Eight years is a long time to wait for a record. During that time most bands would fret about their relevance and torture themselves with the complexities of a rapidly changing musical landscape. Most bands would worry. Metallica, the ultimate hard rock survivors, give zero f**ks.
There are several indicators of this. Firstly, they’ve drip-dropped the first three singles – three of the best tracks on the album – over the last few months. Next, this double record, their 10th, totals nearly 80 minutes (not unheard of in Metallica-world, but still). Finally, aside from first single and opener ‘Hardwired’, which uses its three minutes to grab you by the throat with James Hetfield’s frenetic ‘Master Of Puppets’-era thrash barks, the average track comes in at a lengthy six to seven minutes. They play by their own rules.
The rest of the tracks – due to their length – are less puncturing. Most recent single ‘Atlas, Rise!’ is more formulaic in an Iron Maiden kind of way, while second single ‘Moth Into Flame’ slows down to allow Hetfield and Kirk Hammett’s dual lead guitars to truly soar.
After that, it’s a mixed bag of killers and still-epic fillers. ‘Dream No More’ is swaggery dirge-metal brilliance, taking part of your soul as it rings to a close. Then ‘Murder One’, a more chilling affair, descends into widdly guitar madness which makes you wonder how you can buy Metallica tees in Topshop and who signed off that abysmal joint record with Lou Reed in 2011. Ending on ‘Spit Out The Bone’, with crisp and defiant pummelling by drummer Lars Ulrich, makes them sound as hungry as they were back in the ‘Kill ’Em All’ era of 1983.
In the four decades since their inception they’ve managed to transcend time and keep fans guessing. And while ‘Hardwired… To Self-Destruct’ isn’t dissimilar in delivery to their last record, 2008’s ‘Death Magnetic’, Metallica still – in their fifties – remain both vital and innovative. And nobody in rock has earned those plaudits more.