Metallica’s Long-Awaited Return: Our Writers Answer Five Big Questions
The belated arrival of new music from Metallica, with the promise for the full-length Hardwired … to Self-Destruct later this year, led to a sometimes-polarizing debate. Had they done enough to recapture the fire of their earliest recordings? Enough to erase the disappointment of their controversial collaboration with Lou Reed? Enough to match the hype after such a lengthy period away? The lead single "Hardwired" tended to make people choose sides, including our writers – who gathered to discuss Metallica's new song, their forthcoming album and the changed atmosphere in which the band now finds themselves ...
1) What are your thoughts on the "Hardwired" single? Is this a good way for Metallica to launch their new album?
Matthew Wilkening: It’s the best lead track they’ve released since "Enter Sandman,” which if you look back on the competition (“Until it Sleeps,” “The Memory Remains,” “St. Anger,” “The Day That Never Comes”) isn’t actually really high praise. But it’s pretty much exactly what they needed - trashy, punchy and, in a welcome development, unprecedentedly short. It’s not a knockout, but it certainly bodes well for the rest of the album.
Chuck Armstrong: It's a perfect way for Metallica to make their return. It's short, it's loud, it's heavy and it's classic. It's a significant departure from the lengthy and theatrical debut single from Death Magnetic, "The Day That Never Comes," and it's incredibly more exciting and enticing than the slow build-up of "Lords of Summer."
Eduardo Rivadavia: I wasn't too impressed by "Hardwired," but I wasn't disappointed in it, either. It felt like an "effective," safe way of launching the new album with what feels like a direct sonic continuation from Death Magnetic. If you put yourself in Metallica's shoes (and not enough people do), it's understandable that they'd go that route instead of unveiling a risk-taking single – assuming there are some of those on this album. But I happened to hear "No Remorse" from Kill 'Em All just a few hours after "Hardwired" and asked myself why the band couldn't come up with a melody for the latter as strong as the one in this secondary early classic.
Michael Christopher: It couldn’t be a more perfect way for them to do it. It’s short, sweet, has an almost Slayer-like feel to it and – other than a bit of a weak chorus – at the very least piques curiosity as to what the rest of the record will be like.
2) What do you think of the Hardwired … to Self-Destruct album title itself?
Matthew Wilkening: I mean, the main answer is “who cares?,” but if we’re going to really get into it, it’s kinda corny high-school metalhead poetry, spelling things out a bit too much. Maybe they should have just called it “Hardwired,” like the single.
Chuck Armstrong: I dig it. If you listen to the lyrics and the ferocity with which they're sung, there's no denying "Hardwired" is a dark, bleak song. Look at some of the other track titles: "Now That We're Dead," "Am I Savage?" "ManUNkind," and "Murder One." This is going to be a heavy album, not just musically, but thematically. What better way to lift up that message than with implanting self-destruction right in the title?
Eduardo Rivadavia: It certainly doesn't bode well, on several levels, but it's very metal, isn't it? Not knowing yet what the whole album will sound like, nor what themes the lyrics will address, the only speculation that comes to mind is how Metallica's early albums were filled with songs about empowerment through perseverance past hardships. (Don't forget: simply liking heavy metal made you an outsider back then.) This title, on the other hand, seems to suggest the exact opposite – inevitable failure. I can't wait to hear the rest of the music, so we can really get our Freud on.
Michael Christopher: It’s okay. Metallica seems to have been out of good album titles since they decided not to call the 1991 record anything. It’s a bit of over-egging the cake, leaving little to interpretation. And Justice for All and Master of Puppets were great titles, because you had to dig into the songs to find out what they meant.
Matthew Wilkening: We’re coming off like jerks, but I’m just gonna go full “get off my lawn” here and demand that our next president passes a law that says Iron Maiden, Kiss and Metallica have to go back to old-school painted album covers.
Chuck Armstrong: We can't sit here and honestly think Metallica consciously decided to rip off another band's album cover. Similarities abound in album covers across genres. It's a coincidence and nothing more. Moving on … the artwork itself is frantic and bizarre and seems to fit the style of the music video for "Hardwired." I don't think it will ever go down as a "classic" Metallica cover, but who cares? It's 2016 and we have new Metallica. The album cover is the least of my worries.
Eduardo Rivadavia: The album cover immediately reminded me of the Foo Fighters' Wasting Light, and I'm not too keen on the weird, big head, small body band photos. But I guess it's about time that Metallica put their faces on an album cover (haven't Kiss done it 19 out of 20 times?), and I'm sure all will be forgiven if the songs are good.
