In the early 1990s, Metallica went from cult metal hero to bona fide mainstream rock band after they slowed down the songs, added more hooks and wrote less complicated song structures.
The next two decades saw the 35-year-old band try hard to come to terms with that drastic transition, churning out albums that sounded less focused than their groundbreaking 1980s discography.
With Hardwired... To Self-Destruct, the band's 10th album, the Californian quartet have finally found their mojo again.
Clocking in at one hour and 17 minutes for the regular release, and a whopping two hours and 37 minutes for the deluxe edition that includes covers and live tracks, the release sees the band inch closer to finding the perfect balance between the thrash metal onslaught of their early years and the bluesy groove found in releases past the mid-1990s.
The band sound rejuvenated, robust and potent in the album, their first since all the members passed the 50-year mark.
HARDWIRED... TO SELF-DESTRUCT
Frontman James Hetfield's rhythm guitars have always been the heart and soul of the songs and, in this album, the thick and sinewy palm-muted riffs come fast and furious.
Drummer Lars Ulrich, long maligned for the uninspired drumming in recent albums, does not try to outdo the convoluted beats favoured by contemporary metal drummers. But his beats serve Hetfield's riffs and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett's licks well without taking the focus away from the vitality of the songs.
Atlas, Rise!, a six-minute juggernaut, harks back to the sophisticated arrangements found in 1988's ...And Justice for All, complete with multi-guitar harmonies in the extended middle eight.
Hetfield's vocals have the right amount of bite, forceful enough without being contrived and featuring snippets of crooning like the chorus in Moth Into Flame, a scathing critique of fame-obsessed celebrities ("Decadence/Death of the innocence/The pathway starts to spiral").
As with past Metallica releases, the bass never overwhelms but bassist Robert Trujillo does an excellent job all around with the bottom end and even gets a few turns to shine like in the intro to ManUNkind.
There's still a lot of outrage in the tunes, but instead of focusing inwards, like in the songs found in 2003's St. Anger, the band choose to tackle issues such as the over-dependence on technology in Spit Out The Bone ("Plug into me, I guarantee devotion") and the lingering trauma suffered by soldiers long after they leave the battlefield in Confusion ("Cast away and left to roam/Rapid is the road to sacrifice").
There's no way they can write happy tunes and still keep it metal, but the gloomy lyrics do not take away the general feeling of exuberance found in the songs.