Metallica’s 72 Seasons Is a Monument to an Illustrious Career: Review

The thrash legends embrace their legacy as metal masters on their new studio album

Metallica, photo by Tim Saccenti

    Few bands face higher expectations from their own fanbase than Metallica. One could argue it comes with the territory of being one of the most popular long-running musical acts in the world. Perhaps consumer entitlement has set in: “We’ve been invested for decades, so give us what we want.”

    Whatever the case, the Metallica faithful can be downright harsh — the backlash targeted at the Lou Reed collab album Lulu or even 2003’s St. Anger have been prime examples. Even bassist Robert Trujillo admitted that the fans can be a bit opinionated.

    “They’re the best fans in the world, in my opinion,” he told Consequence in our recent cover story interview. “But they love us so much that they get pissed off at us when we try different things.”


    Much of that tumult has calmed in recent years after Metallica steered their artistic direction away from the alternative metal sound that culminated with St. Anger and returned to playing the good ol’ fashioned thrash metal they helped pioneer. This could be heard on 2016’s Hardwired… to Self-Destruct — the rawest bash-it-out thrash from Metallica since the ’80s. There was a “return to the garage” air about the recordings that was refreshing after the somewhat over-cooked production and arrangements on St. Anger and Death Magnetic.

    As the years passed following the release of Hardwired, anticipation began to build for its follow-up — and with it, questions of what a new album would sound like. Looking toward setlists of prominent concerts that happened in the meantime — the S&M2 performances, for example — Metallica were leaning heavily on the songs of their past and particularly those from their legendary run of albums beginning with Kill ‘Em All through “The Black Album.” In other words, the classics.

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    Imagine Metallica writing an album after endlessly rehearsing songs like “The Four Horsemen,” “Creeping Death,” and “Wherever I May Roam” and then you’ll have a solid context for 72 Seasons, their new studio album. To answer the previous question, they stay firmly in their thrash-metal wheelhouse, building off what worked best on Hardwired: long songs with copious riffs. Again the LP hits 77 minutes in duration, with seven of the 11 tracks clocking in at over six minutes.


    The opening title track sets the tone both sonically and thematically, as groovy palm-muted chugs lock into Lars Ulrich’s uptempo pocket. James Hetfield sings with a slight drawl and in a higher register — as he does for much of the album — giving him control over subtle melodies during verses and a soaring delivery during the chorus ascent. Lyrically, the song introduces the loose concept of reflection, nostalgia, and growth running throughout the LP.

    The premise befits an album that often sees Metallica drawing from the music of their past without aping themselves in the process. Here is a band that’s changed identities often, having reached a point of enlightenment in its career where it can clearly discern what worked and what didn’t. The multi-faceted “If Darkness Had a Son” best encapsulates this, as it spans disparate eras of Metallica’s catalog in one song.

    Opening with a snare roll from Ulrich and Hetfield’s tension-building repetition of the word “temptation,” the track pulls from all over Metallica’s extensive repertoire: the alt-metal of Load/Reload creeps into the power-chord dominant verses, while the mid-song instrumental drop and emphasis on dynamics call back to the prog-tinged structures of “One” and Hardwired highlight “Spit Out the Bone.” Other apparent callbacks on 72 Seasons include the central riff on “Screaming Suicide,” which has a Kill ‘Em All compactness; or the head-nodding rhythm of “You Must Burn!” that’s reminiscent of vaunted …And Justice for All deep cut “Harvester of Sorrow.” For the learned Metallica fan who can spot these sonic easter eggs, 72 Seasons is a constantly rewarding listen.


    Meanwhile, strong performances render each song in its best light — especially the vocals of James Hetfield. His singing is as clean and confident as ever, giving him the ability to interweave melodic hooks around riffs and make his lyrics cut through the mix. The personal ruminations on “Room of Mirrors” and touching semi-acoustic dropout on closer “Inamorata” best illustrate this command of vocal and the added emotional weight of his words. It also begs the question of whether Hetfield would ever release a solo singer-songwriter album, as he’s in fine form during his handful of spotlight moments on 72 Seasons.

    The rest of the band is damn near automatic. Ulrich and Trujillo keep a tight pocket for Kirk Hammett’s tapestry of riffs, which culls from the guitarist’s vast lexicon of vintage NWOBHM (“Shadows Fall”), bluesy rock (“Sleepwalk My Life Away”), and full-bore thrash (“Lux Æterna”; “Chasing Light”). That sense of variation — and Ulrich’s ability to guide transitions via drum fills — gives a cohesive flow to the tracklist (the repetitive “Crown of Barbed Wire” being the only mild disruption).

    There’s a level of self-editing and consistency that slots 72 Seasons ahead of St. Anger, Hardwired, and Death Magnetic as, if not the best Metallica album of the 21st century, the best thrash album by Metallica of the 21st century. It’s the sound of a band having fun, laying into a ton of riffs and embracing its own legacy as metal masters.


    Every era of Metallica is represented on 72 Seasons, but in an honest, almost subconscious way that inherently steers the band back toward its roots. For the hardcore fan, it reflects an illustrious body of work and warrants the obligatory obsessive analysis. Yet, the album also achieves that patently Metallica effect, in that it could also serve as a perfect introduction to heavy metal for the uninitiated.

    Essential Tracks: “72 Seasons,” “You Must Burn!,” and “If Darkness Had a Son”

    72 Seasons Artwork:

    72 Seasons Metallica Artwork