I've been one of those old school fans that hated on anything post Black Album for years. Aside from a few tracks here and there, I was majorly disappointed with the St. Anger and Death Magnetic albums. Going into Hardwired...To Self-Destruct, my expectations are pretty low. The first three tracks released by the band have left me wanting for the old days...let's see how this first listen goes?
Atlas Rise - main riffs sound like Seek and Destroy meets Dyers Eve. Hetfield really plays it safe and stays in one range. I've been a critic of Hetfield's shriek/almost drowned cat sound live. In this stage of his career he's better off staying in this range so that he can adequately play it live. Lars stays the course, nice amount of Bass in the opening and the Kirk's solo is not terrible. The classic dual guitar sound is the backbone of the track.
Now that we're dead - I'm actually intrigued by the opening of this track. It has an ominous feel that the previously leaked tracks were missing. Hetfield once again stays in his lane on this one. I feel like he's failed in the past pushing too hard on tracks and it ends up standing out too much. The band sounds good, it's not standard Metallica fare. It doesn't immediately bring to mind any of their previous material. I wouldn't mind hearing them follow suit with this style as they enter the dog days of their career. Good tune.
Moth Into Flame - While I can't stand the lyrics, I find the pace pretty cool. There is nice soloing on this and I don't mind the backing vocal track. The chorus is really repetitive and would be better suited for a shorter song. It has a Black Album feel to it. There is a trend among the songs as far as staying safe. Maybe it's what bothered me the most about all of the early release tracks. Metallica have sacrificed danger for a cleaner, direct route.
Dream No More - The intro is heavy on Bass and chugs. Almost feels like Alice In Chains at points with it's overall grungey sound. More and more listening to these tracks in succession I feel like this album could've easily been a followup to the Black album instead of Load. While it is a six plus minute track it doesn't feel too long.
Halo on Fire - goddamn, you gotta be kidding me... this is Metallica? I'm not hating, this new Metallica sound is tasty and I'm not gonna mention they start to sound like Kiss's Heaven's on Fire during the chorus. Great transitions, great new sound, lots of growth on this. Metallica have embraced a more rock sound on this and I'm not mad at it.
Confusion - listen to that intro, is this Danzig, the misfits...no that marching drum delivery is definitely Lars. The production is old school and so are those riffs. War songs by Metallica, you can never go wrong. While not the best song I've heard on this album it has some good moments. It could use more direction as far as the follow through. A little too self indulgent in it's directness.
Manunkind - interesting opening to this song, it reminds me of bassist Robert Trujillo's bass hero JACO who he created a documentary about. Decent midtempo tune. Follows the path of the previous songs on the album. I like the title's pun.
Here Come Revenge - possibly the best Hetfields voice sounds on the album. Well crafted song and the song has strong lyrics. It's as straight forward as the rest of the album but it tells a story which I had criticized the early leaked tracks for. Solid playing by the band as well. They are in full gear and Kirk's solo actually means something to the song.
Am I Savage - reading the title I thought of their cover of "AM I EVIL". This is not that song but worry not, this is a slow burning beast of a track. The musicianship is vibrant and upfront.
Murder One - Hetfield's delivery from the start reminds me of Freddie Mercury's voice on "One Vision". A tune about motorcycles and lyrical references to traditional tattoo phrases that doesn't sound hack. I'm pretty sure this is a tribute to Lemmy and if it isn't they should say it is.
Spit Out The Bone - They started this album on a fast and heavy note and so it ends the same way. They certainly put this track into overdrive and when Hetfield delivers "Spit out the Bone" he means it. It's great to see him step away from being so self indulgent in the way he was singing and not rely on that southern drawl thing he was doing for so many records after the Black Album. This is a nice follow up song to Murder One. It makes sense. It's a long song but given that it's been 8 years, people aren't gonna complain.
--- Conclusion after the First Listening ---
I had a huge issue with the first tracks the band released. I felt they lacked a lot of substance and they lowered my expectations. Fortunately after hearing the album, I'm gladly eating my words. The band has been through many phases since the Black Album. From eye liner to various chapters of Unforgiven, from finding sobriety on St. Anger to trying to rekindle their sound on Death Magnetic. Have the band come full circle? Yeah, they've found their way back to writing songs that matter. They've stripped away a lot of unnecessary elements and went back to basics. A few songs hearken back to early Metallica but for the most part this is a new phase. The adult, sober and still pissed off version that put their priorities in check. In many cases the band showcases that they can play in the style of bands earlier their own incarnation(Iron Maiden/Thin Lizzy dual guitarmanship) while still sounding modern. "Hardwired..to Self destruct" has earned my respect as they definitely put the last eight years to good use.