Following a marketing campaign that made the US election look like a media footnote, Blackened Friday is finally upon us, holding aloft the first Metallica album in 8 years as its bloody reward, but after such a long wait, what rewards lie within? Launching with 3-minute rager ‘Hardwired’, things look good from the outset, and as things progress, it’s fair to say the band are sounding more focused, more Metallica, than they have in a while. Whereas 2008’s ‘Death Magnetic’ presented a familiar but one-trick-pony version of the band, fat on the carrion of creative freedom, ‘Hardwired ‘ offers a more complex, coherent amalgamation of their repertoire, with motifs and signatures from all eras thrown in. The title track charges with ‘Kill Em All’ bloodlust; ‘Confusion’ is maybe the most ‘Puppets’ track since ‘Puppets’; ‘Dream No More’ combines ‘Load/Reload’ with ‘Lightning’ solos and Cthulu references; ‘Spit Out The Bone’ pivots on a Cliff Burton-esque bass solo; and ‘Halo on Fire’ gives us Metallica aping A7X aping the black album, in a post-post-modern melee of bombastic balladry. Needless to say riffs abound, heavier than Thurman Merman and cascading like crumbs from his eager lips, but as all great connoisseurs know, less is more, and although the band’s dedication to dual-disc quality is admirable, like Thurman, the album would benefit from some light lipo. Disc one is solid, few problems here, but disc two bloats in the middle like a python digesting a hippo, the run of ‘ManUNkind’, ‘Here Comes Revenge’, ‘Am I Savage’ and well-meaning but languorous Lemmy tribute ‘Murder One’ bringing little to the table [insert Lulu joke here]. The height of Lars’ snare in the mix is also likely to open ‘St Anger’-sized wounds for some, but it’s worth noting that for every overused Tommy Gun rat-a-tat, the much-maligned Dane tries something new elsewhere, e.g. the tom-tom canter of ‘Now We’re Dead’. Flawed, yes, but ‘Hardwired’ is also a barrage of triumphs that reminds repeatedly not only why Metallica are top of the Christmas tree, but why you fell in love with metal in the first place.