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The Four Horsemen mark their first studio album in eight years by milking every last drop of lost time for all it's humanly worth. The result is Hardwired...To Self-Destruct, a two-disc apocalyptic onslaught. If you get your hands on the deluxe edition, which contains a third disc of live material, you'll find yourself in possession of a package with a running time longer than most feature films. But has it been worth the wait? The answer is somewhat ambivalent.

When it's on form, the album has some untouchable shredding, thunderously loud percussion and seething, cheese grater vocals. The titular track Hardwired is a snappy, short and sharp return to form. It gallops along at a lightning pace, nearly tripping over itself as it goes. Your ear's hair cells will perk up with aural tumescence at the battering chords and speed drumming that signal the triumphant return of one of the universe's biggest bands.

The social commentary on the world we live surfaces more than once in the material. The album title and Hetfield's trumpeting “We're so fucked!” should be more than enough to give you an idea when humanity is heading. Atlas Rise owes much of its choral success as a track to the borrowed Maiden riff for Hallowed Be Thy Name, even the dual guitar is heavily weighted to acknowledge their parentage. Disc two also pays homage to Motorhead, another influence, on the track Murder One.

Moth To A Flame is both a commentary and criticism of the reality TV and web celeb culture who are 'seduced by fame'. The track also exposes a darker side to the fame game and how it can isolate and ultimately destroy you too. HP Lovecraft's demonic octopus Cthulu makes another appearance on the nightmarish Dream No More. Halo On Fire is the most epic track on the album, running at over eight minutes building in mammoth vocals, towering bars of crushing instrumentation and low key, dreamlike passages. Disc two opens with Confusion, a Toni Iommi dark chord inspired track, which fails to live up the highs of disc one. It's not all bad, Am I Savage? brings things back up to the mark with a classic Metallica neck flaying, head splitting groove. Spit Out The Bone ends the album with the frenetic and zealous thrashery we encountered at the start.

As the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suggested; when the album is good, it's very very good, but when it's bad it loses its way, (which it does in the middle). The greatness is reduced to a repetitive and occasionally self-indulgent riffology. Somewhere in the album's long road to existence, Rick Rubin left the project, with his giant pair of scissors. This left engineer Greg Fidelman to produce with Lars and James, and the trio appears reluctant to top and tail any of the material. The resulting effect is that all of the songs, apart from the titular track, clock in at well over five minutes. This, just slows the whole thing down and feels like the band got stuck in a riff rutt. Not that this will probably matter one jot to the ardent Metallica fan, whose going to be as peachy as a rock star with a coach load of groupies, to finally have this album on their deck.

Groupie Rating 4/5

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