Welcome to The Saw’s Butcher Shop! It’s your Master Butcher, The Saw! And I’m excited to talk about the titans of Heavy Metal – Metallica – and their new album, 72 Seasons, that dropped on April 14, 2023 (Blackened Recordings). The theme for 2023, so far, appears to be ‘The Year of the Riff’, and the new record by Metallica is chocked-full of trademark Hetfield riffs – each of the 12 tracks features riffs that sound like they could be found on any of the ten previous studio albums from the band. And you already know that Ya Girl loves riffs!
It goes without saying that Metallica have played such a huge roll, not only in the history of Metal – 42+ years of pushing envelopes and expanding the Heavy Metal genre – but in the influence they have had on every successive band and musician of their own time, as well as those to come after them. The riff-master and vocalist (James Hetfield), the supreme lead guitarist (Kirk Hammett), the unique and trend-setting drummer (Lars Ulrich), and the incredible bass playing – whether it be from the original OG, Cliff Burton (RIP), or the talented Jason Newsted (1986 – 2001), or the long-standing Robert Trujillo (2003 – present) – each individual member of Metallica is a master of his craft, and together they form, arguably, the greatest and most influential Metal band in history.
Your Favorite Butcher divides Metallica history (roughly) like this:
Kill ‘Em All
Originally titled, ‘Metal Up Your Ass’ (but the record company wasn’t having it!), Kill ‘Em All was Metallica’s studio debut in 1983 (Megaforce Records). It was/is a Thrash Metal masterpiece! Unlike anything before it, it featured music (mostly) written by Hetfield and Dave Mustaine (original lead guitarist; Megadeth). When the band opened for Twisted Sister in support of this album, Dee Snyder (vocalist) commented to another band member of TS that, “These guys have heart, but they’ll never make it. They are just too heavy.” He didn’t think that the fans (or people, in general) were ready for this kind of song structure, song writing, and powerful playing. He laughs about it now, but what would transpire through Metallica would be a revolutionary leap-forward; a re-inventing of how we understand and hear Heavy Metal.
Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets
Metallica took an evolutionary step forward with 1984s, Ride the Lightning (Megaforce), mostly because of the influential input of Cliff Burton and Kirk Hammett (ex-Exodus). The band took the straight-forward, in your face Thrash of Kill ‘Em All and expanded on the sound. Ride the Lightning was more progressive in song structure, and much heavier. Still, it was blindingly fast, but with layers of melody and harmony, with soaring guitar solos and darker lyrical content. Metallica were inventing something new; plowing a new path for Heavy Metal. This record is a watershed moment for the genre, and forever changed it’s trajectory.
In 1986, Metallica released one of the best albums in all of Heavy Metal – Master of Puppets. A new record company (Elektra) brought new and better production, and the band continued where they had left-off on Ride the Lightning with longer, even more progressive song structures, and even heavier sound. Master of Puppets was/is a crushing album! It features some of the band’s darkest and heaviest songs (“The Thing That Should Not Be,” for example). It was still Thrash, but not like the previous two albums. Metallica were evolving, and with them Metal evolved into speed, with crushing crunch.
…And Justice for All
After dealing with the untimely death of Cliff Burton on the Master of Puppets tour, the addition of Newsted because of it, and the continual evolution of the Metallica vision, the band’s forth studio album was released in 1988 (Elektra) and is a watershed moment once again, for the band and for Heavy Metal. …And Justice for All is THE perfect example of the times in which it was written. After this record, 80s Thrash, for the most part, ripped its last riffs. Metallica took what we new about the Thrash sub-genre and pushed it to its logical conclusion with this album. This is Ya Girl’s favorite Metallica album! Here you will find (as it were) the 80s Thrash graveyard. The song writing, here, is so exhaustive, that it expanded Thrash as far as it could span. I am aware of the fact that there are great Thrash bands still bashing our brains in today, but my point is that they are playing the 80s heyday brand of Metal (and I love it!). However, Metallica inadvertently killed Thrash, and continued to push Heavy Metal into new territory, with the masterpiece, …And Justice for All.
If there is a moment in time where Metallica and Heavy Metal reached a tipping point – where the lid on the Metal underground was about to burst – it was the release of the video for “One.” This moment gave a face to this monster called, Metal. And that face was Metallica.
Metallica (i.e., “The Black Album”)
With, what was effectively, the end of the Thrash era of Heavy Metal (and the end of the 80s), Metallica continued to push forward with, yet, another watershed moment album. Metallica (Elektra) dropped in 1991, with the self-titled album as a note of a new turn for the band. The sprawling, exhausting songs of …And Justice for All led Metallica to write shorter, yet (if you can imagine) heavier tracks for the new era. ‘The Black Album’ featured heavy (mostly) single riff tracks, dark imagery, and catchy hooks. This album launched Metallica and Heavy Metal out of the underground and into the mainstream spotlight.
So, while the band had been leading the way through the Metal world for a decade – with four of the greatest albums of all-time – many (most?) understood the self-titled album to be this strange “new” band’s first. This is the effect of the Mainstream. With songs and videos like, “Enter Sandman,” Metallica became a worldwide, household name. Only at live shows would most discover that the band had a back catalog, and Metallica grew even more exponentially.
