It's been 35 years since James Hetfield responded to Lars Ulrich's newspaper ad in search of "other metal musicians to jam with"; it's been eight since Metallica released their last album proper. At this point in their career, however, the metallers can afford not to be rushed. 2008's Death Magnetic may have been met with enthusiasm by fans and critics relieved to hear a return of sorts to the quartet's early days following the tangled mess that was St Anger – but as for Lulu, their 2011 collaboration with Lou Reed? The less said about that bizarre Frankenstein's monster of an album, the better.
The metal gods have it all to play for with their milestone 10th album – so unsurprisingly, this is a robust, if somewhat safe collection to steady the ship. It's also the first record since their debut Kill 'Em All not to feature writing contributions from Kirk Hammett, after the guitarist lost his phone (and over 250 riff ideas along with it) in an airport in 2014. His creative input is keenly missed on songs that, when left in Hetfield's hands, default to by-the-numbers riffage – not least the muddled Confusion and the one-dimensional Am I Savage?
Others are surprisingly dynamic, despite their extended running time. The unsettling ambience of Halo on Fire is cut with the chug and thrust of guitar that makes for a memorable eight minutes. The grinding, languid sultriness of Dream No More, with its references to "Cthulhu", is suitably Lovecraftian in tone, while the forceful energy of single Atlas, Rise! blooms into an enjoyably strident metal track.
Like many of Metallica’s more recent albums, Hetfield and co’s reliance on repetition is eventually the undoing of this album; perhaps that title is more self-referential than it first appears. Despite its comparatively humdrum second half, however, there is a twisted pleasure to be found amidst the debris.