Excitement ran amok throughout this album, but to much dismay it did not come from the melodies. The decision to be very conservative and basic in their melodies as to not disrupt their overall presentation of power ended up backfiring a bit. Contrary to popular belief, musical power is not conveyed by sound alone. If the music does not have substantial melodic line to match the intensity of the other parts, its potential for emotional connection will never be reached. Granted, Metallica actually weren’t too bad in this regard given the setting. They still found a few solid melodic shapes sporadically in this album, which was enough to really liven up the music. The song “Moth Into Flame” is a good example of an energetic, intriguing chorus that was needed throughout the album. While “Halo On Fire” and “Spit Out the Bone” also did fairly well, no other melodies had a compelling grasp that had any sense of individualism. Overall, melody was given a very unimportant role even though it was also given the space to create something bigger (which will be discussed later). For a work that was quite absent of a strong melodic role, the melodies actually weren’t too bad and still provided energy. However, they were also quite formulaic in their entrances and flat in their deliveries. While many metal bands struggle to even get to this level, Metallica can do better.
Hardwired…To Self-Destruct clearly demonstrates Metallica’s best aspect of their musicianship: rhythm, and more specifically, harmonic rhythm. Their ability to change metric direction so rapidly and throw unsuspecting chords at the listener one after another is well received and adds the necessary surprise factor to their music. Almost every song employed some sort of cool harmonic rhythm, even the ones with a slower tempo. That can only take a musician so far, though. If the chords themselves do not suggest a strong structure or motion from one place to the next, it is hard to deem them creative. There were certainly understandable harmonic structures on this album, but they all relied too much on the repetition of tonic to really go anywhere useful. There really wasn’t any worthwhile substance outside of tonic, either. Sure, the chord patterns were unique and very involved, but gave no support to what was around it. Only “Atlas, Rise!” and “Spit Out the Bone” had harmonies that found a creative balance between cool and supportive. Here’s the interesting part: when no melody was present, the harmonies thrived and were very well balanced. The introductions in nearly every song had nice creative harmonies, but once they tried to give room for the melody to come in, they became lame and unsupportive. As I said earlier, the melody wasn’t giving any substance in the first place, so there wasn’t a need to stop the creativity and revert to the tonic pedal tones. The rhythmic drive in the background is where the musical quality is found, but the other layers struggled.
Once again, Lars Ulrich displayed an incredibly dominant performance on drums throughout this album. From beginning to end, his contributions gave great shape and energy to the music. I cannot give the same praise for the rest of the instrumentalists, but I will give props to Kirk Hammett for being able to come up with some modest face-melting solo material here and there, especially in “Now That We’re Dead”. The vocals were nothing special and merely blended well into the texture. Like the harmonic structure, the overall timbre gave too much space to melodies that never truly did justice. Metallica unsurprisingly put all their eggs in one basket in trying to find power, and the result was a very hyper and amped sound without any great linear motion to go with it. This could be seen as a fault on everything but the timbre, but I believe the sound could have done its part in portraying a cleaner and smoother mood. I don’t mean cleaner and smoother to be opposites of loud, but rather opposites of rough. This was a very rough album with loose forms and lots of big movement. It would have been nice if those edges were cleaned up more in order to produce something a little more cohesive. Metallica did add some interesting clean spots in “Here Comes Revenge” and “Murder One”, but they were always taken over by the ambition to sound powerful. In the end, everything sounded very similar to each other. The sound itself was mostly neat and respectable, but the lack of variety and smoothness hurt the overall atmosphere of the album.
The most well-known and successful (late) heavy metal band has shocked the music world with their 10th studio album. It may not be their best work, but flocks of listeners will still be attracted to this album due to its name. It’s not groundbreaking, but it is another testament to the resilience and mastery of Metallica. Every metal fan (and there are a lot) will feast over this for sure. Even those who may only know “Enter Sandman” or “One” will give this a listen out of curiosity. I would only recommend this album to someone who is already a die-hard metal fan, but anyone who likes volume and power will find some sort of interest in this. Albums like this are also not typically one-and-done; Hardwired…To Self-Destruct will have a pretty long shelf life.
Final Score: 114/180