Here's the thing - 2016 has been an awesome year for thrash metal. Anthrax, Megadeth and Death Angel have all released excellent material and the first single off Testament's forthcoming album also sounds pretty damned good. There would've been an Overkill album too, but that got punted until next year.
There's a new Metallica album coming too, "Hardwired... to Self Destruct". But this one, I'm just struggling to get excited about.
Here's my problem with Metallica - they really haven't done anything worthwhile in 25 years. The Black Album - regardless of whether you think that was the sound of Metallica selling out or the sound of Metallica innovating - was definitely a big deal. But since then, we've had:
- Load (1996) - highly polarising. It definitely extended the hard rock tack that started on the Black Album. The problem was it was nowhere near as consistent as the Black Album, and for every good song (and there were one or two VERY good songs, like King Nothing) there was some blatant filler.
- ReLoad (1997) - same story as for Load, only the fact it came out just a year later meant that no-one could quite figure out whether it was the second half of a double album, or a bunch of out-takes.
- Garage, Inc. (1998) - a disc of covers (some very good) and a disc collecting various b-sides and rare tracks from their classic 80's era. It doesn't really count as a studio album, and although there is some really good material here, the timing suggests a frantic effort to regain credibility in the face of a couple of stinkers by reminding everyone how good their classic material was.
- St. Anger (2003) - about the best thing you can say about this is that it's better than Lulu, although that wasn't an option when it was released since Lulu was still some 8 years away. The title track and Some Kind of Monster are OK, and aside from that, the remaining 60 of 75 minutes are basically solid riffs that get lost in unimaginative, overly long songs with asinine vocals, the infamous trash-can snare drum, and no guitar solos.
- Death Magnetic (2008) - the best thing since the Black Album, which isn't saying that much. To be fair, it's actually a solid record. There's some good songs (Cyanide, Suicide and Redemption, The Day That Never Ends), and The Judas Kiss has a positively stonking main riff. The vocals don't always add much, and the production suffered from a horrendous case of The Loudness Wars and tinny cymbals. There's some filler, and probably a tendency once again towards overly long songs, but it's a big improvement. Still not a patch on anything that Metallica did between 81-91 though.
- Lulu (2011, w/ Lou Reed) - don't bother. Just, don't bother. A terrible idea, which was badly executed in practice.
Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament, Overkill, Exodus and Death Angel all produced great stuff in the 1980's/early 1990's as part of the heyday of thrash metal. In order by artist, Spreading the Disease / Among the Living, Peace Sells / Rust in Peace, The New Order, Under the Influence / Horrorscope, Bonded By Blood, Act III... all excellent, classic thrash metal albums.
Here's the thing - since 2000, all those artists have all produced material which ranks alongside their classic material or better. Worship Music, Endgame / Dystopia, The Formation of Damnation / Dark Roots of Earth, Ironbound / White Devil Armory, Tempo of the Damned, The Evil Divide - all very good stuff that has made people sit up and take notice.
All of those contemporaries have given their fans new reasons to like them - and attracted new fans too. In contrast, Metallica have maintained a strong reputation without adding to their discography in any meaningful way, and still have a huge reputation and rake it in at their live shows because, well, they're Metallica. In other words, they are resting on their laurels. Even more so given that most of those other bands have continued to put out solid albums every 2-3 years... it's been 8 since Death Magnetic. It's kinda at the point now where it's putting me off their old stuff and I can't remember the last time I had the inclination to listen to a Metallica album other than Ride the Lightning.
Two songs have been released off Metallica's forthcoming new album so far. The first, Hardwired, is hard-hitting but a little sparse and bland - it feels like its caught somewhere between My Apocalypse (from Death Magnetic) and St. Anger. The second, Moth into Flame, is a lot more interesting. There's a nice dual-guitar intro, a chuggy riff, and some good dynamic shifts - although the verse/chorus section probably has one or two more ideas than it really needed. The bridge and solo section are great though.
I'd like to believe this album is going to be really good, and it's going to get me excited about Metallica again. I just don't really expect it to play out that way. Still, happy to be convinced otherwise, and I'll be checking it out on November 18 alongside probably most other metal fans in the known universe.