Hardwired...To Self-Destruct review by Metallica

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Metallica: Hardwired...To Self-Destruct
  • Released: Nov 18, 2016
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 7.8 (177 votes)

Sound — 8
Let me kick off this review with a startling revelation. This is only bassist Robert Trujillo's second full-length studio album with the band (he joined prior to the release of "St. Anger," but was not involved in the recording process), and third if you count "Lulu." Having joined in February 2003, this means he's been a member of the band nearly as long (as of this writing) as former bassist Jason Newsted, who joined mere months after this author was born, and featured on four studio albums of original material along with a double-album of covers ("Garage Inc.") and a critically-acclaimed live album with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra ("S&M"), as well as an EP and a few B-sides and soundtrack tunes. That's not to diminish Trujillo's contributions to the band (who have been on tour for nearly the entirety of the eight-year gap since 2008's "Death Magnetic," visiting all seven continents in that time), but it does quite a bit to highlight how slow the band has gotten at releasing new albums. 

Eight years is a very long wait.

Let's back up a bit to "Death Magnetic," veteran newcomer (that's a thing, right?) Trujillo's first studio album with the band. Hot on the heels of 2003's "St. Anger," a highly divisive album that saw the band return to heavier music but by way of downtuning, removing guitar solos, and adopting a new memetic snare drum sound, this album was touted as a "return to form" for Metallica, and for the most part, delivered on this promise. Thrashy guitar riffs, pounding double-bass drums, the return of Kirk Hammett's guitar solos, and some of the best thrash-inspired Metallica work since at least the early 1990s. The only issues I took with the album were, more obviously, the mastering, which caused me to go through many a pair of cheap headphones due to how clipped everything was, and secondly, Kirk Hammett's guitar solos, which sounded like the palest attempts to reinvent his guitar playing he could have mustered. But still, on the whole, a slight return to form. An EP of leftovers, "Beyond Magnetic," would prove to have better production, but musically is just a continuation from the full album.

In the eight years since Metallica released "Death Magnetic," one would have expected a lot of musical evolution, but on first listen, "Hardwired...To Self-Destruct" mostly follows in its predecessor's footsteps. Opening with the track "Hardwired," it's maybe the album's biggest deviation from the form, as it's a punchy, short high-tempo, high-energy blazing metal track. Clocking in at three minutes, it may be one of the shortest Metallica songs since their self-titled 1991 album (known as "The Black Album"), and it's full of thrashy punk-rock attitude. Its blistering tempo, short and punchy structure, and near-shouted vocals give it a feel unlike anything in Metallica's catalogue in decades (yes, that's a plural), and it's the perfect way to open the album. Ironically, this was the final song written and recorded for the album. "Atlas, Rise!" brings in some NWOBHM-esque harmony guitar parts, and chugs along at a nice steady pace, with a sound that would have fit perfectly on "Death Magnetic." Much like "Death Magnetic," there really seems to be a lot of ties to the band's previous albums throughout the album, and there are moments like "Atlas, Rise!" that feel like it could have fit perfectly between "Justice"-era Metallica and "Black Album"-era stuff. "Now That We're Dead" opens with double-bass drumming and a slower, groovy riff that'll certainly please fans of the "Black Album," with a melodicism in the vocals that almost recalls the "Load/Reload" era.

Now, reminiscing about "Load" and "Reload" might seem like a bit of a dangerous thing to Metallica fans who haven't quite gotten over those albums, but to be honest, the qualities from those albums they've picked to represent are some of the more positive ones. Case in point: the really good vocal harmonies in the chorus of "Moth Into Flame." It's a tune that's heavy as anything Metallica's done, but super catchy, and not in a cheesy or contrived way. "Dream No More" is a doomy track that's almost reminiscent of "Sad But True" with a few hints of classic metal like Black Sabbath and some of Pantera's slower material. It's probably the heaviest groove on the album, and feels like the kind of tune that Metallica hasn't tried in a long time. It's definitely the most headbangable tune they've done in a long time. The harmony guitars after the solo are a real highlight, as well, and it's probably the most refreshing song on the album. "Halo on Fire" is the longest track on the album, at just over eight minutes, and feels almost like the most progressive thing on the album, with its heavy and harmonized intro riff morphing into a clean part that's really gorgeous, almost uncharacteristically so for the band. There are powerful chorus vocal harmonies, and big riffs, and one of the more interesting Kirk Hammett solos on the album. In terms of structure and playing, this is probably one of the most progressive on the album, though it's most definitely not in the same vein as "...And Justice For All," being more like a thrashier version of something like "The Outlaw Torn" from "Load."

