It’s not an interesting fact that I happen to be huge Metallica fan. I’m a white, straight male in my mid-30s who’s always loved metal and other heavy guitar music. But I came to my fandom relatively late—really only a few years ago. What took me so long? Who knows, but as a relatively recent convert I have the benefit of having extremely firsthand knowledge of the bands catalog. This is shit I’m still listening to a lot, at least a little bit each and every week.

Like a lot of people, I tend to gravitate toward the band’s earlier stuff [Ride the Lightning is my favorite album] but the band’s later work has plenty of good stuff to offer too. In particular, the band’s most recent full-length album [not including 2011’s odd Lou Reed collaboration LuluDeath Magnetic was, in my opinion, a surprisingly legit return to form.

But even Magnetic was nine whole years ago, which begs the question: where’s the band at now? Well, let’s tuck into the band’s just-released 10th album, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct and find out, shall we?

“Hardwired” – Title track and [I’m guessing] a bit of a mission statement for the album as a whole. Pretty much the dictionary definition of straightforward thrash metal. Metallica is really trying to prove something here, namely that they’re still the band that made Kill ‘Em All. Pretty good bluesy solo from Kirk, plus some very competent blast beats from Lars that, to my mind, recall Psalm 69-era Ministry. The “we’re all fucked” refrain is particularly relevant in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. #trenchant

“Atlas, Rise!” – Really dig this one. Again, hugely reminiscent of other rockers Metallica has done better on earlier albums, but still: a banger. Loosens up from the relentless, full-steam-ahead assault of “Hardwired” for some tricky time-signature motherfuckery and deep, deep groove metal. Another good Kirk solo, this time with much more of the guitarist’s signature wah. Some very Iron Maiden twin leads weaving through the chorus. Not surprised they put this one out as a single.

“Now That We’re Dead” – Slow, chugging intro relaxes the previous two tracks’ relentless assault. Some nice polyrhythms from Lars [who, personally, I always feel gets a bad wrap as a drummer]. Steady groove metal for a while. James is singing here as opposed to yelling, taking time to break out his signature growl. Melodic chorus. So far this is as “pop” as the record dares get. Pretty standard Kirk solo and breakdown. Reaches for the anthemic in the final third, to varying success. Still strong, but so far my least favorite track by far. 

“Moth Into Flame” – You know this one is going to be good because it has that little star next to it in Apple Music. Starts strong with more chugga chugga thrash riffing and Hetfield wailing. First instance of the term “going viral” in the entire Metallica discography [that I’m aware of]. Melodic chorus that comes across much better than the one in “Now That We’re Dead”. So far this album is pretty monochromatic—I wonder, how many more ways can I find to describe straightforward, rapid-fire palm-muted metal? Probably not very many! Another wah-heavy Kirk solo [they don’t call him “The Fastest Philipino in the West” for nothing—or at all!]. Lars sounds like a Roland drum machine with these blast beats [a compliment].

“Dream No More” – Very sludgy intro, which is a nice change of pace. There’s no reverb at all on this record, which is good for pummeling but not great for conjuring any sort of a sense of atmosphere. Witchy vocal melody from James, giving way to some prime Puppets-era shout-chanting on the chorus. One thing I’m sorely missing on this album so far is any trace of Robert Trujillo’s bass. They should’ve just called this thing …And Justice For All, Part Two. Somewhere, Jason Newstead cries one single, perfect tear.

“Halo on Fire” – I’ll be honest, the album was getting pretty monotonous until now. Chunky riffs. Drums. Guitars. The whole bit. Luckily, the boys slow things down here with cleaner guitar tones and a little bit of atmosphere. The chorus is another stab at doing something big and epic, but the effect is pretty unmemorable. Kirk has a moody, too-brief lead heading into the second verse. If the chorus had more personality I’d probably like this song a lot better. Also: did you know that “desire” rhymes with “fire”? Culminates in a very effective, drama-filled guitar run at the end. A pretty good song in need of a much better chorus.

