When Metallica took the stage at New York’s Webster Hall on Tuesday, it was simultaneously one of the easiest and most difficult shows they’d played in some time. Easiest, because the show took place at the tiny (for Metallica) 1,500-capacity club, with tickets only available through a lottery of the band’s most rabid fans, their “Met Club.” Hardest, because some of them had been fans of the band since before their first album was recorded. Among those in attendance were members of the Old Bridge Metal Militia, a group of metal fans who were early enough supporters of the band to get a shout-out on their 1983 debut, Kill Em All. Eight years later, the band would go on to release the self-titled so-called Black Album, which remains the biggest-selling album of the SoundScan era.
With the band’s 10th album (and first double-album) Hardwired… To Self Destruct, dropping Nov. 18, the band finds itself in a place not unlike their show at Webster. Their first album in eight years (not counting their Lou Reed collaboration Lulu) could risk alienating old-school thrash fans, those into the more mainstream iteration of the band, or both. From the two songs we’ve heard from Hardwired… To Self Destruct so far, it looks to be an album that will satisfy both factions of Metallica fans.
The album’s semi-title track “Hardwired” just became their eighth No. 1 song on the Mainstream Rock chart. It did so despite being one of the band’s most aggressive songs in years. At 3:09, it’s the second-shortest song in the band’s catalog, one second longer than Kill ‘Em All‘s “Motorbreath.” With its tempo, the “we’re so f—ed, shit outta luck” chorus, and brevity, it’s one hell of a defiant opening statement, letting fans know that while they’ve been gone for eight years, they haven’t mellowed in their time off.
“Moth Into Flame,” which the band debuted the day before their Webster Hall show on The Howard Stern Show, is a little more conventional. While “Hardwired” could have been on the band’s first album, “Moth” falls somewhere between The Black Album and 2008’s Death Magnetic. It’s riffy and thrashy at times, but if your first exposure to the band was the mid-’90s Load/Reload era, it’ll certainly be mainstream enough for you. With one-sixth of the 12-track album out, the band appears to be pulling off a balancing act, referencing multiple eras of its career.
To understand what Metallica fans want from a Metallica album, we first have to look at what they don’t want. First off, some metal purists, upon hearing the more commercial sound, stopped listening to the band after The Black Album was released. They’re likely not coming back, but “Hardwired” could cause some skeptics to raise an eyebrow. The band made a few other moves to alienate some fans over the years, like cutting their hair in the mid-’90s for the Load era or being inspired enough by the raw garage-rock sound of bands like the White Stripes to record St. Anger, an album that took heat for both sounding like garbage and not having a single guitar solo on it. Death Magnetic was well-received almost universally, with the only faint condemnation being that it was trying to recapture …And Justice for All‘s sound too much or that the sound was compressed. Greg Fidelman, who mixed the last album, has produced the new one, and both songs sound less compressed than Death Magnetic and miles above St. Anger in sonic quality.
One-sixth of the album isn’t that much to go on, but if the band’s mix of headbangable riffs like “Moth Into Flame” and thrashers like “Hardwired” carry on throughout the rest of the album, it could be one of the band’s best-accepted albums since its first four. One thing that might keep it from that is the fact that it’s a double-album (quick, name three double albums that have stood the test of time). That being said, at 77:20, the running time of the album is only slightly longer than the 75 minutes that Death Magnetic and St. Anger both were. We’ll have to wait until around Nov. 18 to hear the end result, but the early consensus suggests that it might have been worth the eight-year wait.