Michael Christopher: Again, they haven’t had a truly great album cover since going all black with a hint of the Gadsden flag snake on it. The whole bodily fluids fiasco of the '90s is like a bad memory and a way too literal reference to the titles, St. Anger was good, but instantly conjures memories of what a sonic disaster that turned out to be – and Death Magnetic came off like the band got the idea from that old Wooly Willy game where you used a magnetized pen to draw a beard made out of metal filings on that bald guy. Yeah, it conceptually looks a bit like the Crowbar and Foo Fighters’ covers. But one would hope that the lack of artwork innovation doesn’t translate to the music.
4) Is Metallica in a “no win” situation right now, with all the passionate fan expectations that have built up around this album over the years?
Matthew Wilkening: Yeah, I’m sure the fame, adulation and all those millions of dollars comfort them somewhat but, when it comes to pleasing the critics and a certain sector of the fans, they’re totally screwed. Every move they make is analyzed at a microscopic level (says the hypocrite who thought up these questions). Of course, they could make things a bit easier on themselves if they moved at a faster pace – for example if we weren’t waiting eight years for this album. Just to look at the other side of the spectrum, Neil Young has released seven albums since Metallica put out Death Magnetic, and one the year before, so there’s less pressure on each one. Let’s tack a “Metallica have to spend a week recording a bashed-up covers EP every year" rider onto that album covers bill.
Chuck Armstrong: It's always a "no win" for the band. How many times have they been accused of selling out? Regardless of what they do, there are always the fans who expect the classic '80s Metallica sound and nothing else. This is reality, though: They are the biggest band in the world and, if "Hardwired" is any indication, this new album will live up to that stature.
Eduardo Rivadavia: Yes. They've accomplished more than anyone could have ever imagined from a band that started out playing such extreme music, forcing musical tastes to bend to their musical vision, and then having the guts to abandon that blueprint when it began to stagnate. Just like Metallica, Slayer hasn't produced anything remotely as powerful as their first five albums, yet they come in for a lot less grief for taking fewer chances and repeating themselves a lot more. It's unfair, but hardly a unique case: Metallica's has simply been amplified by their almost incomparable success and the fact that St. Anger is so unbelievably awful it has dragged down otherwise decent-to-great albums, from Load through Death Magnetic. Hardwired ... to Self Destruct will suffer the same undue scrutiny upon arrival, but I'll approach it with no preconceptions.
Michael Christopher: The reason they’re in a “no win” situation is because like so many other underground bands who made it big, they’ve got two subsets of fans; pre and post-Black Album. The ones who want them to sound like they did in the '80s and the ones perfectly happy with Load and the “Whiskey in the Jar” and “Turn the Page” covers. It’s a similar divide between Van Halen fans with Sammy and Dave or old-Aerosmith and the more palatable-to-housewives '90s version. No matter how hard they try, there’s no way to satisfy both completely.
5) What was your excitement level for a new Metallica album before the single came out, and how has the single changed your expectations?
Matthew Wilkening: Covering nearly five years of rumors and vague interview statements about each infinitesimal degree of progress on the new Metallica album was pretty boring, but the “Hardwired” single wiped all that away in about three minutes. Can’t wait to hear the whole thing; hope it’s great!
Chuck Armstrong: I'm a lifelong fan but, to be honest, my excitement has waned over the years. Even though the concert footage was amazing, Through the Never was a letdown. "Lords of Summer" felt like a slow-moving scrap from Death Magnetic. Every time it seemed like they were going to finally unleash new music, they just teased fans with more quotes and little else. Those feelings are out the window for me now. "Hardwired" has been on repeat for me since it landed, and I can't wait for Nov. 18 to get here.
Eduardo Rivadavia: The wait had grown so long that I'd frankly checked out, as one does for a Tool album. Not that I blame Metallica for taking as long as they damn well please, at this stage of their lives. I can relate: when Death Magnetic came out, I had a one-year-old kid, and now she's starting 4th grade! James, Lars, Kirk and Rob are entitled to having personal lives too. Ironically, the new single got me excited about hearing new music from one of metal's greatest bands, but I'm oddly just as concerned about the inevitable bitching the band will come in for from haters with nothing better to do and fans who simply can't be pleased.
Michael Christopher: I feel like they got back on track with Death Magnetic and Beyond Magnetic and found myself really excited about what they would do next, but over the years it’s diminished. The single definitely brought that level back up – especially when I saw the track listing for the album and “Unforgiven IV” wasn't listed.
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