Disc two opens with the galloping "Confusion," another track which would have fit in perfectly on "Death Magnetic" (are we beginning to sense a theme here?). By this point, tracks like these seem almost kind of unremarkable, though still good. The near-monotony is broken by the intro of "ManUNkind" which is a lovely bass/guitar duet (almost as pretty as the intro to "Damage Inc.") that launches into a shuffle-rhythm tune with a really wicked groove. The song's structure almost seems to lack any identifiable verse-chorus-verse structure, hinting at another sort of progressive feel. "Here Comes Revenge" is another sort of uncharacteristically melodic tune for the band, with a bit of a "Load/Reload"-meets-"Death Magnetic" sound, but still kind of goes back to a bit of that monotonous sound that starts to creep in on the second disc. "Am I Savage?" starts with a deceptively light intro, before launching into a shapeshifting mess of time signatures with a shuffle-rhythm riff. Again, the comparisons to "Black Album" to "Load" are all over this track, but on a rhythmic level, this is probably the band's most interesting song, shifting between a shuffle feel and a straight-8th note feel many times. The band takes the rhythmic shifting to nearly prog-metal levels, and it's a good doomy track much like "Dream No More," and is definitely a highlight of the second disc.

"Murder One" features a riff that's almost straight out of "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" and a good driving riff through the verses. Kirk Hammett opens his solo on the track with a blistering scale run that's unlike anything else he's played on the album. It's a good driving heavy track, but with its slow tempo, it belies its status as second-shortest song on the album and sounds like it's dragging on a bit longer. The final track on the album, "Spit Out the Bone," sort of bookends the album with a fast, almost classic thrash sound and a bit more of that NWOBHM feel. With its tempo and harder vocal parts, it's about as close to "classic" Metallica as they're going to give us on this album, and James' vocals are absolutely amazing on this track. Fans in the private pre-release listening section alluded to the track's unpredictability, and there are a few interesting chord progressions here and even a neat bass solo at one point. The second solo Kirk plays in the song is another highlight of the album, featuring him performing sweep arpeggios for the first time on an album since his playing on the "Master of Puppets" album.

Songwriting and production on the album is pretty much spot-on. The album is not brickwalled to death like "Death Magnetic," though it does get a bit loud and clippy at times. But it is nice to have an album that doesn't cause actual damage to cheap headphones. The songs are not mired in extra layers, and Metallica's bare-bones approach to writing and production is great, sounding like a fresh breath of air in today's synth-infused, Axe-FX clean delayed, sterile production environment. Playing is a bit of a mixed bag. James shows once again why he has the most coveted right hand in the metal scene, with nearly every riff being powerful and hard-hitting. Robert Trujillo has grown into the band quite well, and you can almost hear some of his jazz fusion influence when he plays more prominent parts like the intro of "ManUNkind." Lars has traditionally been the butt of Metallica jokes, but it's hard to really find any fault with his playing here. He's no Neil Peart, Dave Lombardo or Mike Portnoy, but he's not trying to be. His style fits with the band perfectly. The band's weakest link in this case is Kirk Hammett. Nearly every solo on this record sounds like it was merely "phoned-in." While there are moments that wow me like the sweep picking in "Spit Out the Bone" and his note choices that open the solo to "Halo on Fire," almost 100 percent of the rest of his solo work on the album is almost memetic, with wah abuse and sloppy pentatonic scales galore. I say we start a change.org petition to get a restraining order against Kirk for wah pedals from this point on. And I mean nearly ALL of the guitar solos are just plain bad. In fact, it's gotten me to appreciate his work on "Death Magnetic," which wasn't all that creative but at least showed some adventurous tendencies at times, all the more. The idea of Kirk being the weak link is also exemplified by the incident in which he lost a smartphone containing all of his potential writing contributions. For this reason, this is the first album Metallica has ever released (not counting covers albums and "Kill 'Em All") to not feature a single Kirk writing credit.

