Still The Kings.

When it comes to releasing new music there are few bands or artists who garner the kind of buzz and reaction that Metallica can generate. You'll have your die-hards eating it all up, the old school fans who ridiculously refuse to acknowledge anything post ... And Justice For All and those people who slate the band before a note has even dropped because they're absolutely hilarious. A lot of that buzz has at its core a genuine widespread curiosity as to how new Metallica music will sound but for their fans a slight fear as to what it might involve. The band have had far more highs than lows throughout their illustrious career, but the mis-steps they have taken have been pretty huge at times; whether you're looking at the Lou Reed collaboration album debacle, Lar's drum sound or the questionable PR stunts, Metallica to their credit have at the least always remained at the forefront. It's been eight long years since the release of Death Magnetic, an album rightly hailed as an important turning point which lead Metallica back on track after a much darker period. If its predecessor set them back on the right track then Hardwired... To Self Destruct is them beginning to pick up full speed again.

With Hardwired... To Self Destruct the overall recording process has been stripped back to a far more simple method. Considering the fact that Metallica have often been criticised for possibly over-thinking everything, it was wise for them to strip it all back and have Hetfield and Ulrich build the framework of each track, reconnecting with each other better than they have for a while as well as grasping the kind of inspiration they will have drawn on together in the past. In comparison to the last two records where it felt like a far more collaborative piece between all four of them from the start, the results here say it all. You'll probably wonder why they've split twelve tracks between two discs but very intentionally they do contrast with each other quite a bit. The first side is a bit more smash-mouth and in your face whilst side two offers up a far more expansive, brooding sound - the balance works and has allowed them to explore a series of different avenues across the twelve tracks without it sounding like a jumbled mess.

As soon as Lars announced the release of this album via an online live video they've been slowly treating us to new music. Thankfully we've been able to disregard the drab Lords Of Summer track they released during the eight year period because in Hardwired, Moth Into Flame and Atlas, Rise! you've got three tracks which alone trump most of what they've released in the last twenty years. Between these three tracks you've got a level of fire, ferocity and power so many have been yearning for. They're not perfect, as with much of the album you feel they still haven't quite got to grips with leaving things on the cutting floor, but they are three absolutely excellent Metallica songs and signal the kind of intent they're driving for on this album cycle. Sandwiched between those three tracks on part one of Hardwired... To Self Destruct is unfortuantely one of the weaker moments, crushingly heavy in parts but Now That We're Dead could definitely have been a bonus track.

Given the diversity of their back catalogue, it's difficult to listen to a new Metallica album and avoid drawing comparisons to some of the old material. In Hardwired and the monumental Spit Out The Bone at the very end of the album you've got a call back to their Thrash years, Dream No More and Here Comes Revenge sound like tracks borne out of the Load and Death Magnetic eras mashed together and Moth Into Flame and Confusion hark back to the Justice years. On this record it feels like Metallica have been able to encapsulate a lot of what everyone has been asking (and bitching and crying) for but still completely on their terms.

Performance wise then if we're looking at all four individually you'd have to say that James Hetfield absolutely dominates this album from start to finish. He is on flying form, delivering vocals better than he has done in years - you really feel every word he's boomed down the mic. Lars Ulrich similarly sounds better than he has done in recent years, whisper this but it actually sounds like he has been practicing. Trujillo's bass is also hugely prominent across the album. The track ManUNkind features his only writing credit - a heavy brooding song with swathes of bass led jumpy riffs built for the live environment. On then to Kirk Hammett, a man who hasn't been silent in stating his disappointment behind the writing process on the album largely excluding him until he was needed. His solo work on the album though, excluding some good flashes on tracks like Confusion and Spit Out The Bone, is largely very weak. At times you will feel that a track has reached its logical closing point, until out of nowhere those wah pedals rev up again for one more solo. A far more subtle touch would have been far more beneficial.

Overall then, the wait is finally over and thankfully Metallica have produced an album which is on the whole very impressive. Yes there are tracks which probably could have been cut far shorter, but there is absolutely no denying the fact that Metallica have marked this next phase in the best way they possibly can at the moment. This year has been frankly extraordinary as far as new music has been concerned, but with Hardwired... To Self Destruct the biggest Metal band of all time have displayed exactly why they still occupy the throne at the top.