Hard-Wired To Sleepwalk

Underwhelmed.

Again.

That’s my reaction to the new Metallica album, released on Friday. It’s not a snap judgement — I’ve listened to Hardwired To Self-Destruct four times over now and tried my utmost to give it a chance. Hardwired… has its moments of spark and originality, where the band fire on at least a couple of cylinders, but those are lost in a sea of pedestrian riffing and uninspired vocals that the Metallica who recorded Master Of Puppets, …And Justice For All, and Metallica (aka The Black Album) would have left on the cutting room floor.

Master Of Puppets is in my top ten albums of all time; I  still listen to it on an almost weekly basis. It’s a classic that set the bar for so many other bands because it represented an innovative coupling of huge riffs, aggressive-yet-melodic vocals, intelligent arrangements, and, yes, memorable, off-kilter drum patterns. (Lars Ulrich gets a lot of flak for his drumming these days — often deservedly so — but his work on MOP, …AJFA, and Metallica is very often inspired. Take a listen to what he does on the opening to Harvester Of Sorrow  (from …AJFA). Or revisit those iconic double bass drum sextuplets in One.)

I realise that the Metallica of today is not the Metallica of 1986. I’m not expecting them to reproduce the output from those halcyon thrash metal days. But instead of evolving, instead of continuing to set the bar when it comes to intelligent metal music, they’ve been trying to recapture past glories for decades now. Dom Lawson, a fine writer with a deep knowledge of the metal genre, kicks off his review of the album for The Guardian as follows: “Metallica have just made their finest record in 25 years”. True. And that’s precisely the problem. Metallica’s output since their eponymous, multi-platinum, stadium-slaying opus in 1991 has been almost continuously sub-par, and that’s even excluding the abominations that were the Lulu album and Some Kind Of Monster (although the latter at least rivaled Spinal Tap in terms of (unintentional) comedy value).

The worst thing about Hardwired…  is that much of it sounds like it could have been recorded by any one of the slew of second division thrash metal bands that trailed in Metallica’s wake back in the eighties and early nineties. Vocals that didn’t quite hit the Hetfield heights (and depths), riffs that lacked the punch to the gut of a Battery, a Sad But Trueor a Creeping Death, lyrics that were hurriedly written on the back of a fag packet during a lengthy liquid lunch down the local — all said and done, a poor facsimile of the masterful Metallica sound.

Author: Philip Moriarty

Physicist. Rush fan. Father of three. (Not Rush fans. Yet.) Rants not restricted to the key of E minor...

6 thoughts on “Hard-Wired To Sleepwalk”

  1. I preferred their later stuff, the “Load” era, but I did like “Metallica” also, never could get into the thrash aspect of heavy metal, for me it is more akin to modern hip-hop/Rap, just a bunch of angry people being angry for no reason, I am more of a progressive/Driving style than a thrash, nice deep power chords and riffs.

    There are a couple of decent tunes on this album though, and most importantly (in my opinion anyway) It is mixed and mastered way better than death magnetic, which i could not even make it through half a song without my ears bleeding thanks to the overuse of loudness and compression ( an industry issue, please can we have proper dynamic music back not just a wall of sound?) –

    *weird off topic hazy past remembering alert, cue soft focus lens and appropriate background music*. Back in my days as a sound desk jockey in one of Chicagos oldest blues clubs, we (some of the managers and I) had an ongoing battle with the “artists” who seemed to follow the Spinal tap mantra of volume levels, often early on in the night before the place filled up, since the club was basically concrete and hard surfaces, the noise was unbearable (frequently 120dba at the sound desk, and I was not even amplifying the instruments!) eventually we convinced a number of them to turn it down, then it was like a new renaissance of music, they played with full dynamic ranges quiet, loud, soft hard etc, which made the music so much more enjoyable, and eventually a few of them thanked me (us) for being tough on them, as it allowed them to be more expressive in their playing, even though they hated being told what to do by a (then 20 something year old english guy who looked like he was 12) I recently just found a couple of recordings I did for my benefit on minidisc no less and was pleasantly surprised at the quality and styles and how they progressed over time. *end hazy flashback from the past*

    I do not think there is actually a real group that I can follow these days like I used to with the bands like Magnum, Lita and Doro (although they all seem to have made small comeback albums, must be a money thing) but even these artists are sounding very much the same now too, or am I getting old?

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    1. “Lita, Doro, and Magnum”. Wow. Memories of Kerrang articles in the eighties come flooding back (although they all have also appeared in Classic Rock magazine in the not-too-distant past)!

      I agree entirely about the mixing for “Hardwired…” but, as you say, “Death Magnetic” set the bar exceptionally low. And I also nodded enthusiastically along with what you said about the “Everything one louder than everything else” style of modern production which strips out all dynamics.

      I’m a big fan of thrash metal but there was some atrocious production on quite a few classic thrash albums (not so much from the “Big Four” but from those who followed in their wake).

      I do not think there is actually a real group that I can follow these days

      Opeth are well worth a listen. I’m a huge fan of their seamless mixing of the heaviest of metal with sublime Floyd-esque melodies and harmonies – this was their signature sound for many years. They certainly know a thing or two about dynamics! Their latest “incarnation” forgoes the death metal aspects and is heavily influenced by seventies rock and prog (although they’ve always had those influences in any case). There’s also Steve Wilson, Coheed and Cambria, Baroness, Frost*…

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  2. Hello

    First, pardon the utterly off-topic comment.

    What would be an appropriate means of contacting you regarding questions about past videos by Brady Haran featuring you?

    For the sake of saving time, I may as well include my inquiry here (again, sorry, this feels like a very odd thing to be posting as a comment under a personal blog post about Metallica, but pulling up your Nottingham University e-mail felt intrusive and contacting Brady asking him to ask you felt like a very roundabout way of doing it):

    Five years ago, you went off pretty strongly about changes to the scientific funding model in the UK in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cFlaqEsyRg – my question is, how has that worked out? Over the half decade since then, how has it affected the scientific community, the research being done, and the direction of academia? Or is five years too short of a time to have a notable impact?

    Thanks in advance for reading & any eventual reply,
    Aron

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  3. I’m not a Metallica fan. As for metal, I like Iron Maiden and Nightwish. Metallica have a few good songs though. As for Some Kind of Monster, I think the film is worth the price of admission just for the audition scene and its denouement.

    My favourite band of all time is probably Jethro Tull, closely followed by the Beatles, Rush, and Pink Floyd. (Interestingly, this quartet hasn’t changed since I replaced the Moody Blues with Tull about 35 years ago. I listen to much more music now, and a much wider variety, much of which is really, really, really, good, top-notch, but still a bit below the Big Four. It’s not a case of sticking to what I heard when I was young since a) I discovered rock music relatively late, b) the music was old even when I discovered it, and c) I have no positive associations between the music I heard then and the life I was living (because the life was not good). Rather, I think that these groups got through me then because they were so good: the amazing freshness and creativity of the Beatles; the amazing chops of Rush, with good lyrics by the best drummer in the world; the concept of the flute as a lead instrument in hard/progressive/folk/jazz/world/blues rock without being a gimmick but with the rest of the music just as good; the emotional depth of Floyd, whose every album sounds different but still Floyd and the very idea of probably the all-time best concept album with ooh-aah vocals by Bruce Johnston and Toni Tennille (yes, THAT Bruce Johnston and THAT Toni Tennille).)

    However, I think that Maiden take the cake, hands down, for remaining consistently good over the longest time. I think their recent albums (showing my age, I mean those in the last 15 years) are just as good, and in some ways better, than stuff from their halcyon days.

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