Let's take a deep dive into the biggest metal guitar record of the year, Metallica’s 72 Seasons, and who better to join us as guides than lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bass guitar player Robert Trujillo.
Strap yourself in for fast stuff, bouncy stuff, thrashing riffs, evil tones, power grooves and ‘total noise’ solos...
1. 72 Seasons
Blasting out of the gate, the album’s title track is a statement of intent, proving that Metallica are still capable of impressive ferocity. The double-time blasts feel like 320bpm, and Hammett cleverly highlights accents from the main riff with a lead line packed with doublestops. The wah-drenched solo is packed with Hammett trademarks and comes out into a melodic lead guitar hook.
Kirk Hammett: “It has all the elements – fast stuff, bouncy stuff, [a] super strong melody. It’s designed to just suck you into the album. We all agree that the middle part of 72 Seasons is one of the most difficult Metallica riffs we have ever played. It’s not the choice of notes or how the notes are played; it’s all in the timing and the phrasing. You have to use your head; you can’t just punt it. It shifts and it has weird counts.”
Robert Trujillo: “72 Seasons has all the perfect ingredients of an opening track on a Metallica album. I love when it gets chuggy and falls into half-time. It strips down to just the guitar and the hi-hat, but the energy is still pulsing through with the guitar double-picking. Then we all come back in and it blasts into the lead section, like ‘Hey Kirk, come on in – let’s party!’”
2. Shadows Follow
There’s a distinctly old-school Metallica vibe in Shadows Follow, with a riff that emphasises that most metal of intervals, the diminished 5th.
Kirk’s doublestop licks in the solo speak of the Angus Young influence he tells us about, and he also performs some classic pull-offs onto open strings, another early AC/DC favourite. There is also an echo of Battery, the opening song from Metallica’s classic 1986 album Master Of Puppets.
Hammett: “Shadows Follow falls in line with the second Metallica song on every album: usually mid-paced, super rhythmic and has a real driving quality to it. Someone said, ‘Hey, why don’t we come up with a Battery type of rhythm solo?’ So that’s what you hear right before the solo…"
Trujillo: “This does speak evil! This song has a lot of everything, but it definitely registers on the ‘evil tone’, the flat 5th. It just has a lot of personality in that evil range. The accents play a role in that, and there are a lot of variations, too. I like how there’s a descending sequence.”
3. Screaming Suicide
Metallica slow things down in the intro of this 200bpm, half-time shot of adrenalin. The riff is in parallel 4ths, which makes it come on like a turbocharged Deep Purple. This is the first of many tracks to feature a memorable octave unison line between the guitars towards the end.
Hammett: “I just love this song, because right off the top I can just vomit out wacky wah pedal melodies. That wah pedal jumps and grabs you by the throat! The song really is a tribute to the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal that we still bow to even to this day. We use the parallel 4ths a lot because it’s a dark sound without being too minor.”
Trujillo: “This track has an evil slide in it. I love those rakes and accents. It’s that classic Hetfield thrashing of the strings, and it’s something that you feel. James and I will double up on those so we’re both hitting the strings as hard as we can but muting it so it becomes a percussive effect. It’s just energy.”
4. Sleepwalk My Life Away
This is the first of a few songs that remind us of the band’s self-titled album from 1991 – known to all as ‘The Black Album’. The four-on-the-floor intro and Trujillo’s bass riff, together with some excellent pickslides, build excitement for another riff that leans hard on the flat 5th. The wah-fueled solo sees Kirk creating hooks with repeated rhythmic ideas, and the band sounds thunderous as they exit the solo into a half-time section.
Trujillo: “I could see the comparison with Enter Sandman. It’s got that swagger and it’s not too fast. There’s a feeling of simplicity but the pulse takes you in a certain direction. It’s a power groove. Before you even get to the riff you’ve got that scratch on the bass that sends this thing off. It’s kinda simple but I’m proud of it.”
Hammett: “There’s a lumbering feel to it. Rob and I love this riff. It sounds like Cheech and Chong in the lowrider cruising down Hollywood Boulevard, smoking joints.”
Trujillo: “In the descending part of the intro, James is covering that and I’m just on root notes and stabs on the descend. Then all of a sudden it just punches you in the face with that riff.”
