Album Title: 72 Seasons
Label: Blackened Recordings
Date of Release: 14 April 2023
Just about every rock or metal fan on the planet has an opinion about Metallica. It’s the price you pay for being one of the biggest bands on the planet, I suppose. Does the world, therefore, need yet another review of their latest album? That was the question I asked myself as the release date for ’72 Seasons’ drew ever nearer. Not being a website, or media outlet of sufficient gravitas, I was never going to get a promo, so I waited until the release date and dived in, agreeing with myself that I’d give it a couple of spins before deciding whether a review was worth it or not.
Well, I say that I dived in, but that might give you the wrong impression. More accurately, I pressed play with a little apprehension. Just like everyone else, I have my firm opinions about the Bay Area behemoth that’s Metallica. And, for context’s sake, this is it: I ‘discovered’ Metallica through their 1991 ‘Black’ album as a teenager. I don’t mind admitting that I loved it. Aside from the fact that it’s been overplayed – well, some songs have – I still do love it for being a gateway further into the world of metal. It will hold a special place in my heart as long as I live. As I got more into heavy metal, however, the more I began to like their earlier material. ‘Ride The Lightning’, ‘Master Of Puppets’, and ‘…And Justice For All’ are the holy Metallica trinity for me. I’m almost certainly not alone there.
That’s not to say that I turned my nose up at other records within their discography though. I rather enjoy large parts of ‘Load’, and some aspects of ‘Reload’. ‘St Anger’ I disliked intensely, primarily because I simply couldn’t get past the snare drum sound and zero guitar solos. I also take offence at being branded ‘ignorant’ at the hands of drummer Lars Ulrich for being one of those that hated ‘Lulu’. I’m not ignorant and, had that record been better, I’d have said so. But it wasn’t. Little snippets perhaps, and maybe some kudos to the band for trying something different, but the whole album was not a success whichever way you look at it. Later albums have been hit and miss too, with my biggest criticism being that they feel to me a little too one-dimensional. All chug and no real finesse. And a lack of one ingredient that’s key for me: melody. It was there in the early days, so why not now?
So now you know where I stand before I make any comments about album number eleven, ’72 Seasons’. The fact that I’m writing this must give you a clue that it doesn’t stink, and you’d be correct on that score. It’s also worth noting that I have not read a single review of the album elsewhere, as I wanted to be unburdened by the opinion of others.
Having given it what I believe to be a fair crack of the whip, and having actually bought a copy with my own money, I have to say that it’s not bad. It might be their best studio release since the early 90s in fact. Yes, yes, I know that this is arguably damning the album with faint praise given the preamble and context above, but nevertheless, when you consider Metallica have been releasing albums for four decades and they’re all pushing sixty years of age, I think they deserve some credit for ’72 Seasons’.
That said, bear with me as I deal with the negatives first. To begin with, it’s too long. The hype sticker on the CD states: “42 years of Metallica in over 77 minutes”. That’s not a positive, that’s a negative, when you consider there are twelve tracks on the album. Like many bands who achieved mega-stardom, Metallica need someone to edit them. Desperately. If I’m being honest, ’72 Seasons’ would be a decent 45-minute album. As it is, for all the positives, it is bloated, and excessively long.
Inextricably linked to this, is the fact that there’s too much unnecessary ‘chug, chug, chug’ within many of the songs. Even the good tracks suffer a little bit with this in my opinion. Not only does it make some of the music feel too one-dimensional, but it also means that too much of the music hovers around that mid-tempo stomp; a little more variety would go a long way I’d venture. Whilst not everyone would want such a thing, the fact that there’s no ballad or genuinely soaring epic worthy of a longer lifespan means that my listening pleasure suffers from the sameness of the material. It also doesn’t help that there is a definite ‘stripped back’ feel to everything too, with a real lack of an absolutely killer riff or two, or addictive melodies – this just adds to that feeling of similarity across the record.
But hey, let’s switch now to the positives, because I enjoy that far more than being negative.
First of all, the production, an Achilles heel of latter-day Metallica, isn’t bad. It has a clarity, punch, and an organic warmth to it that keeps me interested rather than irritated. Lars’ drums sound as good as they have ever done, the guitars have all the muscularity that they need to work their charms, and the bass of Robert Trujillo is audible and commanding as it should be.
