Metallica albums are so hard to judge. To me, Metallica are so absurdly superhumanly important. They are so larger than life. Each album release is not just an album, but an event. It is a climactic shift for my whole culture. I feel like Metallica releases are as significant to me as major life events like first kisses or first drinks or going to university for the first time. Metallica are as close to a religious leader as I’ll ever experience in my life time. As such, objectively judging them is somewhat impossible.
You are talking to an avid, ardant St. Anger defender here. You are talking to someone who could spend twenty-five minutes talking about ‘The Judas Kiss’ on a first date should you let him. You are talking to someone who feels like a chink in Metallica’s armour is a worry almost able to spoil a whole day over. When Metallica do Metallica well, its otherworldly levels of special and when they disappoint its a talking point for months. I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to judge or review them, then, given that this band wrote Master Of Puppets, which I do honestly and with all the sincerity in my soul, think I might feel about the same way devout religious people probably feel about their holy books. I don’t mean that to sound disrespectful, but its important for the context behind the review to convey how truly disproportionately this group affects my sense-of-self, worldview and culture. Ever seen a grown man cry when his sports team loses a game? That same ludicrous thing is what Metallica taps into in me.And I don’t even consider myself that big a fan compared to a lot of people I’ve met. You’ll never see me scoffing at someone and saying I’m a bigger fan, or getting jealous and competitive about another fan. And yet…
When I hear tracks like the first three singles; ‘Hardwired’ ‘Moth Into Flame’ and ‘Atlas, Rise!’ then, considering everything I’ve just written about this band and its cultural and emotional significance to me, I am suddenly filled with a sense of hope, excitement and the feeling that everything is all right with the world. This is the feeling of being a teenager, I can still feel the green sofa on which I first really got into ….And Justice For All, can still see the swings in the park when I roared the chorus of ‘Blackened’ at the top of my lungs out in, to amuse my equally excitable teenage friends. I can remember being younger than that and feeling genuinely frightened by the darker moments on the Black album. Feeling like I might go to hell for listening to it. I can see the movie I was ignoring when choosing to inspect the Black Album closely for the first time on headphones instead of engaging with the family movie night. (What Dreams May Come). I can still feel the rattle of the cheap bus windows the first time I realized Kill ‘Em All wasn’t old fashioned, it was charming. I can smell, see and taste things when I listen to Metallica. I have super clear memories of almost any time someone insulted St Anger when I was in the room. These three singles bring all those memories back faster, harder and clearer than Lulu, Beyond Magnetic or ‘Lords Of Summer (First Pass Demo)’ were able to, or indeed any live broadcast since about 2004 could.
Metallica were undoubtedly in a bad place before they dropped ‘Hardwired.’ They had whittled away a boatload of goodwill with LuLu, with the failed 3D movie and with ‘Lords Of Summer (First Pass Demo).’ The Metallica who were unstoppable to me seemed to be gone. People were stopping to care. Metallica were becoming a joke. What fans from the ’80s felt around the time of the ’90s eyeliner or ’90s fans felt around the time they watched Lars slamming doors on the documentary, its was starting to feel like the only feeling that could be felt about Metallica. That feeling, or worse still, ambivelance. This is the most important band in the world for the love of all things sacred… being ambivalent towards them feels unnatural. It feels tantamount to defeat. To depression almost. It was with a great sigh of relief then, that ‘Hardwired’ was equal to, if not better than even, the weaker moments on St Anger or Death Magnetic. We can never expect them to follow up the first six albums, that way sheer unbridled madness lies, but if they can keep up with the best half of their latter day albums and not turn into ‘Lords Of Summer – The Band’ then all would be well. As long as they sound like they, y’know, give a shit.
Then comes ‘Moth Into Flame.’ Pow. Same again. Its like Death Magnetic with better production, better vocals, and more concise songwriting. Oh, what’s that? ‘Atlas, Rise’ ? Just as good. Oh thank goodness. Its going to be good, I can feel it. I can feel it in my bones. Its going to be… uh, oh, ok, nevermind.
