a not bad, but serves it’s purpose – it feeds naturally into the chorus. Chugging is pretty good, lead fill keeps from getting overly repetitive sounding. This feels NWOBHM-ish and I’m digging it. The solo starts off like something from “Load.” OK – better movement but pretty wah’d up. However, the harmonized solo is really nice – reminds me of 7th Son-era Iron Maiden. The ending is solid. Good song. I can dig it.
03 – “Now That We’re Dead”
Mid-tempo chugging. I can dig it. Even the drum fills seem to work. Slow to build, though. Reminiscent of mid-80s hard rock. Very simple verse – it works. Wow – the pre-chorus feels so very 1987. Nice. I’m trying to think of who this reminds me of. Kind of like some of the mid-tempo stuff Armored Saint did around that time. This isn’t a bad thing. The chorus is a bit creepy, but nice riff underneath. It’s keeping things very simple, and it’s working. The song is growing on me. The solo is pretty solid – not TOO wah-y with good movement. Ooh – interesting post-solo crunch. It’s like what would have happened if “Outlaw Torn” had more bite. The ending…hmmm…pretty solid. Another good song. Cool.
04 – “Moth Into Flame”
Nice intro into fantastic chuggy riffing. Where’s this been the last couple of albums? Nice movement under the verse which is also pretty solid. Pre-chorus bliss! Really enjoying the riffing. Now that’s a catchy as hell chorus! The guitars are constantly moving. Nice! Back to the verse and it’s just got good chunky riffing. Man. Well structured song. It’s funny how it almost *feels* mid-tempo, but sure as hell isn’t. Oooh, nice breakdown. Down picking heaven. Solid bridge that feeds into the solo. Not a bad solo, either – THIS sounds like KRK. Nice re-entry riff and double-bass thunder. Easily my favorite song, so far. Just beastly riffing riding you off into a crescendo ending. Excellent song.
05 – “Dream No More”
Doom-y. Sluggish, but not plodding. Meaty doom riffs. Verse…interesting harmony. Sounds like “The Cure” but is a boatload more listenable. Pre-chorus is pretty decent. Oooh. The chorus *chugs*. There’s no other way to describe it. So far, the chorus is the the best part. Still doomy. Huge sound, though – definitely a good thing. Middle is pretty good leading to the solo. Decent solo – interesting slower section, gaining nice harmonization. Building to something – the sludgy, sloggy chugging. Cthulhu imagery throughout is always a good thing. This song will probably grow on me. Right now, it’s a good song.
06 – “Halo on Fire”
Nice harmonized intro. Harkening back to 1987, it feels like. Pulling back into a light acoustic trot. Verse is sung nicely and builds. The chorus is a little jarring, but gets bigger and is pretty good. Nice break. Good tone on the solo – fits the vocals. The pre/chorus is growing on me. Middle breakdown riff is nice and chunky. The bridge is pretty good even with two parts; they work, I think. Nice chunky riffing after the 2nd bridge. This sends us into the solo, which starts with some nice harmonization and then pulls to the middle and isn’t too bad. With the solo over, we riff and then back to a short acoustic break. Solo 2 – almost sounds like Het’s tone. Nice movement into what was bridge 2 and now a slowly building solo that is over a nice galloping riff. The ending is really taking off – I like it. The song ends…and it’s a good one. I like the movement within the song.
07 – “Confusion”
Marching – which I think is the point. Crunchy. It is nice to have a snare that sounds like a snare, again. Ooooh – fun riffing going on, here. Slows down to a mid-tempo. Nice vocals in the verse, and gives way to the chugging which, in turn, gives way to the chorus. Interesting. Nice transition back to the chugging. Nice little solo before a solid bridge. Really touching on the PTSD aspect – heavy. Good transition back to the chorus. Bridge 2 is driving home the PTSD with a frenetic staccato bit of riffing. Moves into a neat section that finishes off and drops us into the solo. It’s not a bad solo – it really conveys a “barely in control” vibe that works. That is just a sick riff. Ending on the marching. Solid song. I like it a lot.
08 – “Manunkind”
Acoustic meandering – nice bass working underneath. Aaaand – heavy! Mid-tempo? Slogger? It’s kind of giving a vibe of both. Nice groove. Sort of disjointed riff under the vocals which have a sort of urgency going on. Feels southern rock-ish, but with a heaver touch. I like the harmonization – I’m a sucker for a good harmonized vocal line. Breakdown time. The bridge is even more urgent, the exaggerated delay helps it out. Not too bad. Do we call this bridge 2? It’s decent enough and leads to the solo which, after started kind of slowly, becomes a sort of wah assault. It reigns it in to feed back to the bridge 2 thingo. Very southern groove. Reminds me a bit of “Ronnie.” The ending is a repetition of “Faith in man-un-kind,” until it ends. Not too bad. This feels like one I’ll have to listen to more to get into.
09 – “Here Comes Revenge”
Definitely setting up a mood, here. Feels dirty and sludgy. Gives way to a pretty solid riff. The solid riff becomes riffier and has a decent hook to it. Dirty drums, slightly dirty guitar, interesting verse, leads into the what I’m assuming is the pre-chorus which makes good use of riff #3. Decent chorus with a sort of stop and go thing that ends nicely enough. Back to the verse. I like the transitions. Decent movement in the song. It’s not dragging. The hook-y riff gives way to a mid-tempo crescendo that leads into the solo. Nice riffing underneath. A more restrained solo that works well. Galloping towards the end with the hook-y riff with some nice double-bass work underneath with the dirty, wah-soaked guitars we heard in the intro. A solid song. I dig it.
