Metallica continue to stay true to their thrash roots. But with so few risks taken and such clunky songwriting, you have to ask yourself ‘is this really more enjoyable than St Anger?’.
I can hear my fellow Metallica fans right now furiously attacking their keyboards: ‘ST ANGER?? BETTER THAN THIS ALBUM??? ARE YOU INSANE???’ Look, I don’t think St Anger is better than this album. But I do think the quality difference between both albums isn’t much. In fact, I'd probably rank them on a similar level. Let me explain.
Metallica used to be the gold standard of metal. They used to be the metal GOATs. Part of what made them rad was their ability to make dynamic, smooth-flowing, creative songs that remained engaging despite often exceeding the 7 minute mark. It’s what made Master of Puppets so masterful, and what made Ride the Lightning so electrifying.
In the 90s, Metallica started to drastically change their style and released two hard rock albums, Load and Reload. The songs on these records were still dynamic and well written, but you can see why many old fans saw it to be a bit of a brand betrayal. Why call yourself Metallica if you’re no longer making metal? It’s like if KFC stopped selling chicken. Or if MTV stopped playing music videos (oh wait…).
On 2001’s St Anger, Metallica started making metal songs again. But instead of giving their old fans the thrash they wanted, they jumped on the nu metal bandwagon. Lack of solos and trashcan snares aside, the biggest issue with this album was how repetitive and one-dimensional it was – even if there were a few cool riffs and witty hooks sprinkled throughout (I still think ‘my lifestyle determines my deathstyle’ is such a fun lyric).
In 2008, Metallica took the wise decision to start being a thrash metal band again. The result was the highly underrated Death Magnetic. Yes, the brickwall mastering on this record was a bit much, but the songs here were playful and dynamic. ‘That Was Just Your Life’, ‘All Nightmare Long’ and ‘The Day That Never Comes’ are personally all up there with the classics.
2016’s Hardwired… to Self Destruct was another thrash album. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the same quality of riffs. And it wasn’t very dynamic, choosing to do away with ballads and settle largely for mid-tempo chugga-thons. But there were still songs as fierce as ‘Hardwired’ and songs as epic as ‘Spit out the Bone’ that felt equal to their 80s material.
Finally, we arrive at the band's latest album, 72 Seasons. It's the band's 11th studio album and it's lyrically themed around growth. Yet again, the band are sticking to thrash, but now the return-to-their-roots novelty has worn off. And they’ve decided to get even less dynamic than they were on Hardwired. There are no clean guitars on the entire album. And all of Kirk’s solos sound identical.
Worse still, Metallica has never sounded this disjointed before. They’ve been slowly losing their knack for smooth transitions, but on 72 Seasons it truly feels like a bunch of riffs have been shoved together willy-nilly. Many of the choruses in particular feel shoehorned in, disrupting the momentum of songs rather than serving as satisfying climaxes
As a result, many of these 7 minute + songs end up being tedious and frustrating. Hetfield’s vocals are still badass for the most part and it is cool to hear the band keeping up such a fast pace as they approach their 60s (the songs are much speedier than on Hardwired). However, like St Anger, the album is still a bit of a slog. The best songs end up being the short and straightforward cuts, ‘Lux Æterna’ and ‘Too Far Gone’. The riffs here are fun and they flow into each other. An entire album of three minute thrashers like this could have been pretty satisfying, rather than the long and laboured tracks we ultimately got.
In fact, the only longer songs I can really see myself returning to are ‘If Darkness Had A Son’ and ‘Inamorata’. The riffs in the former track do seem to flow well and Hetfield’s vocals are some of the catchiest on the album. The latter track, despite being over 11 minutes, is meanwhile one of the most dynamic tracks here. I particularly love the Orion-esque moment when they strip away all the guitars except the bass (the only real breather we get on the album). Unfortunately, even these highlights don’t hold a candle to tracks like ‘All Nightmare Long’ or ‘Spit Out The Bone’.
Is it time for Metallica to stop making new music? Is it time for them to fade to black? Or do they have one great album left in them? With enough fresh inspiration to fuel their songwriting, is it possible to jump-start the Metallica battery and squeeze out one last classic? I hope so.