Yeah, its nice, its nice to try and capture the vibe of C.O.C’s ‘Heaven’s Not Overflowing.’ Its nice to capture the vibe of ‘Devil’s Dance’ again. Its nice to have two six track discs each ending with a lengthy closer. Another song about Cthulu is a good idea. You’ve had success with that before. Its nice to do a tribute to the fallen Lemmy condsidering the specific impact he had on Metallica and vice versa. I mean Lemmy outright praises, thanks and accredits Metallica more than once in his autobiography and covered ‘Whiplash’ …Metallica covered numerous Motorhead songs and shared the stage with Lemmy. Sure. Its not going to be just another hollow tribute by any other band, its going to be personal and meaningful, yeah?
Well; here’s the thing, that Heaven’s Not Overflowing on the silly-title-of-the-month award winner ‘ManUnKind’ moment is fun and awesome, but the song doesn’t fit the mood of the rest of the record at all, really sits out like a sore thumb and probably could’ve served better as a B-Side. Just because something is fun doesn’t mean it fits. The awkward, complex drum pattern just reminds me of that section in the Some Kind Of Monster documentary where Lar’s father recommends they ‘delete that’ …is it an attempt to redeem awkward beats or is it another moment someone should’ve saved them from themselves. ‘Murder One’ for all its potential is a forgettable, skippable, unnecessary addition to the album. Was the best way to pay tribute to the man really by writing the most boring song of the album, and just adding in some of Lemmy’s lyrics? Is that what Lemmy would want. Is that what Lemmy’s fans want? Is that what anybody wants? With the accompanying music video I get the Lemmy tribute aspect comes across more, but hey have you ever read Lemmy’s autobiography? I bet that a better tribute would’ve been just to cover a track off of one of those albums like Bastards or We Are Motorhead that he felt didn’t get the recognition they deserved.
When I’m on the subject of niggles… why have a song called ‘Am I Savage’ with no Diamond Head relation, but then have a direct Diamond Head reference in the intro on Confusion? Not just any Diamond Head reference but an ‘Am I Evil’ one specifically. Like. What are you trying to do. Surely, those two things are supposed to go together?! Where they initially together and got separated later in editing? Are they two separate similar shout outs to the same song? ‘Am I Savage?’ ‘Am I Evil?’ or Am I reading too much into this?
I like the two disc closing tracks ‘Spit Out The Bone’ and ‘Halo On Fire,’ …but they’re clearly on the wrong discs! Disc one is much more focused on Thrash. Disc two is much more focused on the Load style. Swap the two disc closers around and you’ve almost got themed discs. Might have flowed better. ‘Spit Out The Bone’ for me is arguably the best song on the album, maybe even of the last four albums. It could do with having a shorter build up time. It could do with sitting closer to ‘Hard Wired.’ It and ‘Hardwired’ are like the focused and expanded evil twins of eachother. They bookend the album. They’d bookmark a disc of the thrashier stuff even more strongly though. A disc each of each direction would be cool and you could pick which disc you were in the mood for.
I wonder what happened to the rest of Metallica’s catalogue though. Metallica were more than just Thrash and Load. I can hear lots of Kill ‘Em All. I can hear lots of Load. I can hear lots and lots of Death Magnetic. What about The Black Album or Ride The Lightening though? Or even poor misunderstood St Anger. Well, upon repeat listens actually I can hear some Black Album on ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and ‘Am I Savage’ actually. Initial gut reaction underplays that. You just feel like its Here comes Death Magnetic band trying to play more like Kill ‘Em All… you like that? Ok, well then here’s some Death Magnetic band trying to play Load a bit heavier. Uh…what?
I have to say. On first listen, tracks like ‘Am I Savage?’ and ‘Confusion’ really missed the mark for me. They bored me. Had me questioning the band’s choices. Was this really on the same album as ‘Moth Into Flame’ ? Repeat listens have revealed more depth. Have highlighted the swinging in-the-pocket grooves. Have allowed me to forget my expectations and just let the album be its own thing. So, maybe ‘Here Comes Revenge’ isn’t just a poor man’s ‘Broken Beaten Scared’ after all, and hey, that vocal during the guitar lead has an almost ‘Outlaw Torn’-esque emotive quality to it. A watered down, middle-aged version of it, but a version of it none the less. Repeat listens are this album’s friend. Its a grower. I bet much of its reputation is already formed, and all of our initial ‘Yay’ or ‘Yuck!’ gut reactions will stick around for decades, but to be honest I hated over half this stuff on first listen and now I like a good three quarters.
