After 40 years of releases and decades of being at the top of the mountain, each new Metallica release has too much baggage and too many expectations attached the moment one’s announced. Such was the case when 72 Seasons, their 12th studio effort, came out of nowhere last November. As soon as details surfaced and “Lux Æterna” hit the airwaves, fans still spurned by St. Anger and Lulu had their verbal slings at the ready to tear it all down.
Yet where Death Magnetic saw something of a return to form and Hardwired…To Self Destruct proved to be an inconsistent attempt at recapturing their old sound, 72 Seasons actually manages to deliver something new while building on their past. Only this time they seemingly didn’t try to draw inspiration solely from their long haired, “Metal Up Your Ass” days. No, this record is the result of a wiser, older Metallica that’s laser focused on what they want to accomplish — and they do it with an overarching sense of gloominess and at times a touch of swagger and grit from their Load and ReLoad days.
When you listen to songs like “You Must Burn!” and “Sleepwalk My Life Away,” you’ll sometimes hear bits and pieces that would have fit in their 90s era. For example, there’s a part at about 4:04 in “You Must Burn!” that features vocal harmonies that sound lifted directly from the section of “Where The Wild Things Are” that starts around 4:38. then there’s “Crown of Barbed Wire,” which you can’t tell me wouldn’t fit in either of those 90s releases. To me, it’s just got that swirling, dark vibe that the band was going for at that time.
As a long-suffering proponent of those records, I can honestly say that 72 Seasons is not just Re-ReLoad: The ReLoadening or something. This album’s got plenty of moments that older fans of the band are sure to enjoy. Two of the album’s singles “Lux Æterna” and “Screaming Suicide” are practically a love letter to the band’s more thrashy/punky youth, albeit tempered by the flames of longevity. But what stands out to me is the fact that they made a brand new record that looks back on their legacy while continuing down the path their last two albums set.
When it comes to the playing on this album, I should mention right from the rip that it’s impossible to not have riffs to bang your head to when you’ve got James Hetfield’s right hand in the mix. Songs like “Too Far Gone?” and “Shadows Follow” feature the kind of driving, chugging guitar work and thumping rhythms that have become a Metallica staple over the years. This album is full of tracks that are going to sound absolutely fucking massive during their upcoming world tour.
It should also be said that James sounds the best he has in years. Much of the focus on this album has been its more introspective and vulnerable lyrical content, and that’s all there. But what drives those lyrics to gain any sort of emotion is Hetfield’s delivery. The high notes he hits in “Chasing Light” are a revelation, yet he’s still got a bit of a croon at certain points. This version of Hetfield has had some of the snarl and bite returned to his delivery, which sounds incredible as he’s going to be 60 this August.
Bassist Rob Trujillo got a little extra love in this one as well, not only getting a backing vocals spot in “You Must Burn!,” but also in how his bass sounds in the mix. 72 Seasons features a lot of Trujillo’s playing near the front, especially in songs like “Sleepwalk My Life Away” and the Black Sabbath-esque “Inamorata.” Coming from a band that’s been notorious for leaving their four-stringers drowned out in a sea of guitars and drums, it’s always great to hear someone of Rob’s caliber getting his due in the final product.
As for Lars’ drumming on this record, it remains solid as ever. Say what you will about his capabilities behind the kit, but he remains one of the more consistent drummers out there for better or worse. Sure, he’s nowhere near as proggy as his …And Justice For All days, but that sort of thing wouldn’t work with this iteration of Metallica. Love it or hate it, his playing is exactly what this record and this band needs at this time and 72 Seasons moves as well as it does because of that., with the former providing the backbone to each track with the sort of Lars-isms you’ve come to expect.
As for Kirk’s lead guitar, there’s plenty of wah so get those jokes out of your system now. But whereas his old output was measured and technically proficient in an almost “check this shit out” kind of way, his contributions on 72 Seasons seem to be written in direct service of the song. Nothing stands out too much, nor did anything really melt my face off. His playing is good, but I didn’t really catch anything that stood out, either.
Ultimately, I think the lead up to this album was a bit deceptive. If you try to imagine what this album is solely based on the singles, you’ll be surprised at the final result. While “Lux Æterna” is a cool track, it sounds more like a Hardwired B-side and it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the tracks on offer here. I’m not gonna complain about having it on the record, but it’s just a bit jarring given how groovy and plodding some of the other songs can be.
Which brings me to my other major gripe with 72 Seasons: these songs are so…fucking…long. Of the 12 songs on offer, only one is in the three minute mark, and it’s “Lux Æterna.” The next shortest song is “Too Far Gone?” at 4:34. Some of the beefier songs that land on the opposite side of six minutes feel like they could have had a bit of fat trimmed here and there to create a leaner song. There were a handful of times that I’d found myself losing focus somewhat as songs looped back around on themselves in a case of self-indulgence.
The only exception to the “songs are too long” complaint is “Inamorata.” As I said before, it feels like a Sabbath song infused with a little bit of that ReLoad grit. Yet while some of the album’s longer tracks feel a little bloated, this one’s got enough going on where its 11 minute length managed to keep me engaged throughout.
All in all, 72 Seasons is as bear of a record. It’s a love letter to its past while looking forward. Once it’s out there in the wild tomorrow, I’m sure there will be tons of people willing to shit all over it and that’s fine. No one hates Metallica more than Metallica fans.
Yet as I listened to it from front to back, all I could hear in 72 Seasons was a band that’s gone through adversity, deals with their demons on the regular, and knows what it wants out of the twilight years of its career. Does 72 Seasons have its flaws? Yes. Is it still a good Metallica album on its own right? Absolutely.
Metallica’s 72 Seasons will be released tomorrow, April 14 via Blackened Recordings.
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