Of note is the third disc of the special edition, which features the previously released "Lords of Summer," a track which I found better than a lot of the other tracks on the album, "Ronnie Rising Medley," a medley of tunes from Rainbow, and probably one of the few times I've heard "Stargazer" covered better than Dream Theater's version. Also featured are covers of Deep Purple's "When a Blind Man Cries" and Iron Maiden's "Remember Tomorrow," along with the entire live set at Rasputin Music in Berkley, California, for Record Store Day, featuring classic tunes from only the Cliff Burton era, and a live performance of the track "Hardwired".

Lyrics — 8
With so many tracks, going over all of the individual lyrics and themes is a bit of a tough call, but James Hetfield concurs with the idea of the album having a much angrier tone than some past records, and a general lyrical theme of fear and taking action, and how the track "Hardwired" states that we're all fucked, but in a sort of "we're all fucked, and we're in this together" kind of tone. "Atlas, Rise!" tackles the idea of people who burden themselves with stress and almost seems to be about mental illness in general. "Moth Into Flame" was inspired by the death of Amy Winehouse, and carries the theme of the dangers of fame. Lines like "Blacked out/Pop queen, amphetamine/The screams crashed into silence" have been mocked online, but as is usually the case with Metallica, there's a certain genuinity that comes with James Hetfield's lyrics that lets you forgive his few lyrical transgressions. For the most part, his lyrics are dark without being too edgy, and reasonably well-written, such as this passage from "Here Comes Revenge": "Man has made me oh so strong/Blurring lines of right and wrong/Far too late for frail amends/Now it's come to sweet revenge/Desperate hands/That lose control/Have no mercy on your soul."

James Hetfield's vocals have been a positive point of focus throughout the album, with moments where he almost sounds like he's singing on "Master of Puppets" again, especially on the first and last songs on the album, but he also has a very varied approach to his vocals on the album with a lot of dynamics and harmonies and melodies that remind one of the "Load/Reload" era. If there's one thing from those albums that I enjoyed a lot, it was James' vocals, and they actually mix quite well with the newer sort of thrash instrumental sound.

Overall Impression — 8
It's been eight years since "Death Magnetic," and that's a really long time for an album by any standard, so the question a lot of people are asking is "was the wait worth it?" Well, if you were a fan of "Death Magnetic," the answer to this is undoubtedly, unambigiously, unequivocally "YES!" In many respects, it's a big improvement over the previous record, with more varied songwriting, better riffs and vocals, and in many ways it feels kind of like a summary of the band's entire career. The only real complaint on the album that I have is Kirk Hammett's guitar solos, but that's becoming a far less important part of Metallica's sound as far as I'm concerned. His solos still do absolutely nothing to captivate me, though, and it is a bit of a black mark on what's otherwise a really good album.

If you weren't too sure about anything Metallica's done since the "Black Album," this is also sure to be something you're going to want to check out, as it almost seems to be a bit of a spiritual successor of sorts to the album. In fact, if "Death Magnetic" was described as "the album that could have come between 'Justice' and the 'Black Album,'" this one would be the best fit between the "Black Album" and the "Load/Reload" albums. There's a thread of melodicism from the latter records that's present on this album, but a sense of experimentation that the band was hinting at on their popular 1991 release, and slower, groovier, heavier tempos on some tracks that are really captivating.

If you belong to the camp of "Metallica hasn't done anything good since 'Justice'/'Master of Puppets'"... well, this might not do anything to change your mind. There are moments that hark back to their earliest days ("Hardwired" and "Spit Out the Bone" are probably the best contenders), but most of the album is steeped in the sort of post-"Justice" sound, and especially the sound the band has established on "Death Magnetic," to the point where it does feel a bit like Metallica found a sound they liked and decided to stick with it.

