“72 seasons. The first 18 years of our lives that form our true or false selves. The concept that we were told ‘who we are’ by our parents. A possible pigeonholing around what kind of personality we are. I think the most interesting part of this is the continued study of those core beliefs and how it affects our perception of the world today. Much of our adult experience is reenactment or reaction to these childhood experiences. Prisoners of childhood or breaking free of those bondages we carry.”
– James Hetfield, commenting on the album title of 72 Seasons
When it comes to the mighty metal titans known as Metallica, nearly everything that can be said about them has been said. They’ve performed on all seven continents, they’ve sold over 125 million albums, they’ve written some of the biggest seminal heavy metal classics that define the genre, and they’ve casted a legacy unmatched throughout their 40-plus years as not just a metal band, and not just the biggest metal band, but as THE metal band. So that poses a question about what it means to be a band of this magnitude in the modern day: do you rest on your laurels of the past or try to keep paving a future path away from it? Metallica, in a reprisal of their 2016 double-album Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, answers that question with a third option: use elements of the past to craft who they want to be in the present and future in a defining statement of “this is us, weathered and aged in all of our glory” – and in the process, this band has firmly established their present identity as the four members are all knocking on the door of 60, no longer the ravenous band of 18-year-olds from California set to be the loudest and fastest but as the seasoned and tenured veterans of the metal genre who are still here to deliver an album that, in many ways, caps off their reconstruction into the start of their fifth decade of heavy music dominance.
“Wrath of man, thrive upon, feeding on, 72 seasons gone…”
To look at Metallica with a modern lens is more difficult than one would surmise. This is the band that gave the world songs such as “Master of Puppets” and “Enter Sandman” and completely changed the landscape of heavy metal music with those tracks and albums, so anything that doesn’t live up to those staggering highs would be condemned as lesser as a result of an instant comparison. It is a struggle that plagues modern media, not just music, centered around a societal affinity and fascination for “the good old days,” a vice grip of nostalgia that tells its audiences that only the past can be glorified and be served as a replacement of an lesser present, and not even Metallica – as a construct – is immune to this issue at hand. Whether it’s a live concert for 40,000 people, a song on the radio at any given time, or even an insert into the biggest television show in the world in Stranger Things, audiences want what they want and what they want are the big songs from the past. So when it comes time to craft new music, what is the “correct” path to go down? In comparison to 2003’s critically polarizing St. Anger which saw the band presented in an unpolished sound with drop-C tuned guitar parts and those drums cobbled together in Pro Tools, the band’s current output has focused on reinterpreting their more traditional thrash metal stylings in line with their current stylings and presentation of the genre, as evident on both 2008’s Death Magnetic and 2016’s Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. And the same philosophy of musical styling is present on 72 Seasons, with some added accoutrements of their blues-rock ventures from 1996’s Load and 1997’s Reload in places, to give the listener a wide-encompassing view of what Metallica is, and who the band members are, heading into 2023 and beyond.
“Without darkness, there’s no light!”
What this album serves, in its grand scheme of things, is a twofold purpose: to continue crafting and creating to add to the legacy of Metallica, and also to serve as an introspective reconstruction of its frontman and lyricist who, after three years of touring in support of Hardwired, returned to a rehabilitation facility for recovery for the second time in 18 years (or, in this case, 72 seasons) and reemerged in a world changed forever in 2020. A different outlook on the world can change someone over time, be it through reasons all-encompassing or deeply personal. Only Hetfield knows whether his lyrics are rooted in fact or shielded for the purposes of intentional vagueness, but it is not difficult to find real connections in the words, be it from Hetfield or from the listener, especially on tracks such as “Too Far Gone?” and the closing track “Inamorata.” Hetfield’s vocal delivery continues to be exceptional in recent recordings, as is the case here, finding further ranges both low and high in the tracklist, coupled with his commanding rhythm guitar riffs with drummer Lars Ulrich’s marching backbeats to give the songs a true heartbeat. Bassist Robert Trujillo shines through with various compositional contributions, adding an extra layer to the pulsing beats and grooves on this album, and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett finds himself in a blues-filled comfort zone with his “improv-first” approach to solos, even if it may be a disappointment to long-tenured fans who miss the more arranged and structured solos from the likes of “One” and “Disposable Heroes.”
“Misery, she loves me… oh, oh, but I love her more…”
In terms of song structure, the 12-track package is presented as a fully overdriven metal album with virtually zero clean guitars; everything is turned up with heavy riffs abound in the tracklist. The album opener, “72 Seasons,” builds to a bombast of kinetic energy with galloping guitar chugs and an anthemic chorus, laying out the foundation for the album to stand upon. Its prior singles served as a ground-floor assessment of what the album had to offer, be it the initial teaser track “Lux Æterna” with its brisk and swift thrash throwback approach, along with the slower-paced and plotting “If Darkness Had a Son” and the power-chord fueled “Screaming Suicide” both giving a brief insight into the lyrical themes that would be on display. But only when the album released did the full onslaught of deep cuts rise up and elevate the album into a more gratifying listening experience: standout highlights include the build to release of “Sleepwalk My Life Away” and its opening drum and bass jungle groove, the dissonant chord passages of “Crown of Barbed Wire” with a Reload-era structure and a guitar solo reminiscent of “Slither” from said album, the dual harmony guitar work on “Room of Mirrors,” and the 11-minute closing track “Inamorata” with its compositional homages to Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy in its main riff (a C# minor structure being a rarity for Metallica) and its immaculate guitar interlude to serve as the centerpiece of the album.
“Am I too far gone to save? Help me make it through the day…”
Metallica in 2023 is not the same Metallica of the olden days, but that’s not to say Metallica has put their proverbial car in cruise control and have called it a day. Instead, think of Metallica as taking the scenic route in many cases, inviting those who want to listen to enjoy the ride as it plays out in its extended entirety. 77 minutes may be a long commitment for a listener, but given that this is the band’s sixth consecutive album to surpass the 70-minute mark it should be an expectation to get a long album with plenty of riffs to its name. You won’t get anything new from this album, but you’ll get the expected recipe that these four musicians have finessed and fine-tuned for decades. Metallica, with the release of 72 Seasons, knows who and what they are – the tenured and seasoned gods of thrash metal who are still looking for ways to learn and grow from their past to form a brighter future.
72 Seasons is available from Blackened Recordings on CD, vinyl, digital download, streaming services… and yes, even on cassette tape.