The 11th album from Metallica, like most of their catalog, has no use for nuance. 72 Seasons was prefaced with a statement by singer and guitarist James Hetfield noting that the LP's title reflects "the first 18 years of our lives that form our true or false selves. ... Much of our adult experience is reenactment or reaction to these childhood experiences. Prisoners of childhood or breaking free of those bondages we carry."

Not a concept album per se, but from the record's cover – a ravaged baby crib surrounded by broken pieces of childhood and adolescent toys – to the dozen hard-hitting songs, 72 Seasons is held together by a unifying theme of how our adult lives are shaped by our younger selves, the good and the bad. For a band that once aired its dirty laundry in public with a documentary film about its group therapy sessions, 72 Seasons often comes off like an exorcism to shake off some of the past's scars.

On their last album, 2016's Hardwired ... to Self-Destruct, Metallica returned to their early thrash days without completely abandoning the commercial '90s. 72 Seasons straddles this midline, too, pushing closer to its predecessor's bludgeoning impact of thematic commitment over easy riffs. The same goes for most of the tracks here, more than half of which run for six-plus minutes. There's a heavy weight being carried, so be prepared for the long haul.

"Feeding on the wrath of man," Hetfield sings at the onset of the opening "72 Seasons," which doubles as the LP's statement of purpose as well as the band's rallying cry for four decades now. There's no backing into the occasionally fatiguing 72 Seasons; that title song starts with windstorm guitars and doesn't let up for another seven and a half minutes. It's textbook Metallica to a point, but their intensity rarely lets up in "Shadows Follow," "Sleepwalk My Life Away," "Chasing Light" and the surprisingly compact "Lux Æterna."

Ever since 2003's undervalued St. Anger, Metallica (and Hetfield in particular) have transported their rage to a more physically punishing place. With 72 Seasons the demons are more evident than ever. In "Screaming Suicide," Hetfield howls over a thundering rhythm, "Hate to be awake / Living a mistake / More dead than alive"; "If Darkness Had a Son" is filled with beasts, temptations and nightmares. Again, archetypal Metallica, but the soul cleansing of 72 Seasons feels genuine, a lifetime of burdens lifted, at least partially, for now.

Metallica Albums Ranked

There are moments of indecision when compiling this list. After all, we really could have had – for the first time ever – a three-way tie for first.

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