5. You Must Burn!
This is a standout track. A slow, stomping beast that reminds us of Sad But True and the heavy parts of The Unforgiven. Heavy, heavy stuff.
Hammett: “My favourite song on the whole album – and I didn’t write any of it! That Sabbath-y middle riff that James wrote is epic. And I love the guitar solo. I can’t remember playing any of these guitar solos to be honest, so it’s amusing to hear them again. I get to pick and choose what parts I want to play live and what parts I want to change, and that’s beautiful.”
Trujillo: “I have so much love for this song. It resonates with me almost like an old horror movie, like Nosferatu. It’s really got swagger, like Clint Eastwood or something. The mid section, James and I came up with this on the road and there was originally a bass break. I was straight out pulling from some of the classic Ozzy songs like Believer [from Osbourne’s 1981 album Diary Of A Madman]. And there are backing vocals by Trujillo on this one!”
6. Lux Æterna
You’ve heard this already, but it sounds even more frenetic coming after the plodding You Must Burn. Hammett's whammy bar abuse riled his haters, but we’re with him – the noise solo works.
Trujillo: “I love the intro. I love that the snare is in sync with our descending guitars. It’s like a beatdown. You’re getting pulverized, and there’s no time for a buildup – it’s just in! For me this one’s an arm burner. Although I’m just pulsing on the A note, it’s a challenge, man. You start to run out of gas. When we first rehearsed it, I didn’t get a chance to warm up, so I tried to sneak a pick in there, thinking that our producer Greg Fidelman wouldn’t notice. He immediately gets on the mic, ‘Robert! Are you playing this song with a pick?!’”
Hammett: “When I step up to solo, I’ll listen to the song and say, ‘This one needs a total noise solo’, or ‘This needs a really melodic solo’. Lux Æterna was fucking pedal to the metal, total adrenaline. Trying to play a tricky melody when the band’s going all out – is that really appropriate? If I play a total noise solo, that’s gonna fit beautifully over what’s happening because what’s happening is already chaotic. So I just went in there and did my Judas Priest and K.K. Downing imitation. I love the chromatic thing that goes completely down because no one does that!”
7. Crown of Barbed Wire
The opening powerchords have the 5th in the bass, what Trujillo calls the “tension chords”, for an extra sinister crunch. A groovy, single-note riff is, as Hammett says, unusual for Metallica, but sounds closer to their '90s output than anything before or since. Hammett's solo incorporates a Chuck Berry/Angus Young rock ’n’ roll repeating lick, and after the solo he doubles the main riff in a higher octave.
Hammett: “We haven’t really ever had a riff or part that has ever sounded like this. It was on a tape that I made and like Lars just loved it. I was like, ‘Really?’ James said, ‘I would have never thought of using that.’ But Lars just went with it and said, ‘This riff has something you guys aren’t hearing.’ Then we came up with this song and, you know, he was right. I think that song will become a deep cut that eventually people will start asking us to play live.”
Trujillo: “The tension chords that James plays are kind of the setup to this. I’m playing a repetitive hammer-on riff, and the tension chords are the strength in that issue. Then all of a sudden it’s just a pulse. The bass is carrying it through with a nice power groove.”
8. Chasing Light
One of many songs to switch intelligently between half-time and double-time, this opens at 90bpm but soon shifts to feeling like 180. Hammett plays a lick in the solo that is not unlike Jimmy Page’s repeating lick midway through his solo in Stairway To Heaven. The rhythm is not the same as Page’s, but it displaces on each repeat. A similar idea shows up in Too Far Gone.
Hammett: “That main riff is super cool. It’s a different kind of riff for us in terms of hand-positioning. James and I were looking at it one day and he said, ‘It’s weird, it’s like one riff fits inside the other riff.’ It’s like a two-tier riff. Tons of energy. It has these rhythmic shifts that I just love doing, lots of stop-starts and rhythms that make us who we are, basically. That song is just filled with them.”
Trujillo: “The thing with this song to me is the groove. It’s pretty much a song centred around the feel. James’s vocal approach is really cool. There’s a soulfulness to it, almost.”
