With each subsequent listen to Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, I’m reminded more and more of the Einstein quote about judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree. Is it really even fair to expect Metallica to release anything remotely comparable to their early-career output? Regardless, this record has garnered a respectable amount of praise since its release, and thus a more fair and detailed assessment seems warranted. No matter how I frame it, though, the metal giants’ latest release neither justifies its ludicrous runtime nor the continued existence of Metallica as a cultural icon. Tired and repetitive, even its most promising moments are greatly hampered by an egregious lack of self-editing, resulting in a frustrating release that struggles to keep its head above water.
In all fairness, I will admit that this is one of the better post-Black Album Metallica records by a substantial margin, but simply judging an album by such a standard leaves much left unsaid. Still, I’ve got to hand it to James Hetfield for delivering easily his best vocal performance since 1991; the man sounds great for the majority of the album, delivering the generally passable lyrics with noticeable passion and energy while only rarely reverting to his infamous yodel-singing. Additionally, “Moth into Flame” is far and away the best Metallica song in recent memory, boasting superb guitar work and completely justifying every second of its length.
Just about everything else, though–from the physical manifestation of your worst nightmare on acid that adorns the cover to the annoying, clicky kick drum–is largely devoid of joy or creativity. The vast majority of the tracks that make up the record’s ludicrous 77 minute runtime are either third-rate thrashers (“Hardwired,” “Spit Out the Bone”) or dreadfully boring mushes of recycled riffs and drumming that exceed their ideal lengths by roughly 200% (“Dream No More,” “Am I Savage?”). I absolutely cannot fathom why Metallica decided to take material that wasn’t particularly great to begin with and proceed to edit essentially none of it, instead opting to release one of their longest albums to date roughly 3 decades past their prime.
Now, I do realize I’ve been focusing on Hardwired…’s length, but the fact of the matter is that the 77 minute runtime is the root of the vast majority of the record’s problems. I legitimately believe that there’s enough solid material here for a perfectly respectable, concise thrash release, but Metallica stuck a fork in that possibility by attempting to fill a double album with a shockingly limited supply of new ideas. Hell, it’s actually longer than Vektor’s Terminal Redux (which, frankly, is a bit too long to begin with), but lacks any of the creativity, progressive elements, or mind-bending technicality that justified that album’s extended runtime.
With all of this being said, is Hardwired… as bad as St. Anger or Reload? Nah, not really. It’s certainly less memorable than those records–for better or worse–but in terms of sheer badness, this album doesn’t come anywhere close. However, there’s something to be said for taking a few risks, and Hardwired… is an album almost completely devoid of them; with only a few exceptions, it’s a 77 minute snooze fest of tepid songwriting and uninspired riffs, suggesting a band either on autopilot or completely devoid of inspiration. It’s true that there’s nothing truly offensive about Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, but in a year where “lesser” thrash acts like Testament, Death Angel, and Witchery have knocked their respective releases out of the park, Metallica’s latest offering is to the music world as the Jeb Bush campaign was to the presidential race: boring, unimaginative, and confused by its own existence.