METALLICA - 72 Seasons

April 12, 2023, a year ago

(Blackened Recordings)

By Jonathan Smith

Rating: 7.5

review heavy metal metallica

METALLICA - 72 Seasons

Metallica is a name that has become synonymous with ubiquity, smashing down the cultural and commercial boundaries surrounding metal music, and achieving the status of a universal phenomenon. Through their more than 40 year career they’ve embodied that all too American ideal of chasing one’s dreams and actually catching up with them, going from the gritty venues of the early ‘80s U.S. heavy metal underground to selling out arenas normally reserved for the most prominent of pop stars, to speak nothing for the impressive cumulative Billboard numbers their studio work has garnered since their early 90s breakthrough and eponymous opus dubbed The Black Album. But as the famous quote from the film Conan The Barbarian goes, “Success can test one’s mettle as surely as the strongest adversary”, and even as early as their seminal 1984 sophomore LP Ride The Lightning, there have been grumblings among their core fan base that Metallica’s stylist evolution has been inorganic and touched primarily by overly commercial motivations.

The meteoric rise of any icon naturally comes with an often dramatic and dark back story, and 12th studio album and 77- minute slough 72 Seasons can be best understood as a lyrical confession of vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield. The name itself refers to the seasonal measurement of 18 years, and the 12 songs that unfold from the accompanying subject of a tumultuous youth reflect the sentiments of a man that has seen much and puts forth an impassioned and highly dynamic vocal performance to underscore the fact. Indeed, between that newly rediscovered edge that Hetfield exhibited in 2016’s Hardwired…To Self-Destruct and the heightened vitality that has no doubt come with his recent sobriety; the vocal display that comes along with this album proves to be the most powerful and indicative of classic Metallica since The Black Album made them a household name. One might even go so far as to say that James takes full ownership of this album and all but turns it into a solo effort that may as well bear his own name on the cover.

Yet while the voice at the helm of this extended sonic endeavor brings a highly varied and dynamic element into things that often borders on fan service, the instrumental foundation upon which it stands turns in a more mixed showing. Despite the continual insistence of this quartet of veteran metal trustees that this would be geared towards the seminal ‘80s sound that their fan base has been clamoring for, 72 Seasons often finds itself mired in the malaise of meandering mid-paced jam material that seeped into their songwriting template during their ‘90s days of moonlighting as alternative rock trend-hoppers. It doesn’t manifest so much in a sound that is sloppy and lacking in cohesion or punch, as between the booming quality of Lars’ kit work and the rock-solid wall built by the bass and guitars, the resulting sound is unmistakably metallic. Instead, much of what rounds out this medley of dark and brooding anthems are songs that are built off of repetition and generally rest in mid-tempo land, often arranged in a bare fashion that avoids the rich harmonic, almost symphonic choir of guitars that gave the longer material on Master Of Puppets and …And Justice For All their charm. When combined with a mix that has the cymbals too prominent and the vocals sounding just a tad too distant, the notion that this is a full on return to the glory days becomes difficult to defend.

Be all this as it may, what Metallica has put forth here is far from a dud, and apart from the eyesore of an album art that proves all too typical for what this band has opted to slap on every album since “Load,” the qualitative aspects of this LP are less bleak than its lyrics. The bass performance turned in by 4-string surgeon Robert Trujillo sees a lot more sunlight than his two prior studio showings with the band, bringing a gritty, Motörhead-like edge to the fast-paced opener and title song “72 Seasons” and the thudding groove of “Sleepwalk My Life Away”, and injecting a Geezer Butler-like sense of free-moving adventurism into the sludge-infused and clear Black Sabbath homage of the album closer “Inamorata”. 

Hetfield’s chunky riff work proves particularly on point during the kinetic and streamlined thrashers “Lux Aeterna” and “Too Far Gone”, dredging up memories of his 40 years old early masterworks in “Hit the Lights” and “No Remorse” respectively, while some interesting melodic interplay during mid-paced bangers like “If Darkness Had a Son” and “Room Of Mirrors” occasionally hearken back to Metallica’s mid to late ‘80s creative zenith. But instrumentally speaking, the star of the show actually proves to be lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, whose solos consistently function as high points of each song by turning back the clock to his bluesy shredding days circa 1988-1991 with a bit more of a loose, occasionally improvisatory character that would make Ritchie Blackmore proud.

With every element wholly considered, Metallic has put together something here that is sure to sit well with the vast majority of their established fan base. It’s far from a perfect outing, resting somewhere in between the newfound metallic fervor of Hardwired…To Self-Destruct and the stylistically mixed up yet still largely metallic (and poorly produced) Death Magnetic, and will likely be received as a corresponding exercise in straddling the fence between Metallica’s hardcore metal faithful and the various fans they recruited after abandoning the former during the ‘90s. 

On purely artistic grounds, it’s a vivid and highly intricate work that would probably have been better served by either a more streamlined collection of songs or a full commitment to revisiting their ‘80s style, but even in its modern auditory packaging this is a decent showing from a historically significant force in metal’s history that thankfully sees some further distance being put from where the Metallica brand was at the height of the grunge and nu-metal crazes. Don’t expect a career-defining masterpiece or a long-awaited sequel to former glories that rags like Rolling Stone are hailing this as being, but expect an album that gets the job done and has more than a few interesting twists and turns along the way.

Verdict Summary: Metal figurehead and thrash pioneers Metallica emerge from another extended studio hiatus to deliver a varied, nostalgic and extended auditory slough, doubling as a latter day reminisce of frontman James Hetfield’s past.

Pre-order the new album in multiple configurations here.

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