Then there’s the vocals. James’ singing is better, sounding more rejuvenated and enthusiastic than they have for a long time. It really comes across that he’s enjoying himself behind the microphone again. Added to this, his lyrics have an honesty and poignancy to them that must be applauded. Rather than shying away from his struggles, he tackles them head-on and litters the album with personal experiences, creating an authentic, gritty listening experience.
Moving to the songs themselves, and the album kicks off with the biggest bang that they have mustered in many a year. The title track, like most, is too lengthy, but it features some of the fastest material on the album, music that does genuinely contain echoes of their thrash metal roots. Guitar harmonies, unless I’m very much mistaken, also make an appearance. The real winner here though, are the riffs that have genuinely caught my imagination, and the sense of renewed energy, enjoyment, and enthusiasm that courses through the entire band.
Fans of Diamond Head will no doubt enjoy ‘Lux Æterna’, and it is good fun, if indeed not one of my personal favourites. On that score, I have to point to songs like ‘Too Far Gone?’ and ‘Room Of Mirrors’, a really positive one-two near the end of the album. ‘Too Far Gone?’ reintroduces a bit more pace and verges on a thrash track, although there’s as strong ‘Black’ album feel to certain parts. But the vocals are great and woah, there’s a bona fide melody, carved out through a combination of vocals and guitars. It might not last long, but it is there, and it fills me with a sense of happiness that I can’t fully articulate. Dual guitar harmonies on top of some pretty decent guitar licks and solos too? Oh, this is just too much – be still my beating heart. This is the Metallica that I, personally, have missed – the three-dimensional, engaging Metallica.
‘Room Of Mirrors’ follows and after an intro complete with fleeting echoes of bands like Rush (I can’t be the only one to hear it, surely?), it bounds along with more of that undeniable energy that I referenced elsewhere. And, just when I think that it’s a bit of a so-so filler track, offering much of the same, in comes an effervescent lead guitar solo and later, a vibrant lead guitar melody and more layered guitar harmonies. In something of a trend, I want this part to last longer and play a bigger role, but I am content to hear what I hear and enjoy it for what it is. The drumming at the death is positively thunderous as well.
The final song, ‘Inamorata’ is unbelievably bloated at over eleven minutes in length, but it’s hard to deny the doom-like churning stomp of the intro that calls to mind the lumbering hulk of ‘Outlaw Torn’ from ‘Load’, and the extended lead guitar solos that dominate a huge portion of the behemoth. It should have been cut to four or five minutes, though. Then there’s ‘You Must Burn!’ which draws inspiration from some of the more stomping tracks from the self-titled ‘Black’ album, as well as a smidgen of ‘Harvester Of Sorrow’ which I find myself enjoying quite a lot. The fact that you can hear the bass, is a big positive, given its relative absence on ‘…And Justice For All’.
The other track that I have fallen for is ‘If Darkness Had a Son’. Here, the chugging, stomping riffs are thoroughly infectious, as is the chorus that is really catchy and surprisingly addictive. The lead solos are satisfying, and I can’t help getting caught up in the enormously groovy nature of the song. It’s undeniably fun and enjoyable.
Some of the other tracks I’m less keen on, such as ‘Crown Of Barbed Wire’ or the more bluesy ‘Sleepwalk My Life Away’, the latter of the two feeling like it goes on forever with no end. However, when all is said and done, I realise that I have already listened to ’72 Seasons’ more than I have ever listened to ‘Death Magnetic’, ‘St Anger’ or ‘Hardwired…To Self Destruct’, and we’re less than a week past the release date. I actually look forward to hearing a good number of these songs on a reasonably frequent basis which, again, is a first for some considerable time. Were ’72 Seasons’ a 45-minute blast of hard rock/metal, and were it a debut release from a new name, I might be going a lot more nuts over this release. Again, it’s the curse of being such a huge band, but it’s true. Regardless, ’72 Seasons’ is a more-than-solid release, and the best in many a year from the institution that’s Metallica.
The Score of Much Metal: 70%