I’m going to start by talking about Star Wars. Please bear with me.
When The Phantom Menace released in ‘99, it kicked off nearly two decades of disappointment. But the prequel films were honest, if mostly underwhelming; they were original and underivative, made with (probably) good intentions, even if they weren’t what longtime fans wanted.
When The Force Awakens came out last year, fans got a film much like the ones they fell in love with. To that point, some have said it was too similar, that Force Awakens followed too many of the same story beats as its predecessors, and depending how you looked at it, that point of view could be bad or perfectly acceptable.
Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is very much Metallica’s Force Awakens — a return to a familiar form that should satisfy the yearnings for that old-school vibe but ends up treading a lot of previously covered ground. But what makes Hardwired different from my obnoxious analogy about space opera is the ground it covers is from the period Metallica fans have, historically anyway, liked the least — Load and Reload. Oh, there are a handful of good — I’d venture to say even great — songs, but the majority of the album is like if J.J. Abrams plopped Jar-Jar Binks in Force without any of us realizing it and gave him a significantly large (and appropriately tragic) amount of screentime. The plodding, unwanted Load-iness of tracks like “Dream No More” and “Now That We’re Dead” is baffling when other cuts like “Moth Into Flame” are kicking such ass.
To its credit, there’s no prequel-esque visionary departure on Hardwired; it sounds distinctly Metallica, the feel-good, Mom’s apple pie Metallica. No trash cans and cracking voice here, no’m — Lars is still holding things down behind the kit (despite every internet comments section wanting his head on a platter), and Kirk is still wanking away on his whammy. And of all the ‘Mets, James is sounding better than ever.
Metallica shouldn’t be above a little criticism, and neither should Star Wars; neither Hardwired or Force Awakens are perfect, and I don’t need them nor expect them to be. I gladly take the good (the Reys and Finns to the “Spit Out the Bone”s and “Atlus, Rise”s) along with, well… everything else. There’s nothing so offensive as a Jar-Jar here in Hardwired, so at least we can thank Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett, and Trujillo for that.
I like that this isn’t a throwback album; the different styles of songs on display here show their willingness to accept the flaws in their DNA. After all, you can’t take the Load or St. Anger out of Metallica anymore than you can take the Hero’s Journey out of Star Wars. Those are fundamental building blocks to the final product we still get to enjoy to this day.
Buy Hardwired…to Self-Destruct here.