Monstrously long it undoubtedly is, but it is also their most consistent work since the ‘Black Album’, and features some of their most creative work to date
Metallica’s influence on the heavy metal genre cannot be overstated. In fact, the four albums the band released in the 1980s have become the defining sound of heavy metal music, and their most commercially successful album – the self-titled ‘Black Album’ of 1991 – is one of the highest selling albums ever made. It’s not at all a stretch to call them the best heavy metal band since Black Sabbath, and one of the best bands of all time.
The core trio of James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett have outlived catastrophic tragedies (including the death of bassist Cliff Burton, whose influence and legacy is immeasurable), personal turmoil, addiction, critical derision, the Napster debacle and the whole St Anger era, and are now one of the longest-lived bands of any genre, anywhere in the world.
However, regardless of your attachment (or lack thereof) to that legendary early work, their subsequent output has been a mixed bag of commercial success, creative stagnation, and outright failure. Two of their albums – St Anger and the Lou Reed collaboration Lulu – are almost universally hated. Despite this, Metallica have managed to rebound from their missteps and find some measure of consistent success in more recent years with their newer material, and their continued relevance in modern pop culture is testament to the lasting power of their best work.
Since the announcement of 72 Seasons, the album has largely been met with cautious optimism by any interested onlookers – an outlook strengthened by the brutality of the singles they released in the run up to the album release proper. We’ve been here before, of course – the band front-loaded the release campaigns for their last two studio albums, Death Magnetic and Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, with the best songs available and were just about able to sustain themselves the course of a full album. Just. So it’s a great relief to say that 72 Seasons not only lives up to the promise of the singles, but exceeds it. In fact, it’s probably the most consistent Metallica album since the ‘Black Album’. Like all Metallica albums since Load, 72 Seasons is monstrously long – 77 minutes to be precise – but the bloated run time actually does it some favours, particularly as the band turn in some of their most creative work to date.
If Darkness Had A Son – the best song on the album – is one of the biggest beneficiaries. Its seven minutes are filled with so many different, perfectly executed ideas that you can see exactly why it took 20 years to finish (it was started during the St Anger session back in 2003). You might hear echoes of Killing Joke in the intro and Slipknot in the bridge, but you can’t miss the classic hallmarks of the Metallica sound being allowed room to stretch and breathe and grow. Hetfield’s lyrics are as bizarre and as catchy as ever; Ulrich’s drumming seems both diligently crafted and utterly improvised; and Hammett’s solos are spine-tingling. Newest member Rob Trujillo – now the longest-serving bass player the band have ever had – provides a rock solid foundation for all of the madness to spiral around above him, and where Burton might have galloped alongside the riffs or Jason Newsted might have coasted alongside the kick drum, Trujillo seems to dance around each of the other parts like he’s avoiding lava on the floor.
Lead single Lux Æterna is an old school thrash banger that’s deliberately reminiscent of their earliest work – Hetfield even slips in a lyrical wink to fans of their first album – that burns with a seemingly endless energy that belligerently ignores the band members’ advancing years. The relentless thrash assault of the title track, which opens the album, is both impressive and unsurprising. This is, after all, the band that have played Battery and Creeping Death hundreds of times. Hammett also launches into an incredible solo around the five minute mark. Remarkable stuff. Shadows Follow then drifts back into Modern Metallica territory, with its rubbery rhythms and meaty chugging. Hetfield takes some risks with his singing too – at times coming uncomfortably close to the tone and cadence used by David Draiman of Disturbed – but his lyrical wackiness remains intact.
The risks continue on Sleepwalk My Life Away, which opens with growling bass and metronomic drums before dropping into a Load-era groove. You Must Burn! (which looks like a title more likely to be used by Megadeth, ironically) slows the tempo even further, but amplifies the meatiness. If you were trying streamline the album, you could make a case for either or both being left off the record, especially as they both hover around the seven minute mark – but this is the kind of material that fans who got on board with the ‘Black Album’ will want to hear.
Mid-album standout Crown Of Barbed Wire is the most sinister-sounding thing they’ve done in a while, but the true surprise of the record’s second half is the closer: Inamorata. At over 11 minutes, it’s one of the longest songs in the Metallica catalogue, and one of the most creative things they’ve ever done. It opens sounding like High On Fire before wandering through an enchanted heavy metal forest. At various points it evokes Black Sabbath, Down, Baroness, Alice In Chains… but never Metallica. For the first time since St Anger, or maybe Lulu, the band sound like they’re trying something completely new. And it absolutely works.
There are drawbacks here, but none of them are new (the length, the lyrics, the wacky tempo changes) and the positives far outweigh them. One of the biggest criticisms of post-St Anger Metallica is that they sound like they’re making music they think will make fans happy, rather than following their own muse. 72 Seasons suggests that there’s room for both. Recommended, but only after you’ve heard all the others. That’s the best way to see how good this thing truly is.