Gather ‘round brethren, for after seven years, it is once again time for a new Metallica record! Does that mean it is time for another “Drew Celestino Metallica Retrospective Article Disguised As A Review?” Reader, you know it is. I’m not here to just tell you “song is good, makes head bang.” Your ears can tell you that. That’s not why we’re here. That’s not why Mike asks me to do these Metallica reviews. I’m a fan. I’ve been a fan for the majority of my life at this point. I have a long memory. I’ve got takes about takes about takes about this band. They suck up so much oxygen in the metal world because they are still the biggest band to ever do it, whether you like it or not. And at this stage of their career, any new release is a momentous occasion for many reasons, and we may not have many of these moments left. So without further ado, let’s get into THE DISCOURSETM.
A new Metallica album is going to mean very different things to many different people. This is a band who has existed for more than forty years (est. 1981), with a fanbase that literally spans generations, each with their own narratives, origin stories, jumping on points, as well as jumping off points. And each with their own set of expectations. Now, expectations are a wild thing. But if you go into a Metallica record in 2023 expecting them to sound like they did in 1986, well, I have some bad news for you. Not about the record, but about, well, YOU and your worldview. If you think Metallica is going to make the same music in 2023 that they did in 1986, you may also think that Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas could take the field today and win an AFC title. If you truly think that way, seek help, because I question your grasp on reality. For these oldheads, perhaps this is another chance for you to point out that Metallica sold out an eternity ago and haven’t released anything of value since Cliff died (or maybe since “Kill ‘Em All,” since “Fade To Black” dared to have an acoustic guitar on it). Lord knows the public needs to be told that. It surely hasn’t been said before, and verily, you are a true elder sage for sharing that Sacred Knowledge with all of us. Brave, truly. A statue should be built in your honor (insert Dennis Nedry “this guy hates Metallica, see nobody cares” meme here). Still for others, this might be your very first “new” Metallica record experience. You might know the back catalog intimately, and there is finally a new one coming that you can call your own! Before release, it’s a blank canvas on which you can paint your hopes and dreams of epic riffage and heavy metal onslaught! I remember that feeling. Then “Load” came out and I had to rethink and reframe a lot of those hopes and dreams that I had projected as a 14 year old budding metalhead. I also had to spend the next 27 years (insert Matt Damon aging GIF here) arguing with the Metal Police about every nuance of Metallica’s existence from that point forward (that Matt Damon GIF needs to age even harder to accurately demonstrate the toll this has taken on me). No matter where you’re coming from though, what I’d say is that what you might get out of this has a lot to do with what you bring with you (insert “Yoda telling Luke what’s in that cave on Dagobah” quote here).
So Metallica is back, somehow more visible than ever after all this time, dropping a new album called “72 Seasons.” If you are bad at math, that equates to 18 years, and in this case, the first 18 years of life that shape and define your life thereafter. At least that’s the concept Metallica is running with. Given that this band was formed right around James Hetfield’s 18th birthday, and that he had a pretty rough and awkward upbringing, and that being in a band from that age forward likely brings with it a brutal case of arrested development and sheltered worldview (despite seeing the world for a living, ironically), it’s not the most surprising thing in the world that now nearing his 60th birthday, James Hetfield is really taking stock of his life. Now if you’ve casually followed his personal life over the course of his career, you might think that that arrested development was corrected after his rehab stint in the early-2000s, and that his family life was repaired, and that he loved nothing more than being a husband and father, balancing that with his work life as the frontman and anchor of Metallica. That’s been the status quo for almost 20 years now, and James has certainly seemed in great spirits. But despite being a very public figure, the truth is that we don’t know the “real” James Hetfield. In 2019, after a tremendous pair of performances at S&M2 in San Francisco, James re-entered rehab. This came out of nowhere and sent waves of concern through the Metallica community. Again, James had been “ok” for so long. What happened? Is he OK? Will he be OK? Will Metallica be ok? Well, as it turns out, the answer was mostly “yes.” Once he finished up rehab, Metallica returned to business as best they could amid the pandemic. But then in 2022, news surfaced of James’ divorce from his wife of 25 years. We got James on stage pausing to tell fans that he feels like he can’t play at times, that he needs to lean on his brothers in Metallica for support, and telling fans that if they have felt alone to reach out, reminding them that people care about them. It seems the wall between the James we think we know and the “real” person is breaking down, and this is a man that has clearly been through some shit recently. So it makes sense that “72 Seasons” deals with a lot of emotional questions and concepts. Based on the lyrics, the answer to it all seems to be that while you might be shaped in those first 18 years, you are not bound by them forever. Growth is good. Change is good. Light is good. And while that may seem simple or even cliche, coming from a man like James Hetfield, that is a hell of a message.
So great, we get some heady analysis, but how does the band sound?
