Metallica released a new album, “72 Seasons,” nearly seven years after their last album “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct.” The band commemorated “72 Seasons” by premiering the album as a visual listening experience in cinemas worldwide the night before release on Friday, April 14, featuring behind-the-scenes explanations of each song from the band members.
The title of the album represents the first 18 years of one’s life, in which they develop the core beliefs and experiences that inform their personality. These core elements internalized in the first 72 seasons will either be traumatizing or enriching, and thus shunned or embraced. “72 Seasons” is almost entirely concerned with grappling with those early experiences, and it’s heavily present in vocalist and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield’s lyrical themes. While Hetfield’s childhood is peppered throughout Metallica’s discography, it is really put on display here.
Although Metallica are pulling from the past for the lyrics, musically they’re still in the 21st century. Over 40 years into their career, it would be unrealistic to expect material from Metallica that is on par with their classic thrash albums of the ‘80s. But the band proved they could still bring the heat with the first single “Lux Æterna,” and it gave me hope that this album could mark the beginning of a new era. However, it seems that “Lux Æterna” was an anomaly. It is the only song under four minutes on “72 Seasons,” a problem which plagues the album from the very beginning.
When the opening title track kicks in there is so much promise. It’s reminiscent of “Spit Out the Bone,” the closing song on their last album. Both of those songs hover around the seven-minute mark, but for “72 Seasons” it would have been much better suited for the three-minute treatment of “Lux Æterna.” In order for something to pack a punch, it has to be a short burst of energy. Regardless, “72 Seasons” has some of the strongest riffs on the record and features a really cool, heavy pre-chorus. It’s also a memorable track and instantly recognizable from its opening saw blade riff.
The catchiness of the song “72 Seasons” is a factor that elevates a few other songs on this album. If there’s one thing that Hetfield has mastered, it’s creating riffs that never leave your head paired with vocal melodies that are simple yet impactful. The quality of his voice seems to only have improved as well. The choruses of “Sleepwalk My Life Away” and “If Darkness Had a Son” demonstrate both the strength and sing-along quality that is a major thread throughout the vocal style of “72 Seasons.”
Metallica pulled out some intriguing melodies on this record. The second to last song “Room of Mirrors” has the potential to get buried, but my ears perked up at the downturn of the verse melody, which is one of the smoothest moments on the album. In contrast, it’s got a wonderfully choppy chorus. The triumphant elongation of the last syllable of the line “set me free” followed by double bass kicks is a standout example of the dichotomy between the vocals and instruments. But it’s the darkest song, “Crown of Barbed Wire,” which takes the “crown” for best melody on “72 Seasons.” It’s very dark, and Hetfield’s voice breaking through the hypnotic riff — “So tight this crown of barbed wire / Its destiny I wear” — is a striking moment.
The most well-rounded song outside of “Lux Æterna” is “Screaming Suicide,” which was also released as a single. Here we see the best elements of this album showcased: exceptional vocals accentuated by heavy yet upbeat riffs that push the song forward. There’s also a short section of spoken word in the bridge, reminiscent of the werewolf narration from “Of Wolf and Man.” I have a feeling this one will go over well live and be one of the new songs they play most often.
For all that I said about the songs on “72 Seasons” being longer than necessary, ironically it is the 11-minute closer “Inamorata,” that is the jewel of the album. When drummer Lars Ulrich introduced “Inamorata” as the longest Metallica song ever written during the premiere film I inwardly groaned. But I was so captivated by the music that the song felt half as long. Bassist Robert Trujillo shared in the film that he had taken special care when crafting the gentle bass break. It’s certainly the crux of the song, and I wish Trujillo had gotten more chances to shine on his own on “72 Seasons.” “Inamorata” doesn’t overcomplicate things to fill the time, rather it takes its poignant refrain — “Misery / She fills me / But she’s not what I’m living for” — and lets the main melody evolve with the flow.
As a whole package, this album is difficult to digest because many of the songs overstay their welcome. Yet, “72 Seasons” contains some of the best writing from Metallica in recent memory. If these tracks were truncated to highlight those highs and leave out the lows, “72 Seasons” would be a much stronger record. In its current form, it’s just a solid heavy metal album that met realistic expectations, but there is certainly something to be said for the fact that Metallica still has muscle to flex. As a band who has always made touring central to their operation, the best part about a new album cycle is a new touring cycle. I’m sure that by witnessing these songs played live in August at MetLife Stadium, their dormant power will be awoken.
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