The release of a new Metallica album is a huge event these days, the musical equivalent of a new Star Wars movie or the launch of a game-changing Apple product. With it comes anticipation and expectation from an often demanding fanbase, a chunk of whom perversely seem to relish the possibility of being disappointed.
The band’s 11th studio album won’t disappoint anyone but the most truculent Metalli-fan. 72 Seasons follows the road map drawn up 2008’s knotty Death Magnetic and 2016’s Hardwired… To Self-Destruct: titanium-plated modern metal fuelled by a relentless intent to be better, louder and sharper than anyone else.
Released at the end of 2022, stellar lead single Lux Aeterna was greeted like a long-lost son by the faithful. With its turbo-charged, old school thrash feel and NWOBHM-referencing lyrics (“Lightning the nation” indeed), it felt like a deliberate callback to the band’s 1983 debut Kill ’Em All, suggesting that 72 Seasons could find Metallica on a nostalgia trip through their own past.
In reality, it’s anything but. 72 Seasons is way denser than Lux Aeterna indicated. It’s an intense album, one that goes hard for virtually every second of its 77-minute running time. The jagged opening title track floors the accelerator from the off, James Hetfield machine-gunning out terse, vivid lyrics: ‘Wrath of man/Leaching through/Split in two.”
The furious Shadows Follow and Screaming Suicide belie the band’s years (Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich turn 60 this year; guitarist Kirk Hammett has already passed that milestone), while You Must Burn arrives like a juggernaut, riding in on a hulking groove that sounds like a bulked-out Sad But True.
That intensity is deepened by Hetfield’s lyrics. The singer has had his share of personal turbulence lately, from a “tune-up” in rehab to a divorce, and he’s seemingly uncorked a bottle of turmoil here. His lyrics, never exactly happy, are tormented and bleak. “So tight/This crown of barbed wire,” he snarls on Crown Of Barbed Wire. Elsewhere he’s even more blunt. “There is no light!” he yells desperately on Chasing Light.
72 Seasons isn’t an easy listen; it demands work. Ballads are absent and even big melodies are scarce, though that ensures they’re all the more striking when they do arrive. Jamming the slow-burning, 11-minute Inamorata on the end of an album that’s already passed the 60-minute is the work of a band seeing how far they can push things. Quite far, it turns out – Inamorata is one of the best songs on the album (it also ends with a much-needed chink of light lyrically).
The days of Metallica raising the bar with every new release are long gone. That’s someone else’s job these days. Metallica’s only concern is making the best Metallica album possible irrespective of what’s going on around them. On that score, 72 Seasons is a ringing success.
72 Seasons is out April 14 via Blackened. Metallica are the cover stars of the new issue of Classic Rock, out now. The global premiere of 72 Seasons is coming to cinemas on Thursday April 13. Visit metallica.film for details.