Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hardwired to Spit Out the Bone:
A Review of the new Metallica record


I have despised Metallica since Reload.  They were one of my favorite bands of all time and like most, I loved the first four albums with a fiery passion.  The Black Album came out and I really liked it initially, but repeated listening’s wore on me, and the simplicity of the songs didn’t make me want to come back for more.  Instead, I got sick of it and openly mocked them as “Selloutica.”  And then Load came.  I didn’t know how to process it.  I listened a few times and put it away, thinking I would come back to it and find that I loved it at a later date.  A year went by and I tried again.  Dear God, what was wrong with this amazing band?  And then Reload… 

I was able to look past most of the insults; the cutting of the hair, the openly hostile attitude towards metal, the changed logo, the make-up and the angsty vocals, not to mention the tepid grunge that was Load.  But this, this was a travesty.  The band was aggravated by older fans clamoring for a return to the earlier days and Metallica said they would never do a “Master of Puppets, Part 2.”  But then they go and make “Unforgiven Part 2” and my head nearly exploded.  I didn’t want them to just repeat themselves, but doing a direct sequel to a song no one was clamoring for a return to?  What a slap in the face.

Next came that movie, you know the one I mean.  I could not feel sorry for these millionaires and their problems.  And poor Kirk.  Of course St. Anger followed and I won’t even justify that tragedy with much discussion.  They kept touring, kept having crap Nu Metal bands opening for them, and basically acted like the out of touch rock stars they were. 

Lo and behold, thrash makes a bit of a retro comeback, and suddenly Metallica wants to go prove they’re still metal.  Back comes the old logo, out comes Death Magnetic, a tepid at best album.  It was like they came up with a bunch of riffs and then threw them together thinking the magic would return.  Uh, no.  Nice try and all of that.

Which leads us to the new record.  And I have to say, for the first time in twenty-something years, Metallica put a smile on my face again.

Let’s get to the songs.

“Hardwired” opens the album with a burst of punk thrash speed.  On first hearing, I was taken aback.  The vocals were okay, the drumming was lagging a bit, but the rest, my goodness, was like a kiss on the cheek from a lover I hadn’t seen in years.  There’s bits of Kill ‘Em All in there, and the ferocity of the track works to near perfection.  By the time it was over, I was grinning.  The lyrics aren’t very good, and I have an issue with the cursing (not because I abhor cursing; I love it) because it sounds desperate, like James is saying, “I’m back and I’m still badass, see?”  In any case, an excellent start and a primer of what is to come.

“Atlas, Rise” arrives next and this was where I recognized a pattern that would come to repeat itself throughout the new album.  Metallica was reaching back to past triumphs, drawing on them, and using them to augment their new songs.  And I think that’s a good move on their part.  After all, when you have a legacy like the first four albums, why shouldn’t you pull on that?  This song is part thrash mixed with some Black Album chunk with a whole lot of melodic, twin-guitar stuff going on.  This is just as much Ride the Lightning as it is anything else, and James’ vocals are for once not distracting.  He’s not trying to be Chris Isaac and he‘s not trying to be tough via Chad Kroeger; he’s just letting it come naturally.  And the lyrics are good, too.  Probably my favorite Metallica song since And Justice…

“Now That We’re Dead” comes on like an outtake from the Black Album, same drum sound, same lumbering riff.  And that’s not a bad thing at all.  But…it’s way too long.  A four minute song would have done just fine.  Great solo by Kirk.  This harkens too much to the 90’s Metallica for me, but again, it’s not bad.

“Moth Into Flame” brings back that sweet dual guitar harmony that is gorgeous to my ears.  This is quickly followed by a nice, mid-paced thrash gallop.  The bass sound excellent on this song.  It’s again a look back at Ride the Lightning and again, it’s pretty damned good.  There’s also some modern flourishes thrown in, such as the melodic run about 1:13 into the song.  This is followed by a chorus of the 90’s Metallica and then a cycle back to the mid-paced chunk.  Mix and repeat and throw in a solo and you have the fourth best song on the record. 

