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A season of change

MUSIC | Metallica reflects on the “time-haunted” past


Tim Saccenti

A season of change
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Caleb the son of Jephunneh did not believe in retirement. He was 85 when he asked Joshua for the hill country of Hebron as his inheritance. He knew he was as strong as he was 45 years prior when he spied out the Promised Land, and he knew the Lord would be with him to drive out the fearsome Anakim from Hebron. Joshua honored Caleb’s request. And Church tradition teaches that Caleb blasted Metallica’s 72 Seasons as he drove the Anakim from the hill country of Israel.

OK, that last part is a stretch, but there are Caleb-esque qualities in 72 Seasons, Metallica’s 11th studio album, which dropped in April. James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, and Lars Ulrich—the remaining original members of Metallica—are all 60. Yet they sound every bit as young as they did on, say, 1984’s Ride the Lightning.

72 Seasons is as heavy and hard and fast as most pre–Black Album material, and the style and energy are not the only things working in retrospect. The 72 seasons in question are how Hetfield views the first 18 years of life “that form our true or false selves” and which require “reenactment or reaction” as adults. Most of the lyrical content is a reflection on the “time-haunted” past.

Given Metallica’s history, there is plenty of material to deconstruct. Six-fingered giants like withdrawal, shame, and temptation lurk in the shadows of these hills. “Screaming Suicide,” written from the perspective of suicide, is like Screwtape Letters if C.S. Lewis had been into thrash metal. “To face it is to speak the unspoken,” Hetfield wrote about the meaning of the song. “If it’s a human experience, we should be able to talk about it. You are not alone.”

From a Christian perspective, such honesty can be celebrated. There is a sense in which 72 Seasons works like much of the Psalms. The dark and ­broken state of the human condition is expressed with unflinching vividness. But it doesn’t end there. “Lux Æterna” speaks of a “sonic salvation” that can “cast out the demons that strangle your life.” The desire for forgiveness saturates “Room of Mirrors.” “Sleepwalk My Life Away” is a prayerful plea to come awake to real living.

Metallica has long indulged in dark and troubling spiritual themes, and now they seem to be haunted by something (or Someone) different. That’s the possibility hinted at in 72 Seasons, at least. After 40 years of nihilistic wandering, Metallica sees that it’s time for night to exit. They encourage us to confess the things that haunt our dreams. By naming our darkest sins and fears, we bring them into the eternal Light of grace where we’re “never too far gone to save,” as Hetfield sings in “Too Far Gone?”

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