500 Word Review: Metallica “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct”

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Last week, thrash metal legends, Metallica, released their tenth full length studio album, “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct”, which is their first full length album since 2008’s “Death Magnetic”.  Personally, I’m not a massive, avid fan of Metallica, however, they are the first ever metal band I listened to and became a fan of, and the releases I do enjoy are very important to me.  So with the announcement of a new Metallica album to be released in 2016, my anticipation and excitement for new material was very high.  Although, if you are familiar with Metallica’s discography, then you will know that the California based metal act has had some questionable releases in the post-“The Black Album” era.  So my excitement for new material would greatly depend on how the record’s singles sounded.  Thankfully, these singles exceeded expectations!  The three singles, “Hardwired”, “Moth Into Flame”, and “Atlas, Rise!” were phenomenal tracks and only increased how much I was looking forward to hearing the rest of the project!

When you first listen to “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct” the first thing you will notice is that this is probably the best production a Metallica album has seen in literally decades.  Albums like “St. Anger” and “Death Magnetic”, which were the two releases prior to “Hardwired…”, feature some of the worst production quality in Metallica’s career.  Everything from how the drums were recorded to the mix and mastering of the entire album overall were terrible and at some points unbearable.  On “Hardwired…”, the exact opposite is seen.  The drums, especially the tight, bone-snapping snare sound, are recorded perfectly and the distorted guitars and bass tracks sound amazing.  The vocals sound powerful, well mixed, and most importantly, in tune.  Overall, the great production quality allows the album to sound like a successful modern day thrash metal record, and in return makes the whole release more enjoyable.

The songwriting exemplified on the new Metallica album is ridiculously good as well.  The entire album is full with catchy, memorable tracks that sound like great, classic thrash metal songs.  Chugging, head-banging worthy riffs are simply powerful, especially with stellar vocals.  Tracks like “Now That We’re Dead” and “Halo On Fire” are perfect examples of this and are reminiscent to their older sound heard in the mid to late 80s.  Even tracks like “Atlas, Rise!” and “Murder One” are instant classics and should be praised as some of their best tracks in their extensive catalog.  If you are a fan of the mind-numbing guitar solos from lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett, then  you will love this album as it is full with solos of his, like the extremely impressive solo heard on “Murder One”.  Overall, there are only two songs that personally I thought were just ok or decent songs on the record, but there is still over an hour of amazing material off this two disc record.  Besides the fact that there are only two decent songs, “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct” is mostly fast tempo, in your face, classic thrash metal with some great, short, melodic breaks in between the hard-hitting riffs and catchy choruses.  There is rarely a dull moment throughout “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct”, which keeps the listener attentive and into the album despite the fact that it is well over an hour in length!

In conclusion, this is one of the best Metallica albums in literally decades.  The record features all the classic, widely praised aspects of Metallica that make their old releases so phenomenal.  It’s important to not listen to this album thinking it will be as good as the legendary releases like “The Black Album, “Master of Puppets”, or even “…And Justice For All”, considering the fact that these are some of the greatest metal albums of all time, but “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct” is still a remarkable album and is for sure their greatest release in the post-“The Black Album” era.  I give “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct” an 8.5/10 and highly encourage anyone, regardless of their opinion on Metallica, to give it a listen!  The Youtube playlist for the album is attached below to view and make sure to check back in this weekend for more reviews and other music content!

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Classic Album Review: METALLICA St. Anger

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Metallica may be a thrash metal band, but for all their aggressive drive, they manage to make their music balanced. The same cannot be said for “St. Anger”. To put it quite simply, it is a mess. In an attempt to recreate the raw sound of their early work, Metallica decided to make new material for their album in an old military barracks. A noble idea, but one that ultimately failed. In the end the band decided the sound was too raw, and moved to their own studio to record the final product. Sadly, even a bona fide studio and the skills of producer Bob Rock were not enough to save this album.

Shortly before recording started, Metallica’s bassist Jason Newstead left the band. Determined to release a new album, Metallica had Bob Rock step in as a temporary replacement. James Hetfield’s alcohol addiction and personal issues further complicated recording, and a sloppy album was the result.

Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich is often criticized for his decision to remove the wire from his snare drum, and for good reason. The drums are overwhelming. The kit doesn’t sound raw, but like it is composed of trash cans. The gimmick is distracting from the rest of “St. Anger’s” noise, which is probably a good thing. Apart from their sound, the drumming is tame compared to the skill Ulrich has shown before.

Putting it mildly, the vocals are strident. Hetfield is frequently off key and manages to sound far less suave than before. Uncomfortable wailing and ugly shouts plague the album too. The lyrics are all things childish, cliché, and boring. In the title track, Hetfield spouts cringe worthy lines like “fuck it all and fuckin’ no regrets” and the album ends up sounding ridiculous, rather than metal. Other times the lyrics are lazy.   For example, Metallica lists off as many words as they can think of ending in “or” in the track, “Dirty Window”, to show off their rhyming skills. The background vocals are usually buried in the mix, but Metallica has hung on to the kind of gang vocals that have worked for them in the past. Unfortunately, we can often hear what sounds like layers of Hetfield screeching over each other, like what is heard on “Some Kind of Monster”, as if he wasn’t making enough of a ruckus already.

It was depressing to listen to a Metallica album without a single guitar solo. Kirk Hammett usually delivers standout riffs at the least, but none were to be found on “St. Anger”. In general, the guitar could be described as uninspired. Hetfield’s performance wasn’t very impressive either. It doesn’t have much of an impact on the album, instead it’s just there. Perhaps they are rusty or old, but it was a lackluster performance.

Bob Rock’s bass performance was completely drowned in the mix, which is strange considering he was the album’s producer. You really have to press your ear to the speaker to notice the bass, and when you do, it sounds like a carbon copy of Korn’s signature rattling bass, especially when listening to “Purify”. On the other hand, who knows what that sound is. It could even be Hetfield puking into one of Lars’ trashcans.

“St. Anger” is not cohesive. Each transition is clumsy, and the instruments fail to complement each other. Not a single aspect of this album is without flaw, and that includes its themes. The lyrics, like those heard on the track, “Invisible Kid”, try to be philosophical, but sound like they were written by an angsty teenager. The songs last too long and even when they have something good going, they ruin it moments later. One of the albums redeeming moments, reminiscent of the stylish rhythms of Metallica’s self-titled album, is when the band lays down a grooving riff to Hetfield’s well delivered lyrics of “Open your heart, I’m beating right here”, but the moment is murdered moments later with more horrible wailing. Overall, this is a horribly discordant album that relied too much on production despite its goal of achieving a raw sound. Something tells me that recalling an album on the sight of a trashcan is not a good sign.

 

Score: 3.4/10

 

Album Review by Zachary Norton, November 2016