It says in my bio I “regularly defend Metallica beyond the point of reason.” With a new song released to the public and plans for the next album revealed, it’s time for me to go to work.
Yesterday, Metallica released details about their new album Hardwired…To Self-Destruct and a video for the song “Hardwired.” You probably already checked it out. If not, or if you need a refresher, here it is:
When I hit play on this song the first time, I immediately started headbanging with a smile plastered across my face, heedless of the other cubicle jockeys around me. That’s because I heard the band I was introduced to as a child through my brother’s copy of …And Justice For All, playing a song in the style they pioneered with gusto.
The chugging at the beginning evolved into a series of solid thrash riffs. Lars’ unsophisticated but energetic timekeeping incorporated some rapid fire double bass. James barked about his existential angst. Kirk hit his wah pedal and tossed off a solo. Rob…played bass. And I loved it.
I know the naysayers will tell me I’m blinded by nostalgia. This is a band that was highly formative to me in my youth and therefore I cannot objectively judge the music they produce. And to that I say…Yeah, no shit.
There’s no such thing as “objectively” judging a work of art. Our experiences of literature, film, painting, and music alike are always colored by context. That can involve familiarity with source material, loyalty to a particular artist or genre, or just the mood you happen to be in that day.
So when I listen to this song, I hear a band I grew up on playing the kind of music that made me love them and, in turn, had a tremendous impact on my life. Metallica opened the door for me, not only to thrash, but elliptically to the new wave of British heavy metal, punk rock, d-beat, and a whole range of other styles. Without hearing “One” as a kid, I probably wouldn’t have spent the better part of my life going to shows and performing with bands, and I almost certainly would not be writing for a blog called Toilet Ov Hell.
You can be dismissive of that kind of influence and say if it hadn’t been Metallica it would have been some other band. I’m not so sure, and I’m not the sort to take something that has been so important to me for granted. So yes, even after all these years and all their questionable decisions, I root for Metallica. I’m willing to put a positive spin on even their most experimental and universally derided ventures because I appreciate that they became one of the biggest bands on the planet and kept finding ways to challenge themselves (even if they weren’t always up to the challenge).
I can perceive what you may consider to be the flaws in “Hardwired.” The lyrics of the chorus, “We’re so fucked,/Shit out of luck/Hardwired to self-destruct,” are not exactly giving Bob Dylan or even J.R. Hayes a run for his money. But also I know I don’t listen to thrash looking for deep philosophical insight. What matters is that Hetfield yells the words with conviction – and that he follows the chorus with a “Go!”
And yeah, it’s another production from Rick Rubin protege Greg Fidelman, responsible for the overpoweringly loud mix of Death Magnetic as well as Repentless from Slayer, Snakes for the Divine by High on Fire, and lots of other stuff. You can object to the sound of the kick drum and the guitar tone and make a strong case. And, in turn, I will admit that as long as I can hear everything clearly, I dig the music, and it’s not at St. Anger levels of obnoxious (even I have my limits), I don’t care that much about these issues. I mean, I’ve spent many hours of my life listening to Transilvanian Hunger, so some dubious sonic choices are not going to be enough to turn me off.
On the other hand, let me tell you why I am excited to check out the full album. When I first heard this song, I assumed it was a final track in the vein of “Damage, Inc.” or “Dyers Eve” – a fast, straightforward thrash fest to close things out. I was surprised to learn from the track list that it was actually the album opener.
Now, I get the sense that this very long album is going to take us through many corners of what Metallica has done over the years, from primitive thrash to ballads to, yes, maybe even Southern-inflected hard rock. They may take some turns that I can’t quite get behind. But as long as they keep trying different things, I will give each record a chance and do my best to appreciate it.
Because loving an artist of any kind isn’t about approving of every single choice they make. It’s seeing the greatness they are capable of and following them as they attempt to reach that pinnacle. Creatively, Metallica will never be at the forefront of metal or even thrash ever again. Too many bands, from Coroner to Vektor, have carried that baton.
Nonetheless, Metallica still deserves our respect for writing and recording (at least) four highly influential masterpieces. And when they make a fun song and put it out into the world, I feel they deserve for people to at least try enjoying it for what it is instead of immediately tearing it down.
I preordered my vinyl copy of Hardwired…To Self-Destruct, ugly cover and all. And I cannot wait for it to get here on November 18. However it turns out, I’m going to spend 80 minutes headbanging and being ecstatic that one of my favorite bands of all time is still out there creating music. And if that makes me a sucker, a poser, or just an individual of questionable taste, well, I guess I’m shit out of luck.