It’s said absence makes the heart grow fonder. That seems to have been the case for Metallica.
Despite going eight years between studio albums and not doing a full-fledged tour for more than six years, Metallica may have returned more popular than at any time in the past two and a half decades with their latest album, “Hardwired ... to Self Destruct.”
The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard” Top 200 chart and has topped 5 million copies sold worldwide so far, an impressive — perhaps downright astonishing — showing at a time when rock artists have struggled to sell albums.
Now, Metallica didn’t totally drop out of sight over the half dozen years between the end of its tour supporting the 2008 album, “Death Magnetic,” and the release in November 2016 of “Hardwired ... To Self Destruct.” There was a 2011 collaborative album with the late Lou Reed, “Lulu,” an innovative 2013 concert film/drama, “Metallica: Through The Never,” a mini-tour in 2014, and since then, a few high-profile television appearances and occasional concerts, such as a 2015 performance at Lollapalooza in Chicago and a performance the night before Super Bowl 50 in early 2016.
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But clearly a lot of acts would have lost some momentum by staying off the music world grid to that extent for the better part of six years.
Guitarist Kirk Hammett, though, has some thoughts about why Metallica returned so emphatically with “Hardwired ... to Self Destruct.”
“I think for right now there’s a little bit of a vacuum in like us and bands that sound like us,” he said. “There are a lot of great new bands out there, but I think people yearn for something that they know is made in a real sense. I think there’s a bit of authenticity that comes with us that might not be attached to some of the more contemporary bands.
“We can be counted on to deliver in some form or another something that’s real and authentic and something that has integrity,” Hammett said. “I think that really means a lot to some people these days when a lot of music is just kind of like made by pressing a button. ... People can count on us showing up with our instruments and actually making music right there in the moment. And we deliver. Whatever you hear on our album, we can play live. I will not even like try to count how many bands are incapable of that. I think that’s part of it.”
The idea that Metallica stands apart on the music scene is a theme that echoed through this interview with Hammett. He noted that there has always been an outsider mentality to Metallica, and this existed from the moment in 1983 when he joined guitarist/singer James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and late bassist Cliff Burton (he died in a 1986 bus accident on tour) in the group.
“I think, at the beginning it was an attractive thing for the three of us and for Cliff, too,” Hammett said. “That’s something we saw in each other, and when we made music, we always kind of saw ourselves as a band that was on the outside looking in at all the other bands.
“I don’t think that’s ever going to go away, even though we’re probably one of the most successful bands in the world, definitely one of the most successful heavy metal bands,” he said. “Maybe that’s part of what drives us. That outsiderness shapes our musical thinking. I’m not going to dive into that too deeply, but I think it plays a big part in our overall attitudes and perspective.”
Certainly Metallica had legitimate reason to feel untethered to any scene or genre when the group emerged with the 1983 debut album “Kill ‘Em All.” Their thrashy, fast-paced sound was different from anything else in heavy metal, and the early Metallica albums, 1986’s “Master of Puppets” and 1988’s “…And Justice for All,” are considered two of the all-time definitive thrash metal albums.
But it was the next album, 1991’s self-titled effort that is commonly known as the “Black Album,” that turned Metallica into superstars. Led by the blockbuster single “Enter Sandman,” the album found Metallica tightening up its heretofore lengthy song arrangements and bringing in a bigger dose of melody, without softening its sound. Widely acclaimed as one of metal’s greatest albums, it had sold 16 million copies in the United States alone.
The next two albums, 1996’s “Load,” 1997’s “Reload” (a collection of leftover “Load” session tracks) and 2003’s “St. Anger” had some musical ups and downs as Metallica explored some different pockets within its signature sound. Within the band, there were also issues, especially during the at-times contentious “St. Anger” sessions.
The 2004 film, “Some Kind of Monster,” documented the period, during which Metallica nearly imploded and went to a therapist to help resolve the issues that took the band, which had temporarily become a trio with the 2001 departure of bassist Jason Newsted, to the brink.
Metallica, though, rebounded after Robert Trujillo joined on bass in 2003, and the 2008 album, “Death Magnetic” was hailed as a return to form.
Now “Hardwired ... to Self Destruct” is being seen by many as Metallica’s best work since the “Black Album.” Stylistically, some see the hard-hitting double album as recalling the band’s “…And Justice For All” period, as songs like “Hardwired,” “Spit Out the Bone” and “Confusion” blast away behind jackhammer beats, rapid-fire riffing. Even songs that slightly downshift the tempos (“Now That We’re Dead,” “Dream No More” and “Atlas, Rise!”) are plenty hard and heavy.
Hammett agrees there is a return-to-roots element to “Hardwired…to Self Destruct,” and said the band has naturally gravitated to this place musically.
“Certainly with ‘Death Magnetic’ we learned that it was OK to embrace our past with sort of a revisionist approach to our musical past,” he said. “That’s what ‘Death Magnetic’ kind of like started. To an extent it’s continued with this album, too. We like to play music from all of the different eras, and at this particular point in our lives, playing the heavier stuff just is appealing to us. It feels right to me and it feels right to the other guys in the band.”
The new songs are getting integrated into Metallica’s live sets, and the band is following up last year’s run of outdoor stadiums in the states with a fall/winter tour of arenas.
“It’s a lot different indoors,” Hammett said, comparing arenas to playing huge outdoor stadiums. “It’s more intimate. You have your closed off sort of atmosphere. The sound is better. You can see everyone a lot better. You can see people up in the stands. The reactions are a lot more quicker. It’s a different animal, but we enjoy — and I stress this — we enjoy playing in stadiums, we enjoy playing indoors. We enjoy playing small clubs. We enjoy it all because for us it’s all about going out there and playing the songs the best we possibly can.”
At the Oct. 20 show at the Bryce Jordan Center, the band’s first appearance at the BJC since 1997, comedian Jim Breuer will open for the band.
If you go
What: Metallica’s WorldWired Tour
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20
Where: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park