As evidence of what Metal had become, in 1991, Metallica played to the largest crowd ever gathered for a Heavy Metal concert. Moscow, Russia hosted an estimated 1.6 million fans for the Monsters of Rock tour, featuring Metallica, AC/DC, Pantera, and the Black Crowes.
Load / Reload / St. Anger
I have to give props to Metallica, they had become the biggest band in the world, and their lives were on stage (as it were) for the whole world to see. Where does a band go after a GIANT record like ‘The Black Album’? How do you continue to evolve after the history that Metallica had already created? As a Metallica fan, the next three albums are in a group by themselves, simply because this is a strange time in Metallica history for me. Most bands struggle internally, especially with success. It turns out that, over the next few years, the struggle became real for Metallica to the point that they almost parted ways.
Load (Elektra) in 1996 and Reload (Elektra) in 1997 were, originally, supposed to be one double album. The Lollapalooza tour forced a change in plans, and the band split the releases. These albums feature a more Blues-based background (each band member even cut their hair, symbolizing a new sense for this new period). For me, songs like, “2×4” and “You Ain’t My Bitch” are great songs for the catalog. I appreciate all 27 songs on these two albums, and Metallica’s sense of trend-setting and trail blazing, even at the same time that they’re obviously struggling.
St. Anger was released in 2003 (Elektra) and really stands as a symbol of the state of the band – still kings, but embroiled in inner turmoil, both as a band, but also within themselves individually. There are some good tracks, here (like the title track, and “Sweet Amber”), and I can still hear Metallica in the songs, but it seems the focus is elsewhere and not where it was “back in the day.” If you’ve seen “Some Kind of Monster,” then you know the struggle the band was having. And, again, I appreciate Metallica for putting it all out there for the world (and the fans) to see; real honesty and integrity. As a result of this period in Metallica history, Newsted would leave the band, and the “war of words” would go on for years between him, and Hetfield and Ulrich.
Death Magnetic and Hardwired…to Self-Destruct
As if coming out of the fog – focused and on track – Metallica released Death Magnetic in 2008 (Warner Bros.). I think that Trujillo (BLS, Suicidal Tendency) is a centering entity for the band, and his addition to the band on bass was the perfect time/place moment. Hammett has always seemed consistent, but quiet (verbally). Trujillo, it would seem, is an example of the power of presence; a balance for the Hetfield/Ulrich variable.
Hardwired… dropped in 2016 (Blackened). I place these two records together, historically speaking, because they seem a kind of Part I and II to me. Eight years between the two, and the band seems strong and effective once again; ready to press forward and change history as before. A return to speedy, more progressive songs; multiple time changes and riffs marks the expansion of Metallica Vision on these two records. Songs like “Broken, Beat & Scarred,” “All Nightmare Long,” “The Judas Kill” – Death Magnetic – and “Hardwired,” “Moth Into Flame,” “Halo on Fire,” “Spit Out the Bone” – Hardwired – are a return of sorts to the historical sound. In these two albums (and the new one), you can hear each iteration of the band, throughout all the albums and eras.
And so, I have (finally) arrived at the new album, 72 Seasons (Blackened). There is, yet again, a different feel to this record. It harkens back to the groundbreaking days of old, but also to the new era of Metallica and it’s own groundbreaking right. Some tracks are shorter and powerfully heavy, others are epic; progressive and a real roller coaster ride. All songs are a riff lovers dream! Every song is banging in that sense. Hetfield has said for a long time that he is “a messenger” when it comes to inventing new and crushing, crunchy riffs. He says “they come from somewhere,” passing through him like a conduit.
This record is lighter feeling – the “message” is still dark, but hopeful. They say with age comes a change in perspective. As an expression of this direction, Metallica have an extremely successful charity (All With My Hands) which has helped many, on a local level, who are struggling, in real-world time, with life and it’s demands. Mental health is key to the charity, and to this new album. My observation: Where Metallica were once the pioneers of a Heavy Metal movement, now they have become the pioneers, the leaders (once again) of a groundbreaking global community called Metal. “Family” is what Metallica calls this movement.
72 Seasons is the musical and lyrical version of this vision. It is 1 HR 17 Min – 12 tracks – expressing the realities of mental health, personal and social struggles, success and failures, and just life in general. Hetfield’s favorite track on the album is, “If Darkness Had a Son,” and you already know what I think of that one! Trujillo says his favorite is, “You Must Burn!”, and it is one of mine, too. I really like, “Crown of Barbed Wire” and “Shadows Follow.” The former is a bruising, slow-paced banger, while the latter has a great riff (of course!) and really makes you bang your head. I think “Inamorata” is an interesting song, it really sets itself apart from others on this album (or any Metallica album). You need to check it out!
As an historian, Your Master Butcher really enjoys dissecting history and its social aspects. This survey of Metallica History, to me, really speaks to what I hear on 72 Seasons – “this is where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re trying to go.” Metallica wrote this album during the pandemic. And as we’ve seen, these last few years have really made bands (and humanity in general) take stock in themselves. I think this album speaks to that review, inviting us to be a part of it and the “family” of Metal.