72 Seasons is a masterpiece.

This is not meant to sound like hyperbole; Metallica's new album is the strongest, most powerful statement they've made as a band since ...And Justice For All.

There is no question that in the last 35 years since Justice was released, Metallica have created unforgettable, game-changing and historic records; the "Black Album" will forever reign supreme in its own universe as one of the greatest albums of all time and St. Anger will get the credit it deserves one day. But never have Metallica sounded angrier and yet more in control than they do on 72 Seasons—and it's largely thanks to James Hetfield.

READ MORE: What James Hetfield Really Wanted to Name Metallica's New Album

Kirk Hammett sounds like he's taken Lou Reed's advice to heart, trusting his instincts on every second of his solos. Robert Trujillo and his bass sound stronger and more confident than ever. And Lars Ulrich conducts the band with full force, guiding them throughout the album's 12 tracks.

But Hetfield, he shines like never before.

"72 Seasons came out of a book I was reading about childhood, basically," Hetfield shared when the album was first announced in November 2022. "Sorting out childhood as an adult. 'Seventy-two seasons' is basically the first 18 years of your life. How do you evolve and grow and mature and develop your own ideas and identity of self after those first 72 seasons? Some things are more difficult than others. Some things you can't unsee; they're with you for the rest of your life. Other things, you're able to rewind the tape and make a new tape in your life. That's the real interesting part for me, is how you're able to address those situations as an adult and mature...sometimes."

The good, the bad, the ugly and the unforgettable of Hetfield's life saturate every second of 72 Seasons, from his deeply confessional and vulnerable lyrics to his raw, pissed-off-at-the-world vocals. It doesn't matter if he's singing about the potential hope of eternal light on "Lux Æterna" or the love he shares with a mistress known as Misery on the epic "Inamorata," Hetfield is vicious on this album, sounding better than he has in a long, long time.

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Some may find the lyrics to be too bleak, but the reality is if Hetfield is going to sing about the first 18 years of his life and the moments that shaped him, he's not going to pull any punches. There are no moments to catch your breath on 72 Seasons or to distract yourself from the very real and very present darkness in the songs.

But Hetfield and company don't leave you alone to dwell in that darkness; they lead you through it, never letting you give up or give in.

And that seems to be the goal of this new album. As heavy as it is—and it is utterly unrelenting in the best possible way—and as dark as Hetfield gets, Metallica always have their hand out to help you confront your own life's first 72 seasons.

"Hanging onto the past hasn’t served me well, but changing the narrative of my childhood has been helpful. And that’s a lifelong process, man," Hetfield recently shared in an interview with Steffan Chirazi. "I know the parts of me that I’d like to change take work, and it’s hard work. But I’ve got awareness of it, and if there’s some things I can’t change, that’s really not up to me as well ... I have the capacity to make my own choices now. There’s a lot of psychology in this, and I can overthink all of it, but at the end of the day, is it these 72 seasons that form your true or false identity? Am I able to change or not? That’s a lifelong question."

In "Room of Mirrors," the album's penultimate track, Hetfield takes on that lifelong question as he sings, "So I stand here before you / You might judge / You might just bury me / Or you might set me free." Metallica seek that freedom for the entirety of 72 Seasons—and fortunately, they invite the listener to join them on the journey.

Watch Metallica's Official Music Video For "72 Seasons"

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