Is it a perfect album? No. Kirk's solos are pretty bad all around and the second disc does tend to drag on a bit. But all around, this is probably the most well-rounded, well-executed album in Metallica's career since the "Black Album," and there are just so many great headbanging moments on the album that it's hard to really say too much else negative about this album.

Now, Metallica, please don't make us wait eight years for the next one, but not before you send Kirk back to Satch for a refresher. Other than that, good job on this one, guys!

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    I don't know where he got Rob has been in the band 6 months longer than Jason from? Jason joined in 1986 and left in 2001. 2001-1986 = 15 Rob joined in 2003. 2016-2003 = 13 So he's close to being in the band as long as Jason but he hasn't been in the band longer.
    Okay so Jason Newsted was in the band roughly 14 years and 3 months. Rob Trujillo was in the band for 13 years and 9 months. I got this so wrong, and I apologize. But still, food for thought. I think I'll ask Anton to update this review! Thanks for correcting me on this! Edit: looks like it's already been updated!
    You might actually be right, there. Sorry, math is hardly my strong suit, and when I counted it out in my head, it made sense to me, but it's quite possible I was wrong. There's also considering which months of those years. Rob joined very early in 2003 (February) and it's November 2016 now. Jason joined very late in 1986 and left very early in 2001.
    Well, I think the first disc is strong but second disc, like what other have said, seems very weak. The only song that I really liked on the second disc is Spit Out The Bone. They should just really have made one disc and put Spit Out The Bone as the last track and maybe add Confusion so it would be an 8 track record. That said, I'll probably listen to this record a lot more and hopefully I'll like more songs on the second disc. Also we need to talk about Kirk. The man has completely given up. I'm not sure if it's because he lost his phone or something but every time he will do his solos, I'm imagining an alternate solo in my head instead and it sounds better and that tells something lol. Lars is just....well, Lars. James is the highlight on this record. Dude can still riff hard and this is my most enjoyed vocal performance of his since Justice. Anyway, I'm sure this comments section will go hard with their opinions lol
    It's so frustrating because I've defended Kirk his whole career as a great guitar player due to his very catchy solos and lead parts. Then I hear this and it sounds like there was little composition to his solos, but instead just improvised. I used to really look forward to his parts.
    He had mentioned in a recent Guitar World interview that he was taking influence from jazz fusion guys like John McLaughlin and such, and actually mentioned improvising his solos on this record. But improv can be really good sometimes. Too bad it wasn't in this case.
    Kirk's Fade to Black solo was full on improvisation and it's safe to say that it worked on that one. However, Kirk isn't simply skilled enough to try imitating John McLaughlin or any Jazz Fusion players for that matter.
    I pretty much agree with you. Maybe Kirk went all mad because Lars and James didnt let him bring in his ideas as he mentioned in some interviews so he just scrambled some shit together like he didnt care. Or maybe he really lost his enthusiasm.
    If Kirk's ideas were as bad as his solos on this album, that might explain why his input was limited by James and Lars. Losing his phone should hardly matter, at least when it comes to solos, plus it's his fault for storing all his ideas on something that can "easily" get misplaced. Let's not fool ourselves, Metallica songs are 95% James and Lars anyway, and probably for a good reason. I couldn't agree more with redgrave (though I also liked Confusion, and Here Comes Revenge quite a bit from the 2nd disk, while disliking Atlas, Rise! from the 1st one). James is definitely the highlight on this record, his vocals are damn impressive, and so is his songwriting. Kirk is definitely Metallica's weakest link at the moment, with sub-par, uninspired, rehashed solos which end up detracting from the songs instead of improving them.
    It is strange how it's now just Hetfield, Ulrich (except for 1 song and 1 bonus song) when the last 3 albums were credited to all 4 members.
    Well if you watch the videos that was shot during the recording of DM, you can see Rob brought some really nice riffs to the table and they also didn't want go through another bass player crisis because his songs weren't used on the album so they credited all songs to all 4 members to keep everyone happy