This album is a bit of a difficult one to get straight in my head. UK journalist Terry Beezer once said Millionaires can’t make Thrash Metal. When hearing ‘Spit Out The Bone’ I’m happy to report he’s got it wrong but then ‘Murder One’ and ‘Dream No More’ have me knowing in my gut he’s dead right. I mean, stacked up against the worst songs on Metallica’s worst albums, maybe they kind of pass, barely, but against the best moments of those albums, not even close to being close to close. And the mythical quality of the best Metallica albums? Not even visible on the horizon. I mean, would you honestly want to see half of this album live if you knew what else you’d be missing out on. Even if Metallica did a show with no hits and no fan favourites, I’d still want to hear the deep cuts off of everything else prioritized over the deep cuts on this. Or would I? Hmmm. Its like a war inside my head (and not the PTSD war in my head of the ‘Confusion’ video). First impressions say I’d skip this stuff when choosing a live setlist, but repeat listening to the vocals in ‘Now That We’re Dead’ …hmm, I’m not sure anymore. Hmmm.
Ok, Ok. Let me think… So yeah. I’ve had some criticisms of this album, especially on the very first listen. That all being said. This is no bad album. Not even close. The band just get judged so much more harshly due to their significance. The intro to ‘Now That We’re All Dead’ ? Amazing fun. Who could possibly not enjoy that? The best riffs in ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and ‘Confusion’? Yes of course they put a smile on my face, of course I’d want to learn them on guitar. This is Metallica we’re talking about here, James Hetfield knows a thing or two about writing memorable riffs! Increasingly though, they don’t seem to know how to edit themselves, how to cut out the flab, how to be concise. The best thing about this album is that, on those first three singles, it felt like the band had finally worked out how to be concise again, and that’s probably where a lot of disappointment on my part came from, the realization that it was not to be. Should’ve guessed… it was a double album after all. Its hardly a medium known for its focus and discipline.
Then again, the best song on the album is 7-minutes long, so being concise isn’t everything. Just ask …And Justice For All. One things for sure. Metallica dodged a bullet with this album. They were about to slide into the ‘I don’t want to hear anything new ever again’ folder along with the likes of The Rolling Stones, but with the best moments of the record, they’ve dug their nails into staying relelvent. Of course, this isn’t a perfect record. I strongly wish they’d record firier, angrier, more personally invested performances. I wish they’d sound more excited. I wish they’d be livlier and convey more energy. I mean, if Exodus and Testament can still do it, at the same age from the same background, then we know it is physically possible. Have you heard the title track to Blood In Blood Out? It can be done.
Anyway; Despite the one or two filler tracks. Despite the slighly flow-diminishing running order. Despite the surprisngly unfitting tribute to Lemmy. Despite the performance not rocking the hell out. Despite any niggles or nitpicking, this is an album I’ll be listening to in five years time. Its an album that gets less dissapointing with each listen. Its an album that whether its a sane or rational thing to happen or not will inform a disproportionate amount of who I am as a person. I’ll never be objective about this so I won’t even pretend to be.
If history is anything to go by, I’ll have a different oppinion on this in a month, quarter and year from now. I’ll probablly have a different opinion every time you ask me. This review is by no means the last you’ll hear from me on the matter. But overall; I’m glad Metallica made new music and I’m very glad to own an album with ‘Hardwired’ and ‘Spit Out The Bone’ on it.
Thought that was the end? Think again. This is a Metallica album. Initial gut reactions are one thing, measured multi-listen reviews are another. Even later revalidations are also required. Having absolutely hammered listening to this now, I’ve more left to say. I’ve listened track by track as they were released, all together as a piece of work, in custom orders of my own choosing, accompanied by videos or all alone as audio only, focused or in the background, and all that has melted together in my mind into one whole where I now have a much better grasp on my feelings.
Overall; I think this is a strong album. In all honesty, perhaps a single disc of all the Thrash stuff and a disc of the Black/Reload stuff six months later would’ve worked better, but overall, there’s nothing poor here. Well, maybe ‘Murder One’ for my personal taste… but that’s about it (and I’m sure there’s people out there who are throwing cheetos at the screen screaming that its their favourite song, so live and let live). Tracks like ‘Confusion,’ ‘Am I Savage’ and especially ‘Halo On Fire’ all have really strong endings and work better on repeat listens and in album context. When you deconstruct them or try and guess what they’re going to do, instead of just letting them exist, sure they don’t live up to the standards of your own imagination, but they do work the way Metallica planned them and you just have to accept that your hypothetical perfect version does not exist. Like my Andy Sneap produced, non-brickwalled version of Death Magnetic, it doesn’t exist but that doesn’t stop ‘That Was Just Your Life,’ ‘Judas Kiss’ or ‘All Nightmare Long’ from being bad-ass.
