Today we’re going to talk about a band that you have to have been living under a rock not to have heard of: Metallica. Yes we’re going to discuss the kings of thrash metal and their album that was released back in November of 2016 called Hardwired… to Self-Destruct.
Note: this article has spoilers for Star Wars Episode 7. Even though it’s been 2 years, we still care.
To give some background, I was a huge Metallica fan back in middle school and early high school. I practically worshipped them and listened to them so much that I can pretty much name any song of theirs after a maximum of 5 seconds. I was very proud of that back then and now I’m still rather impressed at it. My capability to listen to their old stuff non-stop and enjoy the hell out of it is still present but as for their other work it fluctuates based on my mood.
When they released this new album, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it and if it was even “good.”
I looked up a ton of reviews and saw everything from love to hate, which I suppose I expect from metal reviews when reviewing really big names in the industry. Every now and then you get a level-headed one and the rest are either haters or lovers. Then again it’s just a review and we’ve mentioned how you should take nearly all of those with a grain of salt.
In my last article I discussed my constant need for validation from my interests, so you can read there about my struggles. That’s not what we’re here to discuss, though.
Interestingly enough I’m going to present my opinion here and it may seem like a review, and if you take it that way I won’t be upset, but in reality it will be a reflection of the status of god-like entities in metal (or any music medium for that matter).
So what did I think of Hardwired… To Self-Destruct? Well given it has been a year since the release I think I’ve had time to digest it all. I’d say it’s alright. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it; it had good songs and bad songs. My problem with this album is the critical praise Metallica got for releasing something that didn’t suck.
When big-name bands come back from a hiatus or are looking to rebound from a subpar release, I find that more often than not fans will sing praise if they release what is expected of them. Metallica got some good praise for Death Magnetic simply because it wasn’t the garbage can (both literally and figuratively) known as St. Anger. Green Day finally released something pseudo-punk but it was just boring and cringey. But because they vaguely resembled their 90s counterparts people lost their fucking minds.
We can extend this issue to movies too: Star Wars Episode 7 is praised for not being the prequels even though it’s just an extremely inflated Episode 4. Don’t get me wrong I had fun watching it, but it wasn’t innovative and just took Episode 4 and multiplied it by 10. Seriously: the Death Star blew up a planet but the Starkiller blew like 5 up and could blow up fucking stars. We can’t kill off Ben Kenobi since he’s already dead so we have to instead kill off arguably one of the most popular actors in the entire movie who also has been a mentor character to our new protagonist. Mos Eisley? How about a jungle Mos Eisley?! A Star Wars movie that was actually decent that wasn’t apart of the original trilogy? People lost their fucking minds.
We shouldn’t praise something as amazing if it’s an apology for a previous failure and we shouldn’t praise something that is par for the course when there hasn’t been an attempt in 10 years. I’m not saying you can’t love your favorite band’s latest release. My point is to push the idea of progression, another thing I’ve heavily advocated in the past. If progression stagnates, formulaic and boring creations rise. I don’t know about you but I don’t like the sound of that.
I remember about 8 years ago a friend once asked me why a band would get flack for not evolving. The argument presented was that there should be some sort of rubric similar to what a paper you wrote in high school would be graded against (see the previous article link above where you can see me struggling to discuss the idea). Obviously a simple checklist for a band to hit is a simple idea with absurd execution but the idea makes sense: if they hit all the points on the board why is it frowned upon here?
At the time I couldn’t think of a response beyond “because the same shit different day approach is bad” and while this is still the 100% truth, I lacked a real argument. “Just because” is an awful response to this question (and most questions to be truthful), so I basically said “I don’t know.” I left it at that and maybe a year later actually started to understand what I should’ve said and 8 years later now I can fully form an argument to that proposal. Call me late to the party but I’m rather adamant about this sort of thing when determining my enjoyment for something (you could also call me a hard-ass for being picky about enjoyment but that’s a discussion for another day).
Unlike a paper that is graded by a teacher or professor, media is consumed in different ways. What you enjoy musically and what I enjoy musically are more than likely drastically different but one thing will be always be extremely similar and that is how we enjoy it. Listening to music do you find yourself repeatedly listening to a song you like? What about games? Do you play a game often when you enjoy it?
Assuming you answered yes then the next question is “when did you stop the mass consumption?” This is key here because more than likely you stopped listening or playing nonstop sometime in the future. Now you still enjoy it but it might not be the crazy enjoyment you initially had. It’s hard to continually capture lightning in a bottle.
Now we get into more speculative arguments but both I know to be true for many. The first idea is you crave new things. The rate at which you crave them is different from someone else most likely, but the craving is still there. You can only do the same thing so many times before it gets stale. There’s nothing wrong with this – I’m rather certain it’s human nature. But once it starts feeling more or less the same it becomes stale.
My other idea is you find enjoyment in the unknown. This is very true for me, and what I mean by “the unknown” is unexpected or unique execution. Similar to “new” but different, the idea here is you hear something in a song or play something in a game that you’ve never experienced before. The reason I love controlled chaos in my music is because the ideas there are absurd and something I always find intriguing. I don’t know how to come up with the ideas they presented to me but damn did I love them and want to hear more.
The easier way to word this is “what risk did they take?”
You could probably make the argument that both things presented above are essentially the same thing, but look back to my initial examples of Star Wars and Metallica and you can see the difference. Both were new, but in my opinion both lacked the unknown aspect or rather the unique execution the previous works had presented. The risk factor for both were low. They know what their audience wanted and took the safe route and, dare I say, went for par for the course. Some loved this, some didn’t, and everyone else is basically in the middle. Regardless with how large they are it basically was a success and the odds of them raising the bar are low.
Ultimately you’re going to like what you like and I’m going to like what I like. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the things I’ve criticized today. Hell I enjoyed them, I just had this nagging voice in my head that absolutely had a point. But I find that once you accept the criticisms and flaws in something, you can enjoy more things. Why? Simply because you’re not looking for perfection but for enjoyment. Once you get to that point, I feel you’ll be enjoying your interests just a bit more and that might make all the difference.