    Dare I say this is Kirks last album. They'll bring back Mustaine. Not acrimoniously, Kirks gonna retire, do some surf tunes. Before you hit -1 - Trump won remember. Anything is possible. Haha
    Nah, I don't want Kirk to leave. He is Metallica by right. But I do want him to want to improve. He doesn't need to write rhythm, James is a beast in that department; just focus on soloing properly.
    If kirk doenst get his shit together, i wouldnt mind him leaving, But bringing Mustain back in is the most retarded thing ive ever heard.
    Says the guy with the South Park icon - fwiw, Megadeths last 3 albums have suffered from what Kirk is suffering from - worn our scales, ideas, topics, a music genre that due to fans harping, has strict guidelines for close to 40 years now.....actually, like a trade in team sports, each M band could use some new juice. Why couldn't Dave play on the next album? #collaboration
    Not mentioning the history, Dave wouldnt be any improvement for Metallica, since he is on par with Kirk considering writing solos. (I always considered Kirk better solo writer, but not anymore after this album). Thats why Mustaine would be a bad choice, they can do much better, and pick someone who can write solos and play better overall, theres plenty great unknown guitarists these days.
    Maybe next album we will see Kirk improvement, he said he quit drinking and he said also he can do any solo just give him a week.
    a drummer
    Definitely agree about the highlight being Hetfield. I've always thought that Metallica won't ever sound good ever again unless James starts to sing with his signature growl. And thats exactly why i love this album, He started singing with balls again. And i totally understand that he's over 50, and his style of singing isn't exactly easy on your vocal cords, but the yodeling singing needed to go 20 years ago. but i digress... His vocals on Spit Out the Bone are top fucking notch, the hype on that song is real. Overall, this is a much needed addition to their discography. Well done Metallica. Except Kirk. What the hell Kirk, not one good solo on the entire record.
    Kirk's solos that I've heard from this album sound like something I could improvise on my first try. And I can admit that I'm not a great guitarist.
    have to agree with you about the first disc being the stronger one (absolutely love every song on that one) but i also wouldnt call the second one weak. i think it just sounds that way at first following how incredible the first disc is. but after listening to it through a few times the songs on the second disc are definitely growing on me
    I agree with you, I thought manunkind had a great intro but i got bored after it. I even create a playlist on my phone, it is mixed of some kick ass DM songs and 5 outstanding songs from Hardwired. I named it "Hardwired Magnetic"
    I for one love this album. It's got everything a modern day Metallica album should have. Groove, speed, melody, heaviness, vocal harmonies, very audible bass and has a real "jam" quality to it, especially Halo On Fire. I'm very impressed and happy with this album, lots of replay value.
    It came out yesterday.., replay value?
    It means there are lot's of reasons to listen to the album again.
    yeah but you gotta listen to it again and again to say there's replay value haha. You can guess there is
    NZ has had it 3 days now, but having said that, albums can be listened to more than once in a day. That's what I've been doing anyway.
    I like the album. It's not their best but it's far from being their worst, in my opinion. I'm happy that my favorite band of all time finally has a new album out there after 8 long years. \m/
    I gotta say I´m more than fucking excited!! This is the Metallica I´ve always loved, it all just sounds like them and that´s more than enough for me. I´m so happy I´m hearing new music from them, some songs really blow me away with their Load-ish feel, I didn´t see that coming! It´s fucking awesome!! I´m a Metallica fan and I´m fucking happy. Thank you Metallica!! Fuck yeah!! Fuck nitpicking, I´m enjoying the overall feel of the album. Honestly I didn´t expect it to be this good. LOVE IT!! Also the new Lords of Summer is absoutely kickass, I love how that song evolved!
    To everyone who says Kirks solos are bad. It's your own fault for learning too much about guitar/theory etc. I'm shite on the guitar and I think his solos sound great.
    Seriously speaking, compare them to the solos on the first four albums, their 90s albums, or even some solos from Death Magnetic. Even though people criticized his playing on Death Magnetic, there are still some great solos like "The Day that Never Comes". But the solos on this album just seem to lack creativity and it just feels like Kirk played most of them on one take and was like "meh, good enough". Listen to the solo of songs like "Blackened", "Ride the Lightning", "Disposable Heroes", "The Four Horsemen"... The solos are one of the highlights of those songs. The solos actually add something to those songs - they are kind of small compositions on their own. They are solos that inspire people to start playing the guitar. But on this album it just felt like the solos were there for the sake of having solos. They didn't add anything special to the songs. They don't make you want to pick up your guitar and learn to play them.
