18th November 2016 – Blackened Recordings
Metallica are one of those bands that nobody has an opinion on. They have been around for just a short while before releasing their debut album Hardwired…To Self-Destruct as an independent band on their own label Blackened Recordings. It’s awfully ambitious for a rag-tag group of hungry neophytes to attempt a 77-minute double album for their first undertaking so let’s see if it pays off!
The California thrash band makes a strong first impression with the opening track “Hardwired” which is awfully straightforward, but despite the simplicity of the riffs rather catchy. The lyrics are juvenile and vulgar, but again this is a very young band that can surely grow in maturity in time and hopefully find a more nuanced or interesting way to say they think humanity is heading in an unfortunate direction.
The vocals leave something to be desired as the singer Jimmy Hetfield has an profoundly limited range, but it is at least distinctive and since he’s playing guitar at the same time the kid really has enough to worry about. Speaking of guitar work, the lead guitarist Kirk Hammet gets a chance to shine on nearly every track and he is definitely a big part of what makes a lot of the album work, for lack of a better term. Hopefully on future albums they let Hammet contribute to the writing process because this one was apparently written just between the Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich.
Unlike Hammet, this Ulrich fellow is not what one would call an especially “flashy” musician as he mostly stays in the pocket and adds emphasis to the guitar lines with some simple fills here and there. There is a lot to be said for competent playing, however, and Ulrich certainly does that. Ulrich exercises great restraint by not writing overly elaborate parts for himself that can be suffocating in other metal subgenres (think death metal, technical death metal, and technical death metalcore). This simplistic but adept drumming is evident on songs like “Atlas, Rise!” which additionally has guitar harmonies that are highly reminiscent of one of Metallica’s biggest influences: Avenged Sevenfold. In fact, Metallica seem to have gotten much of their sound from Hail To The King-era Avenged Sevenfold. That particular song is a definite success even if it is unnecessarily long at six and a half minutes and its repetitiveness becomes tiresome by the umpteenth time you have heard Jimmy yell “Atlas, rise!”
Song length is generally the biggest problem with Hardwired…To Self-Destruct and it’s easy to imagine that in time the boys from SoCal will grow in confidence and be able to edit down their material and play to their strengths rather than feel they need to be epic to stand out as a young band. Many of the songs feel as though one is listening to a track twice in a row due to the lack of intra-song variation. Thankfully these songs are by and large fun, fast, and memorable. Metallica are undoubtedly at their best when playing energetic songs such as disc 1 highlight “Moth Into Flame” which has a fantastic, high adrenaline pre-chorus with lyrics about the foolhardiness of chasing fame. This seems to be consistent with Metallica’s fiercely independent ethos and overarching message that fame is not something that they will ever seek because it appears, paradoxically, to lead to suffering. If you boys ever hit the big time we will be sure to hold you to this promise to not sell out!
The first disc ends with an 8-minute pseudo-ballad called “Halo On Fire” that feels as though Metallica are really punching above their weight. Nothing wrong with ambition, but again a leaner song that takes advantage of the band’s strengths and hides their limitations (rather than put Jimmy’s voice as the centerpiece) would have been the best call at this stage in their development and a good producer would have probably rectified that issue. A good producer can be awfully costly for band these days in California, so if Metallica gets an opportunity to put out another album with greater financial backing than just their parents (I assume) it will likely lead to fewer long ballads and more impassioned, fast tunes.
Unfortunately, disc 2 of Hardwired…To Self-Destruct follows suit with the end of disc 1 and as such fails to be as dynamic as most of that first half is. The material here is almost entirely meandering and mid-tempo or slower. From “Confusion” to the laughably titled “ManUNkind” to “Here Comes Revenge” and “Am I Savage?” there is nary a moment that will perk up one’s ears or make one want to listen to the songs again. They’re each impossibly boring, forgettable, and bereft of joy or energy.
The one bright spot of the back half of the album also happens to be one of the best songs of the entire year. Final track “Spit Out The Bone” is Metallica at their peak. Hetfield sounds vicious and passionate with both gruffer vocals bordering on growls and catchy vocal harmonies in the verses. The guitar work is frenetic and tight. Metallica shine so brightly when they are figuratively firing on all cylinders and it is baffling that they chose to load the first disc and then reload the second disc with so much bloated radio rock.
What we have here with Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is a band that is still trying to find their footing and find a cohesive identity. This kind of thing is typical of young groups who want to put themselves out there and see what sticks. The disparity in quality between Metallica’s exuberant, lively songs compared to their simpler, slower ones ought to be evident to all who choose to take a chance on this precocious indie band from California. In that way and many others they are a lot like the band Unlocking The Truth. One just hopes that Metallica listens to the feedback they are almost certain to get and deliver something in line with their finest work on this album for their sophomore release. We will be patiently waiting for that in 2018.