01. 72 Seasons 02. Shadows Follow 03. Screaming Suicide 04. Sleepwalk My Life Away 05. You Must Burn! 06. Lux Æterna 07. Crown Of Barbed Wire 08. Chasing Light 09. If Darkness Had A Son 10. Too Far Gone? 11. Room Of Mirrors 12. Inamorata
Despite being the biggest heavy metal band of them all, METALLICA have a tough time of it. "72 Seasons" arrives a forgivable seven years after the well-received "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct", and like each of its post-Black Album predecessors, it is destined to be praised and derided in equal measure. The praise is often justified, even with the looming specter of those unassailable first four albums in the rearview mirror. "St. Anger" was a sonic calamity, but at least it dragged METALLICA out of the turgid grunge quicksand. "Death Magnetic" was mastered by an insane person but had a few songs that edged towards the old magic. "Hardwired…" gave us at least one new classic anthem ("Moth Into Flame") and the most ripping METALLICA tune since the '80s ("Spit Out The Bone"). Irrespective of whether you worship everything they do or wish they'd split up after "…And Justice For All", metal's ultimate benchmarks are plainly in a better place than they were 20 years ago. "72 Seasons" loudly confirms it.
At this point, nobody is expecting METALLICA to deliver a classic on a par with "Master Of Puppets". That was then, this is now: rest in peace Cliff Burton. "72 Seasons" is far from perfect, but from the opening title track onwards, it feels more natural and sincere than its immediate predecessors, while often blazing away with an exuberance that demands to be compared to "Kill 'Em All". At times it is impressively heavy, albeit in that ragged, garage-bound way that METALLICA have favored since the '90s, and James Hetfield's lyrics are among the best he has ever written, with only the occasional lapse into ham-fisted, post-therapy metaphors. Moreover — and this is the clincher — METALLICA really sound like they are enjoying themselves on "72 Seasons". One of the biggest problems with "Death Magnetic", in particular, was that it sounded like METALLICA trying too hard to sound like themselves circa 30 years previously. "72 Seasons" is vastly more relaxed about itself.
It is also, perhaps inevitably, a mixed bag. The downsides are nothing if not predictable. Firstly, "72 Seasons" is too long. Like every METALLICA album since "Load". There really is no need for it, and the band's seeming inability to self-edit remains the culprit. Lose a couple of songs and shave a minute or two off the rest and "72 Seasons" would be a snappier and better record. "Sleepwalk My Life Away" and "You Must Burn!" are serviceable throwbacks to the muscular thud of The Black Album, but the former lacks any melodic spark, and the latter outstays its welcome by a minute or two. "Chasing Light" and "Shadows Follow" have moments to savor, but it is hard to imagine either troubling live sets in the near or distant future.
The real story here is that the finest moments are as a good as anything METALLICA have recorded in three decades. The title track is a triumph. Ignoring the needlessly verbose intro, "72 Seasons" is the perfect encapsulation of what most of us want from the band in 2023. The riffs are huge, the chorus is even bigger and the fast bits — oh, how we love the fast bits — are punchy and convincing. Similarly, the other two songs released as singles are both a joy. "Lux Æterna" borrows just about everything from DIAMOND HEAD, and deliberately so, and its core message of harnessing heavy metal humanity's inner light is genuinely moving, even as the song rattles along at a manic, NWOBHM-ish pace. "Screaming Suicide" equals the title track's opulent riff count, and despite a slight non-event of a chorus, spits and kicks with plenty of old-school vigor.
"Cross Of Barbed Wire", which sounds like a beefed-up outtake from the "Load" / "Reload" era, boasts one of Kirk Hammett's finest solos in recent memory. "If Darkness Had A Son" — clearly a pivotal moment on "72 Seasons", and one of Hetfield's best lyrics in years — nails a classic mid-paced METALLICA groove, wallows in DANZIG-like darkness and more than justifies its six-and-a-half minute duration. Even better, "Too Far Gone?" may be this album's sleeper hit. With subtle shades of VOLBEAT creeping into the chorus and at least two magnificent Hetfield riffs, it emulates the title track's all-encompassing approach and, again, sounds like METALLICA having an excellent time together. The fiery and frantic "Room Of Mirrors" is very nearly as good. And if the closing, 11-minute "Inamorata" is doomed to suffer in comparison to revered past epics, it at least highlights its creators' shared delight at the whole ensemble experience. As it meanders and surges toward a grand conclusion, with twin-lead melodies in abundance and an air of haughty authority that only comes with being the biggest heavy metal band in the world, well, it's the sound of a band at peace with themselves, buoyed by the knowledge that they've just made some enjoyably thunderous new music together.
"72 Seasons" is no classic, but it's as good as anything METALLICA have done since the early '90s, non-deranged mastering values and tolerable snare drum sound included.
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