My relationship with Metallica’s music got off to a rocky start. In the 80s, heavy metal and hard rock was all about hedonism and partying. Guys with more product in their hair than the Rock Chick jumping around in spandex. Metallica were the antithesis of all of that. Their lyrics were dark and serious. Their music was heavier than anything else around. I just always thought they were dudes who were missing out on a great party. At the time I was more into Van Halen and David Lee Roth’s ethos of “I’ve always been a sucker for a real good time.” Needless to say, I wasn’t one of the early converts to Metallica’s music. It turns out, I was the one who was missing out.
I actually saw Metallica in concert on March 27th, 1986. A bunch of friends and I drove down to the Kansas Coliseum in Wichita, Kansas to see the Lord of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne. There was a lot of beer, black beauties and pot in the crowd. Needless to say all that speed and heavy metal was an edgy combination. We were partying pretty hard getting ready for Ozzy when the opening band came out. The stage was covered in white crosses like Arlington Cemetery, which I found out later matched the cover of the Metallica masterpiece (masterpiece or master puppet?) “Master of Puppets,” when these guys in blue jeans and sleeveless, ratty t-shirts strolled out and just started shredding. They all stood in place, leaned over so their long, long hair covered their faces and bobbed their heads in unison. We all thought this was a little ridiculous and didn’t really pay any attention. We’d never heard of this Metallica(?) before. We were pretty hopped up on speed and beer, we’d scared the people in the seats in front of us so that they’d actually left to go sit elsewhere. I can’t believe how thoroughly we ignored Metallica, which was hard because these guys played louder and faster than anybody but Ozzy.
My lack of attention to Metallica continued unabated pretty much the same over the next decade. In 1996 I went out to Smithville Lake to attend Lollapalooza which was a touring show back then, not just in Chicago. I was really there to see Soundgarden who were the next to last band to play that day. I remember they opened with a Doors’ cover, “Waiting For the Sun” that really caught my attention. I could have split after that, but lead singer Chris Cornell said, as he was leaving the stage, “I bet your glad now Metallica is going to play next.” There had been quite a bit of consternation amongst the grunge hipsters (was there ever such a thing as “grunge hipsters?” I digress) that Metallica was playing this “indie rock” festival. How dare they bring these heavy metal neanderthals to our perfect little fair. I must admit that anti-Metallica sentiment drew me toward Metallica, not away from them. They were great that night, despite Hetfield coming across as a bit of a dick. I think it’s good he’s off the sauce now. Lars hit the wrong drum at the end of a song and Hetfield gave him shit for the next two songs. I remember being particularly fond of the tune “Ain’t My Bitch.” “Until It Sleeps” also jumped out at me. I suddenly thought, maybe I’ve been wrong about these guys. I went out the next day and bought the “Black Album” and “Load.” And suddenly, I was a Metallica fan – not a big one, but I was on the band wagon.
Little did I know, I’d only scratched the surface. Metallica was stuff I would listen to when I was working out but they really weren’t in the BourbonAndVinyl Pantheon of Rock Greats until much later. From “ReLoad” to “St. Anger” I remained aloof from them but then something weird happened. In 2008 they returned with “Death Magnetic.” It was hailed as a return to their early, epic sound. I heard “That Was Just Your Life” and “Cyanide” and something in my head clicked. The long, epic songs with their signature time changes, very Sabbath-like – and I don’t mean that comparison to suggest they were derivative in anyway. Metallica are singularly unique in metal and in music. “Death Magnetic” made me realize how great a band Metallica is. I immediately went out and bought the big 4 – “Kill Em All,” “Ride The Lightning,” “Master of Puppets,” (how did we ignore that set in Wichita, the shame, the shame) and finally “And Justice For All.” I realized, very late in the game the awesome power and fury of Metallica. Do yourself a favor and buy all of those albums immediately.
