Monday, April 24, 2023

Music Review: Metallica - 72 Seasons

Welcome to a special album review piece here at!  Now that the long-awaited 11th Metallica album 72 Seasons has dropped and my esteemed colleague Mike Drinan and I have had ten days to fully digest it, we thought we'd give it the same discussion treatment we gave Hardwired all those years ago!  Get ready for a deep dive...

JB: Michael, before we dig into the individual tracks, what are your high-level thoughts on 72 Seasons?

MD: It's a good, solid Metallica album that should satisfy fans of all eras of the band, whether you prefer their thrash style or the blues based rock of the Load era, it's all on this album. The production is really polished on this, James's vocals sound incredible and his lyrics seem to be more evocative and introspective, which I kind of felt was lacking on Hardwired. Rob's presence on this album is really at the forefront and I love what his playing brings to these songs. 

My biggest issue with this album that kept coming up was how they struggled with transitions and outros. There was a lot of starts and stops when going into a new section of the song, almost as if they didn't have any other ideas on how to bridge the sections together. The ending of the songs were even worse for me, especially on "Shadows Follow" where the song was over and they kept doing the same thing over and over and over until they finally ended the song. Those were my two biggest nitpicks. 

Other than that, I really enjoyed the album overall and felt it was exactly what I expected of the band at this stage of their career.

JB: I think this album is a big step up from Hardwired.  It continues that direction stylistically, bringing together elements from every era (minus St. Anger, though lyrically it harkens back to the early aughts as James worked through a recent bout with his personal demons).  But everything just sounds more confident on this album and it feels much more like a collaboration between all four members.  Kirk thankfully gets some songwriting credits again (the main riff of "72 Seasons" is probably his most front-and-center contribution, and it's a great one), and his soloing is the strongest it's been in probably 30 years.  His lead work is much more surefooted this time around and it's great to hear him playing to his strengths again after years of him just sorta being there.  Also like you said, Rob Trujillo's bass is very present on this one, featured more than anything they've released since Load/Reload and the songs are so much stronger for it.

Lars once again defies his age with laser-precision drumming and machine-gun double-kick parts on the fast stuff, and four-on-the-floor solid grooves on the Black Album-esque tunes.  He sure does love those snare fills.

As always James is the backbone of the band, supplying even more evidence why he's maybe the greatest rhythm guitarist of all time, while also pouring his heart out lyrically and making the songs much more relatable than on Hardwired, where they often felt at arm's length.  There's some really nice vocal production on here too that reminded me of the Bob Rock era.

The transition stuff you mentioned didn't bother me; I actually like some of the stop and start touches they added (the outro of "72 Seasons" for example - Lars' fingerprints are all over those bits I think.

Overall I consider 72 Seasons their strongest work in many years - it could've used maybe a bit more variety but they were obviously going for an exhausting, relentless metal journey and on those terms this is a really successful effort from where I sit.  There's a real maturity on display here, from a group of guys hitting their 60s (that just seems wrong to me), combined with early-era exuberance on some of the tunes.  It's an album that definitely rewards multiple listens, which is generally my favorite type of album.

What are the standout songs for you?

MD: There are a few but I'm going to start with two of the singles: "Lux Aeterna" and "If Darkness Had a Son."  The former was exactly what the album announcement needed, a full on assault that shows the band still has the chops and can still play at breakneck speed. Its influence is direct from Diamondhead and I really felt it could've been included on Garage Days Re-revisited. It's still one of the highlights for me. I had the opposite impression of "If Darkness Had a Son" when I first heard it. It seemed pretty rudimentary to me. There was nothing interesting or exciting about the track on its own, but listening to it in the context of the album really made it a standout for me; it's a jam. I love the rhythm to the song and the chorus always gets my head bobbing. I got a kick out of the chorus with James being the son of Darkness and Temptation being his father, closing with "Temptation leave me be." Knowing James's issues with his father, that lyric really stood out to me.

My favorite riff on the album is "Chasing Light." Such an energetic pace with the notes seemingly dancing off the fret board. It reminded me of "Metal Militia," with that downward progression of notes in the main riff.

"Crown of Barbed Wire" is my favorite song on the album. The bluesy riff is heavy and catchy but it's the vocal melody of the pre-chorus that sends it over the top for me when James sings, "And all the rust that I own". I hope they include this song in their set so I can scream out that line. So good!

But when talking about highlights of the album, you can't ignore "Inamorata." What a tour de force that song is! That heavy Black Sabbath-influenced intro, the main riff that's catchy and easy to hum along with, the riff under the verses, a brilliant chorus melody. Then, when you think they've settled into the song, they break it down with Rob's lone sullen bassline followed by the softest singing I've ever heard from James (even gentler than "Nothing Else Matters") and then culminates with a desperate scream of "Not why I'm livin'!" The "Outlaw Torn"-esque jam that ends the song, caps probably the greatest album closer of Metallica's career. It's a monster of a song and very impressive.