James Hetfield’s rhythm guitar sound at first seems maybe lower gain, or not quite as muscular as it has on albums past. Though the interplay with the bass guitar makes the album sound incredibly heavy and girthy. The thing about the guitar sound is that while it may strike you as different, if you were to play something from this record right next to, say, something from the “Black” album, you’d actually find more similarities than differences in the guitar sound. Bob Rock pointed out in an interview years ago that the key to Metallica’s guitar sound was really just highlighting a particular frequency and building around it. I think that shows when you start to do these comparative listens.
James’ vocals are somehow as strong as ever, and I feel the weird need to point that out on each successive Metallica release. I think it’s just time to accept that James Hetfield is a really fucking good vocalist, and takes good care of himself to remain a really fucking good vocalist. Singing as well as he does, even restoring his higher register in recent years rather than losing it, at his age is honestly amazing, given the (often sad) state of some of his contemporaries. Sure, he has a little more grit in the voice these days, but again, it’s not to its detriment. If anything, the weathering suits him. Like he said about his graying hair years ago, he’s earned his silver, and he wears it with pride.
Rob Trujillo is getting more space in the mix than Jason Newsted, or maybe even Cliff Burton himself, ever did. And the album is better because of it. He also has writing credits on three songs on this record, which equals the number Jason Newsted got in his entire 14 year tenure in the band. And not only does he get more space in the mix, but he also gets several chances to groove all by himself, or with his rhythm section partner, Lars. So what about Lars?
Lars Ulrich is Lars Ulrich. He has long abandoned any notion of being a technical dynamo, if he ever held one to begin with. Lars is rock solid here, and I still contend that absolutely no drummer on Earth can play with James Hetfield and make it sound like Metallica. Their chemistry and bond is as inseparable as it gets in music, and anyone who thinks otherwise is only fooling themselves. Lars does get to throw down with Rob a couple times on this record and it’s honestly super refreshing to hear. But something I will admit about Lars is that his knack for adding creative signature fills to his simpler foundation seems to have fallen a bit by the wayside. His work here is good, but rarely rises too much above that. He does get some nice double bass work in though, not that it will ever satisfy his critics. But I’d say he’s in good form here.
And that brings us to Kirk Hammett. If you recall my review for “Hardwired” (hit ‘em with the link Mike!), you’ll recall that I wasn’t super enamored by Kirk’s work on that record. He “lost his phone” containing all of his riff ideas, which led to the first Metallica album since “Kill ‘Em All” with no writing credits for Kirk Hammett. He then proceeded to show up to the studio with nothing prepared for solos, preferring to go with a “stream of consciousness” improv approach and pieced his solos together, one improv session at a time. Well, Kirk gets 4 writing credits this time around, 3 of which are on standout songs. So it seems at least this time, Kirk was a little more plugged into the work of songwriting, which is great to see. But he still went with the improv approach with his solos, albeit slightly differently. Apparently he recorded something like 100-200 licks, sent them to Lars and producer Greg Fiddleman, and had them assemble a patchwork for each song that Kirk would then come in and record. If that sounds like a weird “copy/paste” approach, well, I think the results reflect that. What I’ll say is that Kirk’s work on “72 Seasons” is overall better than that on “Hardwired” in that he doesn’t meander as much, stays on task, and sticks the landing. It’s perfectly cromulent work. There are some solos more standout than others, but in my opinion, none of them stack up against Kirk’s established body of work. And I’m sorry, I love Kirk Hammett, but I’m going to be harsh and say that it’s just not good enough. James Hetfield is pouring his heart out on this record, and Kirk can’t be bothered to sit down and try to compose something heartfelt and memorable? Marks to Greg Fiddleman for his production and mixing skills, but this is where I’d want a Bob Rock in the producer’s chair to frankly tell Kirk “that’s not good enough.” This is the guy who wrote countless memorable solos in countless songs. “The Unforgiven.” “Master of Puppets.” “One.” The list goes on. Is Kirk just content to 9-5 it in Metallica these days? He’d never say that. And maybe I am totally off base even suggesting it, but boy it sure has felt that way for a number of years now.
So with the individual elements broken down, let’s get into the individual songs and see what we can find. Let’s press play and get into this.
72 Seasons – Rob gets to lead us off! This intro screams Motorhead, one of Metallica’s biggest influences. This is very much in the pocket of modern “Hardwired” Metallica. James is really going for it vocally. Strong reflective lyrics like I mentioned above. Just a driving force song. There is an odd key change in the middle that somehow still works. And this features some of Kirk’s best work on the album. While some argue that “Lux Aeterna” would have been a better album title and lead-off track, I think the lyrics to “72 Seasons” spell out the themes of the record far better, and the song rips too.
