Pop Shop Podcast: Is 'Hardwired' Metallica's Best Album in 25 Years? The Ringer's Robert Mays Weighs In

Jeff Yeager/Metallica/Getty Images
Metallica perform at Hipodromo de Los Andes on Nov. 1, 2016 in Bogota, Colombia.

Welcome to the new episode of the Pop Shop Podcast’s Headliner Interview, Billboard's weekly long-form talk with a compelling, inspirational voice in the world of music, hosted by staff writer Chris Payne. Earlier this year we had Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich by to preview their new album Hardwired… To Self Destruct; now that it’s here (and topping the charts) it’s demanded follow-up analysis. 

Have they gotten their thrash groove back? Did this really need to be a double album? How does it stack up to everything they’ve done since making the best-selling album in the Nielsen SoundScan era? And while we’re talking Black Album, which member has made the least regrettable hair and fashion choices while growing into Cool Dad-hood over the past 25 years? We needed to find an expert, and we got one in Ringer staff writer/lifelong Metallica devotee Robert Mays.

Mays is an NFL writer, which uniquely qualifies him to talk Metallica -- even without considering how it’s almost impossible to go to a sporting event and not hear “Enter Sandman.” The world’s biggest metal band has long been linked to the gridiron, from the members' Oakland Raiders fandom, to rocking last year’s pre-Super Bowl stadium show, to their ties to a certain cult-favorite assistant coach. Mays took time from hosting the Ringer’s NFL podcast to break down the terrain between Metallica and the sports world -- and how the new album fits in -- on this week’s Headliner Interview.

“There was part of me that -- cartoonishly -- walked up to the album and dipped my toe in very slowly,“ he says, explaining his trepidation after past disappointments with Lulu and Death Magnetic. “I didn’t listen to it right when it came out, I didn’t listen to it all at once the first time. I listened in little chunks in order to not have it ruined for me.”

But as he heard more, Mays realized, along with a lot of other fans, that Hardwired was a definite improvement. “There are a lot of elements of the first two songs -- I think of 'Atlas, Rise!' moreso than “Hardwired” -- that are driving in the way that Kill ‘Em All songs are. There are elements of good Load on 'ManUNkind.' 'Spit Out the Bone' is a crusher ending song in the same way that 'Damage, Inc.' is.”

Like a lot of other critics, Mays thinks there’s a very good eight-song album within Hardwired’s 12-track, 77-minute whole? What’s the magic formula? Check out the ‘cast up above. 

Listen above and click here to subscribe/rate the Pop Shop Podcast on iTunes. The Headliner Interview runs every Thursday; previous episodes include Jimmy Eat World, Dawn Richard and Against the Current.