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Still much to improve - 63%

gunnar_jarl, November 8th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2016, 2CD, Blackened Recordings

Metallica was my door into metal, as for many others. This is a band that has a special place in my heart and always will, no matter what. But, as any relationship sometimes reaches a point where you start to question if you are in it just for comfort, I started to analyze my relation to Metallica.

As a die-hard fan, I have been somewhat religiously accepting anything produced, finding good sides to all albums. For example, I think that Load and Reload are great hard&heavy albums with some interesting features within them, funny experiments that were children of their times. The notorious St. Anger is indeed a failure but it’s a catharsis, influenced by the circumstances around it. At first, I didn’t care much for Death Magnetic, but I have revalued it lately, so that’s why I was very anxious about the release of Hardwired…to Self-Destruct: would it be another step forward towards a more mature and defined sound of modern Metallica, or will it be another slip towards being just average good, a product parasitizing the band’s massive iconic status, its huge fan base and earlier masterpieces?

At first, I was quite disappointed by this release, which felt as uninspired as I feared. After some listenings, I must say that there are several good qualities in it, and some really great basis, which unfortunately are ruined by some major flaws which, by the end of the day, makes this album just average-good, yet still disappointing if you think of a Metallica product. Even if the album continues the “return to trash”-mission started with Death Magnetic, it does not manage to fulfil this mission in a satisfying manner: you get trashy sounds, trashy riffs, but you lose it all along the journey.

Tracks in HTSD are decent, some quite good and some really not, but nothing remarkable. The setting in two separate CDs are baffling, you could easily put them all into one single album. The real problem is the excessive length of many songs, which easily could be shortened to 4 minutes’ pieces. I am especially thinking of “Spit out the Bone”, 7 minutes long with at least two intersections that – however cool and well performed – could be avoided without taking away anything from the track.

Anyway, you start with good intentions, with “Hardwired”, “Atlas, Rise!”, “Moth into the Flames” which have all strong trash metal riffs and an excellent guitar work (James Hetfield delivers fantastically in this album) but fail to keep this strength as they weaken in the choruses and lose themselves in mid-tempos, intersections and rhythmic changes that breaks the flow. Kind of frustrating, but this will endure so…better accept this before listening to HTSD.

The first disc is perhaps slightly heavier than the second. The second presents maybe the weakest tracks: “Am I Savage?” “ManUNkind” and “Murder One”. The first two have nothing to say, feeling uninspired and superfluous (especially “Am I Savage?”) the third one is plain honestly bad: “Murder One” is dedicated to the memory of Lemmy (R.I.P.), and even though the lyrics are (kind of) related to him, this track could have be so much better realized than how it turned out to be. Metallica owe so much to Lemmy and Motörhead, which is one of their main sources of inspiration and throughout the years they have performed so many great covers of Motörhead’s songs. Personally I would have opted – and kind of expected – a tribute track to Lemmy in a speedy, fast pace just as he would have loved it. A little harsh, a little bluesy, something to remember him by. Instead, you find yourself with some sort of stoner/heavy rock anthem that doesn’t say anything, at least not about Lemmy. Lyrics are frankly kind of cheesy and the song itself is below average, which is even more upsetting considering that Metallica has (had?) such amazing skills in writing emotion-capturing music. Taking into account that this track is dedicated to a legend, it should have been much better (although the official video kicks ass, luckily!).

Speaking of lyrics, they are below Metallica’s standards, as they were in Death Magnetic and St. Anger. Take just the example of the chorus in “Hardwired”: “We’re so fucked, shit outta luck […]”: an angry teenager shouting his rage in total frustration, but it’s not the ground-breaking teen of the 80’s shouting against society, no; now it’s more of a disillusioned “millennial” crying out for attention trying to act cool. Something that, done by 50+ millionaires, it's not cool, just sad.

On a technical level, we have James’ vocals which are really good but sounds kind of fake, as he was putting too much effort in sounding harsh and angry with some honeyed clean executions in between which has been his signature trait for the last decades. His work on guitar is excellent as already said before: great riffs and powerful execution. Kirk Hammett’s lead guitar is technically good as always, with decent solos and his brand wah-wahs, but his presence is more or less superfluous, like a digital addition to the main rock-solid guitar sound by Hetfield. Rob Trujillo’s bass is missing, which is quite a pity as he is an amazing musician risking to fall in the bass anonymity that haunts the band following that tragic moment in 1986. However there are a good bass-line in “Halo on Fire” and a great solo in “Spit Out the Bone”. Drums are better than on Death Magnetic but still sounding bad.

Not being really bad, HTSD is more like unimpressive. There are some really good elements, glimpses of lights. You feel the inspiration and connection to most of Metallica’s past works, and maybe a good way to sum-up this album is by defining it as a blend of Death Magnetic and Reload, with some pinches from “the Black Album” and ...And Justice for All. HTSD would have been an excellent possibility for Metallica to evolve further into their music, after having experienced the experimental adventure of the mid ‘90s and the turbulent 2000s. This is an issue that I think haunts most of the great bands after a while: it is impossible to stay on the top forever, you are bound to some downs as well. The sad thing is, maybe they are tired, which is justified as they have achieved already everything a band can achieve, perhaps they have nothing more to prove.

To sum up, HTSD is a decent release, with some high peaks that makes it one of the most interesting records produced by Metallica in the last 15 years. However, many flaws within the tracks and a general sense of sloppiness make this a rather unimpressive record with so much potential gone wasted. Good by regular standards, medium-low quality for Metallica.