Shadows Follow – So my overall impression here is “this is Justice meets Load.” And it won’t be the last time I say it. Starting off the song, I asked myself “Is this Fear Factory?” Because it kind of sounds like Fear Factory! And not the pale imitation brand that’s tainted the name for 15 years. The original recipe Fear Factory. RIFFS! This song is an unstoppable riff factory. The midsection is insta-headbanging. Hetfield vocal melodies on point. Lots of driving energy with great interplay between the vocals and the riffs. Kirk is bringing some good energy to this track as well. We get hints of Black Sabbath in the pre-chorus. This may be my favorite song on the album.
Screaming Suicide – So I feel this is a pretty weak intro by Metallica standards. But it’s a total riff-o-rama after. The main riff could be on “Kill ‘Em All.” This is firmly in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal zone, at least for that main riff. This was my least favorite of the 4 singles released before the album, but hearing it now in context, I wonder why that was. I suspect it’s just the intro that leaves a soft impression. But everything after is as the kids say “fire.” This is a great track with a great message. James mentioned his struggles on stage, and he’s voicing it here. Don’t let that voice in your head win.
Sleepwalk My Life Away – The intro is “Eye of the Beholder” with bass meets “Load.” It’s just an awesome groove between Lars and Rob here. I love the interplay with the vocals and the riff in the verse. After three songs going for the throat, Metallica lean back into their Load groove style and it’s a welcome return. As Jason Oberg told me, if this song were on “Reload” it would probably have been one of our favorite songs on that record. I can’t disagree. Kirk’s solo is fine, albeit somewhat generic and repetitive. Not egregious, but not really anything to write home about either. But then… BREAKDOWN! This breakdown makes me do the stinkface. That’s the sign of greatness. Great outro too.
You Must Burn! – “Sad But True” 2023, at least maybe in its intention. But on the scale of “The Thing That Should Not Be/Sad But True/Dream No More” D-tuned guitar songs, this one doesn’t quite measure up. The riffs bring the weight, but the vocal melody isn’t quite as nasty as those riffs demand. It’s hard to fault James for singing a great melody, because he really is delivering a great performance, with some great lyrics as well. But I can’t help but feel these riffs demanded something heavier or more sinister. This song features a Black Sabbath meets Alice In Chains mid-section, or perhaps “Load”-esque, with some wild harmonized vocal chanting, which is followed by some trademark Metallica guitar harmonies. Kirk is again fine here. There is also some great bass in this one, particularly in the midsection. The instrumental midsection is honestly the strongest part of the song.
Lux Aeterna – No notes. Straight banger. Placing it so late on the record is almost a disservice. Pure energy. They should open with this on tour. Everyone understood the assignment and delivered.
Crown of Barbed Wire – Rob & Lars throwing down again on the intro. Heavy riffs. Metallica can somehow make E-standard tuning sound heavier than you or I. We also have an almost Max Cavalera riff. Again, this could almost be a “Justice” song, but with a far more mature vocal delivery in the chorus. The Hetfield vocal harmonies are perfect. I am getting those “Justice meets Load vibes” again. I’m sensing a trend on this record, and I like it. There’s a grooving breakdown midsection with some big drum room sounds. Kirk’s guitar solo lifts a lick from the “ReLoad” track “Slither,” of all places. We’re left with another awesome heavy outro. Another standout song on the record.
Chasing Light – We get a little “Holier Than Thou” meets “Here Comes Revenge” intro. The main riff is neat, with some fun movement and super crunchy tone. Sadly, the song trips over itself in the transition to the verse, which unexpectedly goes half-time, and the pre-chorus doesn’t quite work either. The lyrics do it no favors, and are probably the weakest on the record. That said, I do really like the chorus. James is again going for some high notes he’d never have tried in the 90s and hitting them. Full marks to him for going for it. The mid-section transition feels a bit out of place, and it sort of meanders as well when it slows down. Things improve when they pick the pace back up. This track ironically features some of Kirk’s best work on the record in terms of dexterity. This song also has a pummeling outro. But all in all, despite some good parts, this is one of two tracks that I feel could, maybe should, have been left off the album.
If Darkness Had A Son – Another album standout. There’s that “Justice” vibe again. This track starts off almost like “Eye of the Beholder” yet again. It’s weird that a track Metallica hasn’t played live since 1989 has seemingly been rediscovered and transplanted into two songs in 2023, but here we are. Hey, no complaints. I’m here for it. I’d say this is definitely some of Kirk’s best solo work on the album. James delivers some really strong lyrics. Inject this outro into my veins.
Too Far Gone? – Riff wise, this song has big “No Remorse” vibes, from the intro down to its great main riff. The vocal staccato verse is fun, with some cool drum stabs by Lars matching the cadence. A very up-tempo track in the late goings of the record. There are some typical Kirk-isms throughout. There’s some great guitar harmonies in the mid-section, followed by some great vocal harmonies on top. The ending has some fun chugging going on. At under 5 minutes, it’s the second shortest song on the record and doesn’t overstay its welcome. A great deep cut track. Don’t sleep on this one.