9. If Darkness Had a Son
This has an insistent and menacing reverse-gallop groove. Hammett's solo draws on his Ritchie Blackmore influence. There’s a string bend that he re-picks while gradually releasing the bend, and some pull-offs to the open string in a slightly neo-classical style.
Hammett: “I gotta say, man, that riff is so weird to me. It’s a riff that sounds like a guitar solo lick, but when you play it lower, all of a sudden it goes from a guitar lick to a really cool riff. This song also has a technique that we’ve been doing for the last few albums, which is taking melodies and turning them into chord progressions.
“When James sings the title, the riff is really a melody, with those slides, but we’re playing it on chords. We started doing it on [2008 album] Death Magnetic and it’s really cool. James likes it because he can do counter-melodies and they just make the song melodically hookier.”
Trujillo: “You can sing the riff in that Cheech and Chong style! It has a certain nastiness to it. I really believe that if we play it live, you’re gonna get the crowd singing the riff – that happens sometimes, especially in South America.”
10. Too Far Gone?
With a classic metal chord progression moving from E5 to C5 and a melodic chorus, this reminded us of early-'80s metal. The rhythm guitar parts make heavy use of triplets, which at this high tempo is a different feel from any of the other tracks.
Trujillo: “This riff has been around for a while and I’m so happy to see it made its way onto this record. It has a New Wave Of British Heavy Metal personality. It’s just a driving tune: old-school feel, banging guitar solo, banging riff. I like when a song takes you on a ride. It’s got that forward momentum.”
Hammett: “We all love playing this song. It has all the elements that make a really pleasurable song: the guitar parts are really fun, the arrangement’s really great, and it’s really straightforward. This is another song where we turned melodies into chord progressions. There’s a harmony solo that James and I do.”
11. Room of Mirrors
Some of the outro harmony guitars remind us of the approach Metallica took on their cover of Whiskey In The Jar, the traditional Irish folk song popularized by Thin Lizzy. As the melody repeats, the interval of the harmony changes for some nice development.
Trujillo: “There’s a bit of that punk feel. There’s a couple things here that are challenging, at least for bass, because you’re going from straight pump-pump style and all of a sudden you’re doubling it. It’s a challenge for a finger player. It’s definitely a song that moves, but some of the melodic and the guitar layers have that classic Metallica statement. Hopefully we’ll play this one live.”
Hammett: “Again, that song is New Wave of British Heavy Metal to the max. For the repeating lick in the solo, I showed up at the studio one day, and Greg said, ‘You played this lick the other day. Let’s build a solo off that.’ So that’s what happened! It was a kind of Ritchie Blackmore approach, where he takes a melody and just expands on it.”
Metallica’s longest-ever song is likened by Hammett to Orion from Master Of Puppets and To Live Is To Die from 1988 album …And Justice For All. There is an undeniable Black Sabbath feel to Inamorata, although the harmonized guitars are a nod to Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy. Hetfield’s epic melody is rhythmically intricate and makes for a strong finish. Best Metallica album this century? We think so.
Trujillo: “The ultimate closing statement to an album. I call it the shortest 11-minute song! It feels like it’s at least half that time because it takes you on a journey. It’s sludgy, but I feel like I’m in a convertible car driving up the coast. It strips down to this minimal moment where it’s just the bass, and I’m pulling from Geezer Butler. James had a vision for really stripping it down to rawness.
“Every note I played on this, especially in the breakdown, I was closing my eyes and just feeling it. I almost felt like I was floating in the bending of the notes, and then all of a sudden it just releases itself into these beautiful layers of guitar for this melodic statement that takes you on the journey out. You can feel the interplay when we start coming out of the bass break. There’s this moment where we’re almost dancing together between the instruments.”
Hammett: “One day James said, ‘You know, this song needs an extended harmony solo’, and he literally sat down and came up with the entire solo one afternoon. I went in and learned the harmony to it and that was it. It is a little bit of a tribute to songs like Orion and To Live Is To Die. When we were coming up with this song I thought, ‘Is this one even gonna make it on the album?’ But it became a fucking mammoth!”
- 72 Seasons is out now via Blackened Recordings.