“Hardwired” is a perfectly fine song. In fact, it’s pretty damn good in comparison to most of Metallica’s post-Black Album output, though that’s admittedly not holding it to a particularly high standard. It’s not bloated, has some energy, and Lars “Napster” Ulrich is almost tolerable this time around, only slightly tarnishing the finished product with a weird, clicky kick drum sound. Hell, even Hetfield sounds solid, suggesting that his surprisingly good showing on 2008’s Death Magnetic wasn’t a fluke.
Now, this would be all fine and dandy if it was released by any other thrash band; a short, energetic romp with dumb lyrics, an immature, profanity-laced chorus, and some nice riffs? Count me in! But the fact of the matter is that this is simply not what once made Metallica a truly special band. The day this single dropped, I went back and re-listened to the entirety of their 80s output and, like always, was struck far more by the excellent songwriting and lyricism than the thrashy riffs—because at their peak, Metallica were more than just a thrash metal band. Say what you want about what they’ve become, but there’s simply no denying the fact that Metallica were once the best and most important metal band on the planet, and seeing the same guys that penned “Disposable Heroes” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” reduced to writing choruses of “We’re so fucked—shit out of luck!” is almost pitiful. I realize that the decline of Metallica is nothing new (I’ll be the first to tell you how much I despise the majority of what they’ve released in the past 20 years), but that doesn’t do a whole lot to curb my disappointment in seeing the band that released Master of Puppets continue to slap their name on asinine garbage.
Again, though, “Hardwired” is a solid enough thrash song, it really is. It’s got energy, a nice enough groove, and a decently catchy chorus. But as a Metallica song, it’s just fucking embarrassing. The fact that Metallica touted Death Magnetic as a return to form proved that they no longer even remember what once made them great, and “Hardwired” is simply a continuation of that attitude. Giving in to the pressure of their fanbase and recording thrash metal music again wasn’t a return to form, not in the slightest—Death Magnetic was largely a mindless album, and “Hardwired” is exponentially more so. Metallica’s post-Kill ‘Em All material wasn’t met with such worldwide acclaim simply because they could write catchy riffs; no, the band’s early material continues to endure to this day because, unlike the vast majority of their contemporaries, their music wasn’t mindless. It had meaning. It had soul. It had emotion. “Fade to Black” wasn’t “just another metal song to head bang to.” After 1988, Metallica didn’t start to suck because they didn’t write thrash metal anymore; they sucked because they gave into the mindlessness of the musical world around them.
I completely understand why “Hardwired” has been met with some critical acclaim upon its release; on a purely extrinsic level, it sounds like a Metallica song ought to, something that can’t really be said for much of their late-career output. But based on what made the band truly special, it’s no better a representation of the heart and soul of Metallica than Load, Reload, or even St. Anger.