What drew me in first with Metallica was the drums. Lars Ulrich’s drums are some of the best in rock and roll. He is the engine and the heartbeat of the band. After that it was the melodic, fluid guitar solos of Kirk Hammett. Beyond his solos were the great riffs that Hammett and James Hetfield play. Big slabs of hard guitar riffs served up fast and loud. The lyrics are dark, usually about feelings of anger, isolation and fear. Hetfield delivers the vocals in an anguished howl that conveys all the pain in the universe. What’s not to love. No wonder teenage boys are into this testosterone fueled music. This is the sound of a Panzer division rolling into town.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as a follow up to “Death Magnetic.” As is typical now, they took forever to get the record out. I had heard early rumors that this new record would be to the “Black Album” what “Death Magnetic” was to say, “Ride The Lightning,” or to put it succinctly a return to that style. Now, many purists say Metallica sold out around the time of the “Black Album” but I like both their early stuff and the latter stuff although I will acknowledge it’s much different. I’m not here to get into any purist battles over the Metallica catalog. I must admit I’m more drawn to the early stuff so I was worried that they would try and recapture that “Black Album” ethos of shorter, weirder tunes. Those reports turned out to be false.
“Hardwired…To Self-Destruct” isn’t so much of a return to that early style but an extension of it. I will say, right up front, that Kirk Hammett’s guitar solos are almost completely missing from this record. I read that he felt left out of the creative process. That’s a shame, it’s like Van Halen doing keyboard songs…why would you leave your strongest player on the bench? Other than that knit-picky complaint, this is an amazing album. It’s sprawling, ambitious, epic, heavy metal. Metallica is the only band who can pull this off. Lars Ulrich once again proves that his name belongs alongside Bonham and Moon in the drummer Hall of Fame.
“Hardwired,” the title track and first track starts things off in that galloping, breakneck-speed metal these guys are known for. It’s almost got a punk-rock feel, it’s so fast and hits so hard. “Moth Into Flame” is another fast paced instant classic that boasts one of the few Hammett solos. “Halo On Fire” which starts slowly and builds to an amazing crescendo may be one of Metallica’s greatest songs ever. Who would think, this far into the game, that these guys could deliver something that mind blowing. “Dream No More” is another great metal track. These guys don’t slow down the entire album. The tunes all clock in way past five minutes (for the most part). The closest they get to a “ballad” or a mid-tempo track is “Am I Savage,” which has an almost funky feel to it, but it ain’t slow. “Murder One” may be Hammett’s finest moment in terms of solo’s. It’s a face melting burst from him. Lars’ drums on “Spit Out the Bone” are as fast and manic as any drumming I’ve ever heard – if I have a heart attack, put that tune on and throw my body on the speaker, turn it up loud and I’m almost certain it’ll revive me. This entire album is intricate, well played, classic metal.
I did spring for the “Deluxe” edition of the record which stretches out to 26 songs. They originally planned on releasing early versions of the “riffs” that they built the songs on, but at the last minute changed their mind to release a few covers and a bunch of live stuff. I don’t have a lot of live Metallica, so I’d describe the live stuff as a nice to have but not as anything essential. I do like the covers, especially the “Ronnie Rising Medley” for Ronnie James Dio, RIP. “Lords of Summer” is a great tune that was purportedly released a while ago, but I’d never heard it and is probably the best of the bonus material. Put together with the actual, proper “Hardwired” album this thing is as sprawling as “Garage Inc.” I would advise getting the “Deluxe” version vs the base LP, but hey, I’m a completist.
“Hardwired” is an absolute must have for Metallica and metal fans. We should all pause and celebrate that a band who have been around this long, could put out something this epic, intricate and powerful. It’s LPs like “Hardwired” that B&V was founded on. A band this far into their career who can make music this passionate and immediate is something to thank the Metal Gods for. I feel that this stands amongst Metallica’s best work. I can only hope they don’t wait eight years for a follow up. Oh, and let Kirk play a few more solo’s next time guys…
Buy now, get some Southern Comfort, bob your head along with the loud music and as always, enjoy!!
Cheers! (Devil-horns to all of you!)