The others songs I enjoyed as well, loved the chorus on "Shadows Follow." The riff for "Too Far Gone?" is one note shy of being "Blitzkrieg," and I loved the theme of "You Must Burn!" which I interpreted as being a criticism of cancel culture.

JB: "Lux Aeterna" was absolutely the right single to kick things off.  If pure joy could take the form of a Metallica song, it's that one.  Love the Diamondhead influence and the lyrical theme of just the high you get performing in front of a crowd.  Very relatable for me as a musician.  James originally wanted that song to be the album opener and the title track but he was outvoted by the others, but I could get behind either approach.

The actual title track has grown on me leaps and bounds since I first heard it - just a great, aggressive way to kick things off, in similar fashion as "That Was Just Your Life" did for Death Magnetic.

The intro and main riffs for "Shadows Follow" are a little different for Metallica and those stood out to me right away, and I agree the chorus is very memorable.

"You Must Burn!" is a great nasty slow groover in the tradition of "The Thing That Should Not Be," "Devil's Dance" and "Dream No More," but I think I like it better than any of those.  Love the chorus hook and the Sabbathy wah riff that bookends the third chorus.

I'm also a big fan of "Crown of Barbed Wire;" that's another grower for me.  Just a rock-solid midtempo tune with a high energy double-time feel in the pre-chorus.

I like the main riff on "Chasing Light" but overall that one doesn't stand out to me, though it's not a bad song by any means.

The use of layered guitar harmonies really makes the album's home stretch pop for me - Metallica hasn't made this extensive use of guitar harmonies since the Puppets/Justice era and man are they a welcome throwback.  I could listen to these guys weave a symphony of guitar lines all day.  

I love the Misfits influence on the "Too Far Gone?" chorus (and bridge) - one of the hookiest hooks on the entire album.

The aforementioned guitar harmonies elevate "Room of Mirrors" from a less memorable track to a near-standout.

But if there's one song this album will be remembered for, it's the thrillingly emotional epic "Inamorata."  Not since "The Unforgiven" has a Metallica song affected me the way this song does.  Between the spot-on lyrics ("Misery - she fills me, but she's not what I'm living for") that sum up so succinctly how I feel about my own attraction to the darker side of things; the sludgy, Sabbathy riffage; that melancholy bass break; and holy fucking shit the guitar harmonies that follow it (a MASSIVE callback to tunes like "Orion" and "To Live is To Die"), this song is an opus and I agree, maybe the best album closer they've ever put out.  "Inamorata" is a new career highlight for this band and for me the best reason to love this album.  That a band forty-plus years into their career can still surprise a 34-years-and-counting fan like me is truly joyful and inspiring.  "Inamorata" elevates 72 Seasons from a really good to a great album, not to mention it's the quickest 11-minute song I've ever heard.

MD: I can't believe I forgot to mention the guitar harmonies! They are such a great addition to the performance of the songs and they have this great knack of picking the perfect spots for them also. Them and Lars's double kick drums. 

Were there any lowlights for you on this album?

JB: I'm happy to say that unlike Hardwired there are no songs here that I don't enjoy.  I'd say the weakest tunes for me are probably "Chasing Light" and "Sleepwalk My Life Away" but they're still good songs.  This album just has a creative energy and an aura of collaboration that Hardwired was missing for me.  Not that Hardwired is bad by any means, but some of the songs there felt like an aging band going through the motions.  Nothing on 72 Seasons feels that way to me - the band seems to be having the time of their lives putting these songs together.


MD: No, there isn't really much on here that bothers me. My gripes regarding the transitions and outros are really nitpicks that don't ruin songs for me or my listening experience, just something that stood out as something they could improve on. 

The band sounds great and together. They sound as if they are exactly where they want to be creatively and, to your point, are enjoying it.  There's still new ideas being tossed around and included in these songs. I don't know how much more time we're going to have with Metallica before they hang it up, but it's clear they're not lacking on inspiration, both creatively and with each other.

JB: I can always tell when a Metallica album scores big for me because it renews my love for their music and I end up diving down the rabbit hole to listen to the whole catalog again and rewatch all the documentaries, and this album definitely triggered that for me in a way Hardwired did not.

I'd put this album in the upper echelon of their career next to Load, Death Magnetic and the Black Album - not on the level of Puppets or Justice (my two favorites), but pretty squarely in the second tier.  It's wonderful to hear them still sounding so vital heading into their 60s (again, that just seems wrong to say).

I give the album **** out of *****.

MD: Agreed. It’s **** out of ***** for me as well. It was an improvement from Hardwired and really captured the same essence and feeling I had about the band’s music during the Load era. It’s great to see the band still willing to throw different ideas around and take on different approaches to their music that allows it to sound energized and exciting! Hope there’s more to come.

JB: Yes, they should release as much new material as they can, while they can!  The next one can be called 73 Seasons....

MD: Lol, St. Feeling Better!

On that note, we'll cap off this review/discussion, and I just want to thank Metallica once again for continuing to provide so much life-changing music.  The world is a better place with you guys in it!

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