10 – “Am I Savage?”
Starting slow with clean tone and understated bass and drums. Gets dirty quick. Not bad – building towards a really sludgy riif. This feels like something Sabbath – mid ‘90s Sabbath – would churn out. And we now just hopped into an interesting off-tempo walking/talking part. The chorus is decent. Returning to the doomy, sludgy riff. Definitely a sloggy feel, but not draggy. The off-kilter pre-chorus is disconcerting which, I’m fairly certain was the point. Honestly, it has a “Loverman” vibe to it but, thankfully, is a vastly more interesting song. Oooh – sludge. The breakdown leading to the solo is chewy as hell. Nice solo work – it’s a nice counterpart to the riffing underneath. As it heads to the end, it chugs along, and I do mean chugs. Pretty good – I definitely to listen to it more.
11 – “Murder One”
Nice clean tone interrupted by a fairly urgent heavy interruption. Main riff is pretty fluid and gritty. Interesting – the verse and vocals are pretty solid. Pre-chorus? Bridge? Chorus? Not sure. Leads back to the verse. This takes me back to 1989. It’s got a good vibe. We’ll call that the pre-chorus – it compliments the chorus well. Oh, my. Well, hello, Kirk. A jarring solo, with very little transition. It settles down and then feeds back into the pre-/chorus. A decent hard rock groove feel. I’ll have to listen to this more to get more of a feel for it. It doesn’t feel as strong as most of the songs, but it’s not bad. We shall see!
12 – “Spit Out The Bone”
Frenetic intro – drums, bass and guitars chugging along and after a brief pause uses that riff to take us to a bit of machine gun-ish riffing. Interesting melody interspersed. Now it’s a homogenized, sick riff. Hello, angry verse! Barked lyrics with speed chugging underneath. I really dig that main riff. Need to harmonize it, though. Man, this is moving. There is a definite urgency, but not haphazard. Breakdown to Rob’s solo. Cool. Leads back to some more gymnastic riffing. Digging the bridge and here we go into KRK land – the first part of the solo is kind of like the rest in terms of wah, but churns down to a nice slower, melodic solo. The middle section is really nice. New riff – solid. Slowing down a touch with some chugging. I can dig it. Slower still chugging. What’s it building up to? ‘cause it’s building! Ooooh – channeling some of the Kill ‘em All energy, this solo is much more satisfying to me. Enough old and new Kirk working together to make for a solo that works. Frantic chugging and barking vocals – angry Metallica is good Metallica.
Wow. I’m a bit drained. That was a killer ending to a solid effort that had many more high points than low. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t really recall there being anything that could be considered a “low.” To be completely honest, “Am I Savage” might be the weak track on the album, but even there – if that’s your “weak one,” I’d say that’s not too shabby, at all.
There is plenty of riffing to be had. Wow. From open to close, there’s no shortage of chunky, chewy, ripping riffs that all work well with the songs and don’t feel forced. What I mean is that some of the “speed riffing” on “St. Anger” seems like it was put in with the intent of showing us they were still heavy. It felt like they were trying too hard. This? This sounds like a natural, organic album where there riffs don’t feel forced. Even some of the riffing on “Death Magnetic” felt a little shoehorned. Not here.
Review / Summary
I’ve been having a hard time NOT jamming to this album. From the opening notes of “Hardwired” to the last shimmer of reverb at the end of “Spit Out The Bone,” it’s nonstop. It’s funny – I read some comments, somewhere (I can’t remember where…) that the album had four ballads. I’ll have to check my impressions of the songs, above, but I’m pretty sure there’s not a single ballad on this album. There’s a dynamic that offers a good balance of “acoustic-y intro” to “all out thrashing,” so that might have been what they were talking about. I don’t know. What I do know is that this is the most consistent and solid album since, if I’m to be completely honest, “The Black Album.”
What about production? I gave Metallica endless amounts of crap for something that wasn’t their fault, last album. “Death Magnetic” was butchered in mastering to a point where all dynamism was flattened out and it was a wall of sound with no nuance. What do we have this time around? Well, it’s not mastered to death, thankfully. Now, when the first three singles hit, I noticed there wasn’t much by way of “air.” I had hoped that it was like the “The Day That Never Comes” where the album version was much more alive than the single/video release that just seemed dry and brittle. Well, “Hardwired…To Self-Destruct” is much, much better sonically. My only complaint is the aforementioned “air.” It’s still pushed pretty hard and you can hear the compressors groaning under the might of the riffs. That said – it’s so much better.
So?! Was it worth the wait? Eight years is a darned long time. I’ll admit that really pushed the expectations high. I wasn’t thrilled with “Lords of Summer,” but it wasn’t bad, so there was hope. Then the date getting pushed back and pushed back. But, it’s here. It’s tight. It’s solid. It’s a *Metallica* album. It’s not “Master II” nor should it be. This is a more mature thrash but there is thrash to be had. So, I’ll say it’s worth the wait, but implore the fellas not to make us wait this long, next time around.