Review: Metallica – 72 Seasons

Artwork for Metallica's 2023 album 72 Seasons

Metallica walk a familiar line on their new album.

Angus Young, guitarist of the perennial hellraisers AC/DC, once described the band’s appeal by saying: “We’re a rock group. We’re noisy, rowdy, sensational and weird.”

Metallica are a rock group as well and at some point – probably around the time of 1991’s Black album – the mantle of world’s biggest passed from the Australian quartet to them.

It’s a role which even they would admit hasn’t always sat easily. Being of a different generation to their predecessors they’ve made different mistakes, from their widely panned Lou Reed collaboration Lulu, the hand gnawing psychodrama of fly-on-the-wall documentary Some Kind Of Monster, to curating the financially disastrous Orion Music festival.

Despite this, Metallica have prevailed. Part of it comes from having no natural predators (name an obvious successor, we’ll wait) but equally, to quote Hannibal Lecter quoting Marcus Aurelius, they’ve returned in recent outings to first principles.

That’s meant a few things, not least that, as has become the new/old normal, 72 Seasons is long. Really long. Clocking in at an almost CD (remember them?) busting seventy-seven minutes, the necessary commitment prompts an obvious inference: if you like Metallica, you’ll love this. And you’ll need to.

With experimentation as a thing largely over, it’s also musically as dense and punishing as anything in their post St. Anger canon, both anthracite and unrepentant.

Not an outfit renowned for nuance, the major change here is in singer James Hetfield’s lyrics which go deep into his personal experiences in recovery from addiction – as a bystander to the pandemic and also during adolescence.

The titular opening track confronts the latter, the title representing the elapsed time of a person’s first eighteen years, a span at the end of which for Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich encompassed Metallica’s formation in 1981.

From its very first moments there is absolutely no doubting as a listener exactly where you are as Hetfield’s gravel-filled bark and the blasted, side-questing riffs locate them at the centre of a familiar hurricane.

This is pretty much the recipe throughout, with minimal time or energy wasted on new excursions into previously tried stylistic dead ends.

On this solid ground Shadows Follow, Crown Of Barbed Wire and If Darkness Had A Son are regulation workouts that could’ve been cropped from a number of Metallica’s albums old or new, such is the drawback of entering a career’s fifth decade.

This might give rise to some familiar snark about being jammed in a creative rut, however despite the sense of chewiness there’s still more than enough to get heads nodding in time.

Without trying to sound too parochial, the most enjoyably playful of these vectors comes via Lux Æterna, on which the new wave of British Heavy Metal’s profound influence on Metallica’s sound is fessed up at a nostalgic thrash tempo. Elsewhere, the high camp of early Black Sabbath is felt all over the dry iced seven minutes of You Must Burn!.

There’s nothing wrong with long songs per se, especially if you have the gravity to keep paying them off, and the occasional misses – Too Far Gone?, Sleepwalk My Life Away – aren’t so because somebody forgot to hit fade.

To underline this, epic closer Inamorata’s sprawling jam drops into a groove somewhere between desert rock and Led Zep blues stomp, teleporting to a dimension in which time never lags.

AC/DC chose to never break anything they might have to fix later. On 72 seasons, their inheritors walk a fine line between the demands of their broad church’s many factions; it might not be weird, but it’s a noisy, rowdy howl all the same.

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