Room of Mirrors – I’m going to be upfront about this one. This is my other least favorite song on the record. We get a busy intro that gives way to a groove not unlike Metallica’s cover of Diamond Head’s “Helpless” from 1987’s “Garage Days Re-Revisted.” But the verse vocals don’t really work for me. And I can’t help but think there’s a missed opportunity to syncopate a particular vocal delivery in the pre-chorus. It starts off that way, but then takes a left turn to my disappointment. Kirk puts in some good work on this song. Lars gets to flex in the late goings. There’s a really great midsection guitar harmony, but I find the song is otherwise confused. I think it’s just tonally conflicted and a little too jerky. Another one I’d have left off the record.
Inamorata – And here we are. Maybe you’ve heard a little buzz about this song. If so, there’s damn good reasons why. And it just so happens that it may be among the best songs Metallica has ever written. Hyperbolic? Sure. But I’m gonna lay out my case. We get a big key change from the rest of the record, though we are still in E-standard tuning. The given key and Rob’s bass makes this sound way heavier than that. This is a modern day “Load” song with a beginning that makes you swear you’re listening to Kyuss. And I mean that in the absolute best way. That 90s Metallica groove is back. This is an epic which some may compare to “The Outlaw Torn” or “Fixxxer,” but it’s more up-tempo than either. James’ vocals are on another level on this song. The chorus literally gives me goosebumps, and lends to a feeling that this song is bigger than a Metallica song. This is, for lack of a better way to put it, a BIG rock song. Between the melody and the lyrics, Metallica has written a masterpiece that transcends. A beautiful Hetfield guitar harmony after a haunting midsection breakdown recalls “My Friend of Misery” right down to the guitar sound being used. Once again, I get chills when it happens. This is the longest song that Metallica has ever written, but somehow it doesn’t feel that way at all. It so easily sweeps you up and holds your attention and doesn’t let go. Time stands still and emotions take over. Kirk’s solo is strong, and sings a bit with James before the mid-section in a nice bit of interplay. The similarities to “My Friend of Misery” have to be intentional, while that song seemed to be looking outward, casting judgement on someone for being, well, miserable, this song looks internal. Perhaps James is recognizing that he’s been projecting for a long time, and that he’s been a slave to his own misery for too long, and even if he finds comfort in it, he won’t do it anymore. I said this some years ago about “Spit Out The Bone,” that given their age and the timelines involved between tours and recording, that were this the last song Metallica ever recorded, it’s an absolutely perfect and monumental way to go out. If Metallica released nothing by “Inamorata” from this record, I’d have considered the seven year wait worth it. I love it that much. Metallica, take a bow. You have more than earned it.
So there you have it! Ok, so time for some closing thoughts.
So we come back to those expectations again. I honestly never really know what to expect out of a Metallica record. I had those expectations shattered young, and each successive release has provided me with new things to grapple and interpret. I was a huge fan of “Hardwired” and thought it might be a tough one to top. While that album maybe had some more ambition, “72 Seasons” also has surprises that I did not expect. There is a lot more “Load” shining through on this record than “Hardwired.” If “Load” was inspired by Alice In Chains and Black Sabbath, then this is almost the direct evolution of that after “St. Anger” and the albums that followed diverted a bit from that path. As an unabashed fan of 90s-era Metallica, this is a very welcome presence on the album. But as a whole, I think you could just as easily say this is a Metallica album that really does encapsulate every era of the band. No matter what album is your favorite version of Metallica, I think you’ll find it represented here. At this stage of the game, I don’t know that Metallica has the “experimental” bug in them anymore. And even if they did, whenever they tend to get weird, they are typically met with a vocal backlash from the usual suspects. They are big enough to not really care about that, but they are also at a stage where they may wonder if that’s really worth it. This is Metallica. You aren’t going to mistake this album for anyone else. And I can’t knock them for that.
So do I like it? Hell yeah I like it! I rather love it actually. If they had left “Chasing Light” and “Room Of Mirrors” off, I’d venture to say it’s as close to a perfect modern Metallica album as you’re going to get. And this late in their career, I’ll happily take that. And I’ll continue to be inspired by Metallica’s longevity and seemingly effortless ability to make music that I love, even if I think some people in the band should maybe consider putting in more effort. But ultimately, they’ll never stop, they’ll never quit, because they’re Metallica. And I’ll be there for it.
On the Dave Meltzer Five Star Scale, I grade 72 Seasons 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Drew Celestino is the vocalist and guitarist of Buffalo, NY metal band, The Long Cold Dark (FFO: Metallica, Gojira, Machine Head). Check out their music at thelongcolddark.bandcamp.com !!