Latter-era Metallica projects have all ignored the age-old maxim that less is more.
"Load" and "Reload" were mostly poor efforts, but there were enough good songs on each album that they could have gotten rid of the filler and had one fairly good album. "St. Anger," contained way too much of Lars Ulrich's drums. Take away the headache-inducing sounds of Metallica's Napoleon banging on steel chairs for over an hour, and the much-maligned album improves considerably. "Metallica: Through the Never" probably would have been fine as a standalone concert film, albeit one for 3D and IMAX, but the attempt to turn it into a scripted film caused the budget to blow up and led to a confusing marketing campaign that contributed to its underwhelming box office. As for "Lulu," the band's 2011 collaboration with Lou Reed that somehow did a disservice to German theater, concept albums, spoken word poetry, tables, Boris Karloff and, most of all, Metallica, the less said about it, the better.
The band's newest album, "Hardwired ... To Self Destruct," is the latest example. Comprised of 12 songs spread out over two discs, "Hardwired... To Self Destruct" boasts a running time of 77:29, making it slightly shorter than its two predecessors, "Reload" and 2008's "Death Magnetic" (unless you could "Lulu," which clocked in at 85-plus minutes). Yet it feels much, much longer. It's a double album that should have been a single album, but feels like a boxed set.
The first four songs are great and the last one is pretty good. Otherwise, most of the songs on "Hardwired ... To Self Destruct" are completely forgettable and totally uninteresting. While it's a perfectly cromulent album that will provide the band with a handy excuse to embiggen their bank accounts by going on yet another lucrative world tour, very few of these songs will enhance Metallica's remarkable repertoire.
Lead single "Hardwired," one of the better songs on the album, is a short, powerful burst of aggression that hits you like an uppercut. Its blend of rage and nihilism is perfect for these difficult times. "We're so fucked," James Hetfield sings with even more intensity than usual. "Shit out of luck. Hardwired to self destruct!" Indeed.
Other album highlights include "Atlas, Rise!" "Moth Into Flame," and "Spit Out the Bone." "Now That We're Dead" is another standout track. As Metal Hammer notes, the song starts off with a Shawn Michaels-esque beat before the much-maligned Ulrich gets a chance to shine. For me, however, the song's chord progression and guitar solo sound like "Of Wolf and Man." In fact, the Black Album looms large on "Hardwired ... To Self Destruct." The opening riff on "Dream No More" sounds a lot like "Sad But True," while the opening to "Confusion" reminded me of the opening section of "Don't Tread on Me" (although both songs have that militaristic feel, so it's possible that also influenced me). Ulrich's drum parts in "Here Comes Revenge" was eerily reminiscent of "Enter Sandman," meanwhile, "ManUNkind," the obligatory Rob Trujillo-co-written song, contains an opening bass riff that sounded like "My Friend of Misery" (the obligatory Jason Newsted-co-written song from the Black Album). Maybe the fact that this year marked the 25th anniversary of the Black Album, as well as the fact that the band played the album in its entirety during one of its more recent tours, caused them to subconsciously write similar-sounding riffs for this album.
Or maybe the lack of input from Kirk Hammett was too large a handicap for Hetfield and Ulrich to overcome. According to reports, Hammett had over 250 musical ideas, riffs and song fragments on his iPhone, which he then lost. Since he's never heard of iCloud or automatic backups, Hammett lost all of his ideas and brought nothing to the table when the band started writing "Hardwired ... To Self Destruct." Without having a front-row seat to the creative process, it's hard to gauge how important Hammett is to the songwriting process, but his list of credits is quite impressive. We do know, for example, that he came up with the riff to "Enter Sandman" - easily the most important part of that particular song. Clearly, he could have improved the album immensely - if only he had backed up his phone a few times (doesn't the iPhone automatically back up whenever it's plugged in and on wifi?).
Then again, it's possible that Metallica is simply out of ideas. After so many great albums and songs, it's not out of the question to wonder if the band is on its last legs. It's actually a minor miracle they're still around and didn't break up during "Some Kind of Monster." At one point in my life, I worshiped the band and bought almost every CD I could get my hands on (even the bootleg ones that, supposedly, contained demos with Dave Mustaine on guitar instead of Hammett). I started to fall out of love with them during the Napster saga and pretty much turned my back on them after "St. Anger." You could make the argument that their last truly great album was the Black Album (which, obviously, has its share of detractors). It's possible that they've simply entered the phase of their career where their new albums are all forgettable and only get made so that they can continue to justify their high ticket prices (see also Depeche Mode, AC/DC).
Still, approximately half of "Hardwired ... To Self Destruct" is good. If we're looking at old school standards, the album easily passes the "three song rule" for buying CDs. For a band that seems stubbornly wedded to the album format, and is one of the poster children for fighting change in the musical industry, I guess that's appropriate.