What also becomes apparent after all the dust has settled is how right my gut was on the positive matters. ‘Hardwired,’ ‘Moth Into Flame,’ ‘Atlas, Rise,’ ‘Now That We’re Dead,’ ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and especially, especially ‘Spit Out The Bone’ are my favourite tracks. They are all exactly what I want from the band, and proof that they can still do amazing things even with all the fame and money and age and expectation and conflicting fanbase demographics. These songs, each and every one, I WOULD love to see live.
On repeat listens; I also really connect to parts of other songs, the end of ‘Halo On Fire’ once the guitar lead comes in is priceless, the harsh vocals later in ‘Here Comes Revenge’ are really exciting, the clever mid section of ‘Confusion’ is good. The guitar solo on ‘Dream No More’ is like the best stuff on Reload and I can see now how the ‘you turn to stone’ section is trying to channel The Black Album’s slower tracks. That main riff in the admittedly-still-out-of-place ‘ManUnKind’ is pretty infectious. I mean, they aren’t as great as the best moments on the best albums, (but then, what is?), however they do still warrant attention and respect. More than that even, genuine warmth.
On the matter of the special edition bonus tracks; firstly, the new version of ‘Lords Of Summer’ is a huge improvement. The production, the performance, the attitude, the arrangement, and especially the guitar solos. It all just works so much better. It feels more vital and less like medicority eating Metallica alive. Its celebratory lyrics even put me in a good mood.
The Maiden and Deep Purple covers we’ve heard before, sure but its nice to have them all the same, and the Ronnie medley in particular is pretty great. Their guitar tone on these songs works really well, almost like a history lesson or through-line. Then there’s a ten-song live set: A Diamond Head cover, songs exclusively from Ride The Lightning and Kill ‘Em All and then ending with a live version of ‘Hardwired’ from another concert, ten live tracks, three covers and an extra Metallica song… overall its a pretty substantial bonus. On the Rasputin Music show; the performances and banter all seem happy and grateful and fun, and it all has a great jovial atmosphere. Its a nice addition. I don’t think I’d buy it on its own or anything, there’s plenty of alternative Metallica live shows (especially on their extensive website) to choose from elsewhere, but it is by no means a let down and is actually really rather good indeed. If this was your first Metallica album and you got this on the end too, it would really rule.
Ok. A bit of a fractured review, but it matches my fractured reaction to the album and the fractured way in which I initially consumed it. To summarize: My initial reaction to it, especially disc 2, was disappointment but it really grows. It is not perfect and could easily loose two or three songs, or each song could easily loose thirty seconds to a minute each. The running order could be slightly different [and for my own future listening I am listening to it in the custom order in the appendix below the review]. ‘ManUnKind’ doesn’t fit no matter how good or bad it is or not. ‘Murder One’ is my least favourite track despite Lemmy being amazing and specifically important to this band, directly.
…All of those niggles aside, and they are just niggles, this is pretty damn good. The songs each have something good about them (Hello daaaaarkness, say good-bye), and the aforementioned half or so of the album that I really like, well, I really really like it now! Those songs each have something to love about them. They are very good indeed, and really keep Metallica alive and relevant and live up to all my expectations.
This band are too gigantic, larger than life, and both culturally and emotionally significant for me to have any sort of detached, logical, impartial idea about the objective quality of the record, but in my guts, when I hear ‘Spit Out The Bone’ I know that everything is right with the world; at least for today (despite what the dystopian lyrics would have you believe). Lords of Summer undenied indeed.
Custom track order:
1. Hardwired. 2. Moth Into Flame. 3. Atlas, Rise. 4. Now That We’re Dead 5. Here Comes Revenge 6. Spit Out The Bone
1. Confusion. 2. Dream No More. 3. ManUnKind. 4. Murder One. 5. Am I Savage. 6. Halo On Fire.