“Confusion” – Thudding, martial drums and snaky, effects-heavy low guitar to kick thinks off here before breaking into another Kill ‘Em All thrash gallop. Lars is riding the cymbal pretty hard, which is a nice bit of texture. Some pretty nondescript James wailing before the band does a cool-sounding stutter-start thing around the chorus. For some reason the instrumental bits here remind me of Cowboys from Hell-era Pantera, but maybe not as good. Kirk’s solo sounds like its waving goodbye from a burning, crashing plane [another compliment]. James insists “all sanity is now beyond me”—chill out, dude!

“ManUNkind” – Oh man, very weird [and welcome] intro. And guess who finally showed up—that’s right: Robert Trujillo. Quickly gives way to more sub-moronic bashing and a snotty Kirk guitar riff the band rides pretty hard for about a million bars. Lots of swagger in the verse. Not too different from a lot of the rest of the album, but I kind of dig it. The band throws in a little more dynamic playfulness and some other texture, which is definitely appreciated at this point. Still lots of pummeling, but James manages to work some more versatility into his vocals. Kirk still does what he does really well, with some muddy dive bombs and plenty of wah. But still: We want Trujillo! We Want Trujillo! We Want Trujillo!

“Here Comes Revenge” – Another cool, grinding intro. Honestly, if the band just stuck with the odd sounds and musical motifs they establish within the first 20-to-30 seconds of all of these songs, we’d probably have a much weirder and more interesting album on our hands. Inevitably, the intro gives way to more expert-but-repetitive thrashing, but then mellows out again into very sinister-sounding verse that builds in a nice way. James really sells the chorus: I firmly believe that this man is out for revenge. Kirk really goes for it on the solo [actually several solos]—I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the track Lars and James gave their guitarist to really go for it and show off.

“Am I Savage?” – Some interesting guitar textures here to start. Vaguely bluesy lead from Kirk. Let’s see if it gives way to pummeling thrash. Not yet… not quite yet… actually, not at all. More of a deep-groove type thing, with a little bit of Trujijllo’s bass even peeking through the mix. Is this song about pirates? It seems like it might be about pirates. Or werewolves. The band switches things up with a stop-y/start-y [very technical musical terminology] guitar thing [ditto] in the second verse, which sounds pretty cool. Some flourishes from Kirk going on underneath everything. It almost seems like the band itself is a little bored at this point and is starting to fuck around a little. And whoa… James just turned into Marilyn Manson for [too brief] second. Good!

“Murder One” – Ooohhhh… the band breaks out those watery “Sanitarium” guitar pedals for the intro, then builds to some of extremely metal-sounding (as in the actual substance that swords are made out of) guitar thingies. Mid-tempo verse from James that has something to do with playing cards. I don’t know. Lars does some nice fills during the bridge. This one is sort of repetitive in a hypnotic way. I don’t hate it. Kirk goes off again. Boy—we’ve sure come a long way from the “no guitar solos” edict from St. Anger, eh? This album is lousy with prime Kirk H. shred-a-thons. Kinda weird, since Hammett doesn’t have any proper writing credits on this album. So it goes.

“Spit Out the Bone” – Okay, I’m pretty exhausted at this point, but sure. Why not throw out one more lightning-fast thrash chugga chugga arghhhh thrasher in an album full of practically nothing-but? This one is even faster and more unrelenting than “Hardwired”, which is really fucking saying something. The band seems to be trying to cram as many notes in as possible before they all die of denim poisoning. There’s not much songwriting here, just aggression, ending without fanfare. The final track here is also a little bit of a showcase for Lars, who gets in plenty of blast beats and other drummy drum whatevers. A smart way to wrap up, but I gotta say, guys—I’m pooped! Nothing but Aimee Mann for me for the rest of the decade. See ya in the pit!