Review: Metallica loses way in revisiting past on ‘Hardwired to Self-Destruct’
With “Hardwired … to Self-Destruct,” Metallica issues its once-a-decade reminder that it’s time to hit the stadium-rock circuit and make millions on tour. It’s more an act of commerce than an artistic imperative.
With 12 songs spread across 78 minutes and two discs, “Hardwired” contains some tightly focused rage and ink-black humor amid its bloat. It’s not the worst chapter in the band’s history, nor does it rise to the level of its finest work, now more than 25 years in the past. It’s destined to be quickly forgotten as the band continues to profit on the road from past glories.
The sharpest tracks pile up at the starting gate. “Hardwired” compresses a manic performance into three explosive minutes, led by Ulrich’s galloping drums and a hyper riff that make Hetfield’s tossed off lyrics (basically a bunch of curse words) beside the point. Massive guitars and muscle-flexing twists and turns underpin “Atlas, Rise!” which indicts a finger-pointing martyr who refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Ulrich does some of his finest work on “Now That We’re Dead” with his dry, African-style drumming, which nearly mitigates the song’s somewhat silly goth premise. The double-tracked guitars and stuttering ostinato at the heart of “Moth into Flame” underline Hetfield’s critique of social media fame and a liar who sells his soul to “build a higher wall” (if you think he’s singling out a particular politician, you’re not alone).
But the album sags perceptibly midway through, and recovers only intermittently. Most of the tracks range from six to eight minutes, and rarely justify their length with the kind of tempo changes and ferocity that defined Metallica’s progressive songwriting on “Master of Puppets” (1986) and “. And Justice for All” (1988). Sluggishness weighs down “Halo on Fire,” “Confusion” and “Am I Savage?” with riffs (“For Whom the Bell Tolls”) and ideas (the reappearance of H.P. Lovecraft’s earth-destroying monster Cthulhu) recycled from more successful Metallica tracks. “Murder One” provides an excuse to namecheck some Motorhead songs, in tribute to the band’s founder, Lemmy Kilmister, who died last December, but not much else.
Trujillo’s bass puts an intriguingly dreamy twist on the intro to “Manunkind” that briefly suggests the experimental edge of the Grateful Dead, before settling into a more prototypical Metallica groove. The album recovers just in time to finish with the manic “Spit out the Bone,” in which Trujillo again provides a thrilling bass interlude. He sounds like the one guy in the band who’s playing like he still has something to prove.
Metallica: ‘Hardwired … to Self-Destruct’