Nov 25, 2016

Metallica: Catching the Lightning Once Again

By Robert Dean

Metallica has a new record out, Hardwired to Self-Destruct and people are losing their shit. And for once, people losing their shit about something non-political feels like slipping into a warm bath of goodness. So, you know what? Bring on the four horsemen – we need them way more than the awkward conversations about the “Alt-right” or emails, or whatever was trending around the Thanksgiving table yesterday.

Metallica has always had a weird place in social and cultural history, in that they’re like the Beatles or Stones: they no longer own their allure or mystery – we do. Metallica at this point are like Stephen King, even if you don’t think your worlds cross over, there’s easy money saying they do. The people, their fans, really everyone, has a Metallica story, a frame of reference, or at least a supposed notion of what the band is and represents – that’s very hard to do in the world we live in today, and the flash in the pan celebrity culture.

The reason people are reacting to the new album is that it’s exactly what people have wanted for twenty years. For over two decades, Metallica has maintained a loyal fan base that worships them, but mainstream adoration, where they belong wasn’t happening due to their self-inflicted artistic choices.

Metallica belongs on the covers of magazines, they’re one of the few bands who are relevant in a world where more kids are playing music on laptops than in garages. Without that omnipresence of James Hetfield making it look like anyone can do his job, a lot of those possible converts are left with some dickhead throwing cake over his turntables, or some dork rapping about thrift store shit.

People are starved for good rock and roll that’s accessible because most people are too lazy to hunt for the good stuff, hence why Luke Bryan has a career. But, Metallica takes fast, blazing fuck your rules and package it so a fifteen-year-old and a fifty-year-old and share the same angst, the same gut punch. The world is opening their arms of Hardwired to Self-Destruct because it represents a notion of self-ownership, and pays off in ways that are too big to gauge. People who like heavy music or just the sound of a guitar cranked through an amplifier to deafening levels have a thing with Metallica.

I don’t begrudge Metallica for the Load/Re-Load stuff. You shouldn’t either. They were a band trapped in their image. What do you do when you’ve written one of the biggest albums of all time? You can’t follow it up. Anything you release will pale in comparison. So, they went AWOL artistically and wrote a record reflective of their tastes, their current passions – they were men in their thirties who were just a little sick of trying to recreate a style of music they helped solidify into an art form.

People evolve, we grew in and out of phases, but the cultural touchstones in our lives circle the wagons more than once. When I was around eleven, I discovered Metallica. I was prime. It was 1992, and they were massive. I dove in headfirst; I had their Binge and Purge boxset, all the records, the VHS tapes, I had a bazillion t-shirts, and a whole wall dedicated to my heroes. But, I was also listening to punk, discovering hardcore, digging deeper into metal. By the time I was fourteen, Metallica was super lame because of bands like Pantera, Sepultura, Black Flag, or ironically, The Misfits existed. Metallica wasn’t that. They couldn’t hang with The Great Southern Trendkill, or whatever I was into – they were writing blues songs with Marianne Faithfull droning along, or trying to go country rock a time or two. I didn’t get it; we didn’t get what they were trying to do.

And it’s there where this all lies: we never got them. Because they’re evolving, emotional human beings that aren’t here for our carnal pleasure. Metallica defined music, abandoned that music to try different things, and never looked back. We chastised them for not being the Metallica playing Orion, but doing stuff like Some Monster – instead, we watched a psychological experiment when four dudes create what interests them, and that’s not a bad thing. Looking back on it, Load and Re-Load aren’t bad records; they’re just different – they’re a step away from what was expected of the band.

Following that period, Metallica found themselves looking back in the mirror, rediscovering the music they helped forge. Metal wouldn’t have survived without Metallica, and to think otherwise is foolish. Once, they had the bad vibes out of their systems; they could slowly figure out the pieces again by instead of running from their ghosts, but embracing them. We got St. Anger, which wasn’t a great record, but showed the band was thinking, considering and interested in heavy metal again. Then came Death Magnetic, which minus a horrid mastering job, isn’t that bad, it’s just a watered down, trying too hard version of the band.

Hardwired changes everything.

The Metallica you were sure were long gone were dormant, were waiting silently somewhere in the depths. The songs feel old, they feel right, and most importantly, they feel genuine. Over the last decade, instead of trying to run with the pack of music that’s evolved into insane directions they could never compete with nor replicate, Metallica have accepted their position in the world of heavy metal – they’re the kings, the band that cannot be touched. You can love Megadeth or Slayer till the cows come home, but they didn’t write Battery or to wit, Enter Sandman.

Hardwired to Self Destruct doesn’t feel trite, or slapped together. It’s a cohesive piece of music that captures those glorious riffs as they’re meant to be heard – loud and without a sense of civility. The songs are fueled by a new age, new technology, and the human crisis driving it all. We’re not getting some new fangled version of a band that’s cool trying to sound old. Instead, we’re getting the rare treat of a band thirty plus years into the game, catching lightning once again. By this time in most bands careers they’re putting out jack off sessions, no one cares to hear, and no one buys.

We take this record so personally because it feels like a coming home, an affirmation of what we want out of our heroes, out of ourselves – we see the band many of us growing up on reclaiming that thing we felt we lost a long time ago. It feels good and feels right. Maybe rock and roll is getting gearing up for another wave, and it’d be nice, thats for sure. There’s a climate for snottiness and a middle finger at authority right now. A few months ago, I bought my first Metallica shirt in over twenty years. I gotta admit, it felt weird having the kid bag my groceries tell me that my shirt ruled. He fist bumped me as a token that we belong to the same tribe. I can live with that now that there are a few grays in my beard these days.

That’s the magic of what Metallica are capable of: they’re reigniting something old, and something pure and Hardwired to Self-Destruct unlocks what we’ve been craving. Old dudes are happy, long hairs are happy, and suddenly, it’s cool to put on Blackened in the bar, and it just feels right. I hope that kid at the grocery store enjoys this more than anyone.

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