    you are right but we shouldn't include the songs from Kill 'Em All because both James, Lars and Johnny Z wanted him to play Mustaine's solos which he did
    For me the issue is they just sound so uninspired. Kirk sounds like he isn't enjoying himself. I find that sad to be honest.
    This was kinda my point about maybe this is Kirks last album - dudes worn out. 12 regular releases, 2 cover albums, only write songs in E and D, never played a major scale on any song.....dude appears tapped and he knows it. His heart ain'tin it. Just look at the "making of Moth" he is in the studio in a mesh trucker hat on his way to an antique store.....showing Lars the Wah (Lars talks like it's new to him, Iike he had never seen one).
    "I'm shite on the guitar and I think his solos sound great." Well, at least you're admitting you're not all that. Kind of like the guy I've been talking to lately who wants a pedal to put in front of his Line 6 Spider that'll make his guitar tone magically good because he is a beginner and doesn't think tone can actually get any better. I criticize this album's solos because, even with my admittedly quite mediocre skills on the guitar compared to many of the greats, I could have actually done a better job myself. And I mean, I say that without hyperbole or egotistical self-inflation. I'm a pretty sloppy shredder who barely manages techniques like sweep picking or insane tapping runs, but I could have picked better scales and phrasings than Kirk. That's what makes this album's solos so sad, especially when you compare them to some of Kirk's past solos, just like MaggaraMarine mentions, where he really did have better phrasing, note choices, and his solos actually felt like mini-compositions. On this album, the solos feel like they're just... there. It's like 20 seconds of wah and pentatonic abuse aaaand... it's done.
    Seems like there are a lot of people who have a potential career in the production business.....
    Idk about you guys, but I thought Revenge was a good song. It's one of my favorites from the album
    Someone please change the meaning of 'album review' to comparing a new album to the older ones and saying what sound like what. But really, if you couldn't find anything that makes this album stand on it's own, it only shows your skills as a reviewer.
    Or the band's problems with this album. If I had to criticise it in an area I neglected to mention in my review, it's that the album really doesn't do much, to my ears, to really stand out on its own. It takes so many of its elements from past albums that there's very little moving forward going on. Either the songs sound like they could have been leftovers from "Death Magnetic", or it sounds like they're honestly trying to recapture some lost glory from past records. Really, there's nothing on this album that suggests they're honestly trying something new. That doesn't make it a bad album, but it's probably the furthest thing from "innovative".
    I know what you mean, but i don't recall Metallica doing everything they've done here on other albums, the riffs on Moth and Atlas can't be found in any other album, for example. Or you could say it sounds like they could be on the Black album or on Kill'em All, but it's clear they wouldn't fit on these that well, considering all the other elements involved in these songs. There are just soft reminiscences. The riff from Now That We're Dead could easily be on the Black album, but the vocals sound like Load. And the arrangement is like something from Death Magnetic. From my perspective, when you mix different stuff, you ultimately create something new deserving to stand on it's own, be it bad or good. And i assume anyone would agree that not absolutely EVERYTHING in this record is rehashed stuff. Listen some more. You'll probably find out that Metallica never tried to incorporate some Iron Maiden leads in their own style as in this record.
    Says more about the genre they ascribe to rather than the band.
    Yeah, thrash metal is not exactly the most "forward-thinking" genre out there. But that is not a bad thing at all, if you ask me. People still make swing jazz, and there's nothing wrong with that even if the style has not changed a bit since three of my lifetimes ago. Metallica lifting a lot of its sound from its past is not even really a criticism, per se. I have to admit that they chose some of their best qualities to accentuate.