“Dream No More” starts sort of like “Sad But True” and sort of continues along the same vein.  It’s another mid-paced song (sensing a pattern here?).  The vocals are alright. The production is tight and there’s nothing to hate about this song, but nothing to love, either.  6:30 is a long journey to take for a song that basically goes nowhere, and a song they did better on the Black Album.

“Halo on Fire” sounds very modern with its beginning, leaning on imitator bands like Trivium for its start out the gate.  And then it settles down into a quiet little ditty that features the kind of vocals from Load that make me want to puke turds and throw them at passing kids as they walk to school.  This song is the weakest on the album by far, and at this point, it drags down the record.  And eight minutes long?  Come on, guys.

Album One closes, Album Two opens.

“Confusion” starts with almost a direct quote/variation of/on “Am I Evil,” and hey, that’s a great start.  Then we get some good chunky riffs, and then it slows down again and we’re back into Load territory on the vocals.  Suddenly, the song feels jaunty and not very heavy, despite that fantastic, hefty riff.  Another mid-paced track that pretty much goes nowhere but again, isn’t terrible.

“Manunkind” begins with something a Metallica fan really hasn’t heard in a long time:  an acoustic opening.  Hello, “Battery.”  And the song kind of jams down on that same gear before sliding into a slick, slithering riff that does its own thing.  And then we’re back to a Black Album gallop but man, it sounds sweet.  The song is bothered by those pseudo-anthemic Load choruses, though, so that takes a couple points off.  Still, an excellent solo by Kirk.  Dumb lyrics. 

“Here Comes Revenge” is more like “Here Comes Another 7 Minute Mid-Paced Song That Goes Nowhere.”  It’s not bad because there’s not a bad song on this record, but it moves along pretty slow, to be honest, and the drop down to melodic James singing doesn’t do it any favors.

“Am I Savage?” flirts with “Fade to Black” in its opening but then swaggers around like a drunk spoiling for a fight.  And then…another mid-paced, six and a half minute song that thinks it’s “Of Wolf and Man” but really isn’t.  A real shame because that beginning promises some great things.

“Murder One,” another song that opens sort-of acoustically, with guitar tones that sound like “One” that lead us to, yes, a mid-paced slugger that swings hard but doesn’t really connect a knockout blow.  Like too many others, it goes on and on and five minutes of your life is gone.

“Spit Out the Bone” finds the lumbering Metallica machine suddenly hitting the gas and getting its “Motorbreath” running.  This song is pure thrash and is just as good as anything great off the recent Megadeth albums.  That’s a compliment.  James gets back to doing the vocals the way they should be done, no straining, no false emotion, just getting to the core of things.  Lars is trying to keep up, as he is almost the entire album.  Kirk is amazing as always and when he and James are on, they remind us of why they are such a formidable guitar duo.  And then, God help us all, Robert comes in at the 2:41 point with a bit of lead bass, the kind we haven’t heard since Cliff (RIP).  What a pleasant surprise!  This song doesn’t feel seven minutes long, it feels like “Fuck yeah, Metallica is back, bitches!”  An excellent way to end the record.

This album is a logical follow-up to the Black Album and would have been a perfect release about three years after.  The fact that we had to wait twenty years to get it is a travesty, but I won’t beat that dead horse any longer.  If you’re a fan of the first four albums, there is plenty here to like, and Metallica give us their four best songs since And Justice…and that’s no mean feat.  The rest of the songs play like high-school reunion memories of the Black and Load albums, but thankfully mostly they are the good memories, not the bad ones. 

A return to form?


A pretty damned good record?



1 comment:

  1. I don't know why so many Metallica 'fans' feel the need to be so stuck in the past, and constantly compare the newer material with stuff released 30 years ago. Get over it, jeez.