ALBUM REVIEW: Metallica – 72 Seasons


 

And so the Metallica riff machine rolls on! forty years after their debut album Kill Em All (1983) laid the blueprint for the Thrash Metal genre, they return with record number … well that’s kind of up for debate depending on how you view their discography, and whether you count live albums, covers album and erm collaborations. But 72 Seasons (Blackened Recordings Inc) is here, their latest artistic statement four decades into a career that has seen them rise from the US West Coast underground, to become the most successful Heavy Metal band of all time.

 

And the Metal community has been highly anticipating the release since the band unexpectedly dropped the first single ‘Lux Aeterna’, along with the striking yellow artwork that could accompany the music at the tail end of 2022. Since then Metallica have drip fed a further three singles including the title track, in a carefully calculated campaign, slowly building to their first album release since Hardwired … To Self-Destruct (Blackened Recordings) in 2016.

And 72 Seasons really picks up exactly where that record left off, acting as a real companion piece and perhaps rubber-stamping the modern Metallica sound, which is really made up of a little bit of everything they have done before. Playing it somewhat safe by not deviating too far from the formula on Hardwired, which was a relative success in both critical and fan appreciation, and building on the return to form they mustered with Death Magnetic (2008). Which was their first album with Bassist Robert Trujillo, and the record that brought them out of the hole they had dug for themselves after hitting rock bottom with the disastrous St. Anger (2003), which itself had followed their polarising era of Heavy/Alternative Rock with Load (1996) and Reload (1997), in which 50% of the material was incredible, but 50% was forgettable.

It currently seems in vogue for the legacy bands in Metal to look to the past, trying to recreate the magic of their early releases. Megadeth produced a particularly strong nod back to their eighties Thrash sound with 2022’s The Sick, The Dying … And The Dead (Universal Music), and Max Cavalera did something similar with Soulfly’s Totem (Nuclear Blast). And the retro Thrash-Punk sound of that first single had many thinking that perhaps Metallica were going to make a similar statement, especially with the album title symbolising the time period covering the first 18 years of life, and the period in the lives of James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich before they started the band, suggesting that the elder statesmen of Metal were perhaps in a reflective mood. However, the following single ‘Screaming Suicide’ showed more of a modern Groove orientated flavour, the huge fist-pumping chorus that followed with ‘If Darkness Had A Son’ was firmly in the Hardwired vein, while the title track itself dropping most recently could easily have been lifted from their Death Magnetic sessions.

And on to the rest of the record … ‘Shadows Follow’ shows that Metallica’s crunching riff factory seems to have a never-ending production line of intoxicating new music at its disposal, similar in sound and style again to their Hardwired material, which is pure unadulterated head nodding and toe-tapping Rock / Metal, however, you want to label it. ‘Sleepwalk My Life Away’ takes 72 Seasons in a slightly darker direction, dropping a riff that isn’t a million miles away from the iconic ‘Enter Sandman’, and the song could be considered somewhat of a companion piece with its theme of nightmares and dreaming. This is followed with ‘You Must Burn!’ keeping the record firmly in the era of The Black Album (1991), with its slow thudding ‘Sad But True’ style riff before the track gives way to an evil Black Sabbath-sounding breakdown, and some beautiful guitar work at the finale.

‘Crown Of Barbed Wire’ is another darker track with a stunning guitar hook that with its distinctive 90’s era groove sound, would have been in and among the finest heavier songs from the Load / Reload sessions,. On ‘Chasing Light’ there is another 1980s thrash vibe until the vocals come in and Hetfield tries something a little different, while for the first time, Trujillo’s backing vocals make the cut on a Metallica album, providing a memorable duel-chorus. Amazingly the bass-playing extraordinaire has now been with the band for 20 years, longer than Cliff Burton (RIP) and Jason Newsted combined, with his work flourishing throughout.

If any criticism can be directed at the release, it may be that at 77 minutes long the album, while unquestionably featuring some of the finest riffs of their modern era, may have benefitted from a little trimming of the fat. If one or two tracks had been left on the cutting room floor to bring it down to around 60-65 minutes, then it may have been all the better for it as a complete listening experience. By the time you hit ‘Too Far Gone’ it feels that this is one that maybe just doesn’t quite hit the heights of the earlier songs, and this is followed with the galloping ‘Room Of Mirrors’ seeming similarly ‘meh’, although it progresses into something a little stronger with a particular cool solo from Kirk Hammett. And it must be said that throughout the record, Hammett litters the music with some exhilarating guitar leads, still leaning heavily on the use of his Wah pedal to create a succession of sumptuous solos in his trademark style.

 

 

And the journey then ends with ‘Inamorata’, an epic 11-minute conclusion to 72 Seasons with a doomy intro and fencing duel leads from Hetfield and Hammet, eventually hitting with an amazing sounding Groove riff and Hetfield’s voice sounding at its absolute peak. The song exemplifies the crisp sound in production across the whole album, and again Hetfield tries something a little different with his vocals on the chorus, providing one of the catchiest hooks on the record. Hammett then abuses his Wah pedal once again, creating a stunning lead drenched in the Blues. Then the song drops into a soft, deep melodic section, which the band expertly build back up again, playing out with some first-class shredding and ending on an absolute high!

Lars Ulrich has gone on record by saying he feels Metallica have perhaps another ten years of touring left in them, and if that’s the case the band will have hit the 50-year career mark. By that reckoning, they have one maybe two albums left in them also. This means 72 Seasons arrives as they turn into the home straight of their final years, but proves there is still meaningful life left in the band. This isn’t an album put together by a nostalgic legacy act continuing to ply their trade well beyond its time, putting out crap new music for the sake of it. This is a record that means something to the band and features a number of great songs, a handful of which will easily slide into their new live set alongside the classics.

It’s not ground-breaking in terms of style, but Metallica have already been there and done that. That’s where they started, and as young men, they created the two best Thrash Metal records of all time in Ride The Lightning (1984) and Master Of Puppets (1986). This is now a band who have been at the top of the game for so long that they should be afforded the luxury of making the music they want to make. And they have also shown with this record launch campaign, the relevance that the “album” still has in 2023. They have created a buzz around the release like no other Metal or Hard Rock band can do, and it may not end up being the best record of the year, but it may well be the most important and biggest-selling physical release of the year.

72 Seasons has got people talking, be that positively or negatively about the modern style and relevance of the band today, a debate that has been endless since 1991. And at this point, they will always be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. But in all honesty, to hell with the haters, because 72 Seasons rocks, and Metallica may have just created their best album in 30 years.

 

Buy the album here:

https://amzn.to/3L42dZ2

 

8 / 10

ABSTRAKT_SOUL