When I was a kid, learning how to play guitar, I had trouble at first, mainly because I had nothing to practice. When a ten year old wants to shred, and all they can play are three chords, and a disjointed couple of scales, there is very little to motivate them to keep at it and progress.
One day, a friend of our family was visiting; he had brought his guitar as well, and we were playing together. Of course, this mostly consisted of him playing, and staring in amazement. Suddenly he asked me, “Do you want to know how to play the easiest song in the world?”
“Sure” I said, half expecting a joke, at the expense of my inexperience.
He began playing the the four note arpeggio at the beginning of Nothing Else Matters. I was enthralled. It was so incredibly simple — I could play it with one hand — and yet, it was unprecedentedly haunting.
It wasn’t until later that I learned of the difficulty and amazing talent that went in to making the song the masterpiece it was; Even then, though, I was still impressed with the song’s organization. The melody ebbed and flowed, soft at some points, and rock hard at others; but it all revolved around that simple little arpeggio. This is what I think makes Metallica great; they certainly do plenty to prove their greatness on their latest release Hardwired…To self Destruct. Most of the songs work with a basic metal riff; though there is plenty of variation to be found, the song doesn’t deviate from its skeleton.
Case in point: Spit Out the Bone a song near the back end of the album. It features a rapid 16th note opening beat. The synchronous tattoo is hypnotizing; Kirk Hammett’s pedaled power chords and drummer Lars Ulrich’s kickdrum beat fuse together, forming an apocalyptic opening rhythm. The pulse doesn’t get tired, persisting on. The song also features a semi muffled bass solo that surprises the listener, by virtue of not being played on Hammett’s screaming axe. Several measure’s later, he gives us what we want; a wailing solo, with pairs of downbeats interspersed throughout.
Hammett’s playing is on point here as it has ever been. Almost every other song feature’s him whirling into a storm of distortion and feedback, complemented by his signature wah sounds. He is improvising more here, much to the enjoyment of the guitarist in me. Especially when it’s not at the expense of the great Metallica riffs we all know and love. Hammett seems freer here; he has already shaken the world of music, now he’s just having fun with it.
Hardwired…To Self Destruct is nothing new. Metallica isn’t breaking new ground, or paving the way for paradigm shift in heavy metal music like they did in the ’80s. But, I will say this: the record is just as hard hitting as Metallica has ever been; the band is working just as hard as it ever has; and I’m happy to say that I’ll just as happily pump my fist to any track off of “Hardwired” as to any of their previous works. Hetfield and Co. could certainly do a lot worse.