Metallicas 72 Seasons Is a Rager in the Bands Classic Style, Even if Lyrics Leave Anger Behind: Album Review

Since the group’s rabid four-album start, setting a ridiculously high bar for turning doom-metal and thrash-nihilism into wrenchingly emotional high art has been the blessing and curse of Metallica. “Kill ‘Em All” in 1983, the following year’s 1984’s “Ride the Lightning,” 1986’s “Master of Puppets” and 1988’s “…And Justice for All” blend into a single, crushing aesthetic achievement, an innovation akin to Stevie Wonder or David Bowie’s runs in the 1970s, where each recording was as breathlessly anticipated as it was thunderingly rewarding.

The new “72 Seasons” comes close to Metallica’s bone-crushing, skull-f%$3ng, ire-clinging peak, with more raging guitar solos courtesy of Kirk Hammett, if just a hint of the lyrical anger management by James Hetfield that we’ve heard since the therapy sessions contained in 2004’s “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” doc. 

As in 2016’s “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct,” but with more mournful melodies as its guide, Metallica 2023 — Hetfield, Hammett, Lars Ulrich, Robert Trujillo — reemerges energized without losing the forlorn freneticism of the new songs’ intent. Plus, there is a density, a snap and a crack to drummer Ulrich and bassist Trujillo’s rhythmic partnership that was sorely missing from the quartet’s 2016 album. The pulse of “72 Seasons,” though overly crisp at times when it comes to Ulrich’s drum sound, kicks you in the face and leaves a mark. 

Moving (mostly) with the rush and rapidity of a dozen Slayers, “72 Seasons” finds Hammett having the very best time, pouring gasoline onto his swift, concentrically circling bits of “Screaming Suicide,” and leaping from icy shredding to warm blues licks on his “If Darkness Had a Son” solo.

The one who is not having the same good time, intentionally, is Metallica’s vocalist and lyricist, a man remaking and remodeling himself ever since his inward looks via therapy and recovery. Putting forth a “Citizen Kane”-like mission statement for “72 Seasons” at the end of 2022, Hetfield wrote: “72 seasons. The first 18 years of our lives that form our true or false selves. The concept that we were told ‘who we are’ by our parents. A possible pigeonholing around what kind of personality we are. I think the most interesting part of this is the continued study of those core beliefs and how it affects our perception of the world today. Much of our adult experience is reenactment or reaction to these childhood experiences. Prisoners of childhood or breaking free of those bondages we carry.”

That doesn’t necessarily augur for a lot of fun, or anything close to the androgenic torpor of his and his band’s youth. Then again, who wants to stay 18 forever? Metallica fans that continue to mourn Hetfield’s loss of testosterone angst and unhealthy growling must allow the lyricist to grow up. “72 Seasons” is an adult record for adult ragers.

Cleaving to the intention of his mission statement, Hetfield rues “temptation” like a mantra on the thrashing “If Darkness Had a Son,” sings of “deep withdrawals” on “Chasing Light,” and looks forward one-day-at-a-time on “Too Far Gone?” with the knowingness of a guy who has seen too much and wants off the mat. This doesn’t mean that Hetfield is unwilling to bang heads, hard, as with the riff-thick “Lux Æterna’s” plea to go “full speed or nothing,” or the title track, with its description of “feeding on the wrath of man.”

However, it’s when Hetfield pragmatically approaches the reality of being unable to walk away from all of his demons that he is at his finest, on songs such as “Shadows Follow,” where he writes, “Now I know if I run / Shadows still follow.”

The criticisms: Yes, many of “72 Seasons’” songs are overlong and lacking in the dynamics to warrant their length, a thing that has plagued Metallica for a minute. Lars’ drums are occasionally too sniper-precise, also a thing that has plagued Metallica for a minute. On occasion, Hetfield can sound preachy and rhyme dumbly… a thing that has plagued Metallica for a minute. Just thank God that Metallica got over and away from its 1990s and 2000-era doldrums where they sadly leaned into everything from Southern rock to smooth U2-Eno-like ambience.

While we have often heard the phrase “return to former glory” when it comes to new Metallica albums before (a la 2003’s “Death Magnetic”), “72 Seasons,” more often than not, comes closest to the rush and rage of the band’s 1980s best with the added benefit of wisened adulthood as its great and guiding principle.

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