Metallica - ’72 Seasons Global Premiere’
So it is an inauspicious Thursday evening in April, and I find myself at the Electric cinema in Birmingham, which loudly and proudly claims to be the oldest working cinema in England. I’ve been here many times. The old-fashioned lobby, the intimate screens, the at-your-seat food and drink service, and the independent ethos all make it easily my favourite place to watch movies. Tonight, however, I’m not here for a movie. I’m here for Metallica. I should plant my flag at the outset. I love Metallica. There are some bands you can measure your life by and Metallica are one of them. It’s hard to believe its 35 years since I first saw them live, and even harder to believe I’ve just paid to sit in a cinema to hear their new album, ’72 Seasons’, a mere few hours before it it released tomorrow. Metallica live has always been an awesome experience. Loads of bands are great live, of course, and I’ve never seen one as tight, lean, energetic, and powerful. Metallica these days are such an all-conquering commercial juggernaut that all of that is probably very uncool to say…and one of the great blessings of getting older is learning to give less of a fuck about what other people think. Time to get the popcorn out...
Well, this is weird. As the cinema slowly fills up with unusually polite and restrained Metallica fans, I immediately notice how diverse the crowd is. The woman sat in front of me reminds me of my soon-to-be-80-year-old Mum, and the couple next to me look for all the world like two people on a documentary I once saw about swinging parties. I wonder what I look like to other people. Clearly, I’m distracted as I sit through the adverts. The atmosphere is not subdued exactly but oddly well-mannered. As the lights go down, someone behind me asks the waitress for a Malbec.
Here goes. First up we’re greeted by the band’s famous logo, stark black on a yellow background, matching all the promo material for the album. I’m excited. I’m part of the first cohort of people in the world to hear this new record. I am momentarily connected to that sense of being part of something bigger. I’m in the club. I’m expectantly waiting for the first thunderous bars of the opening track but instead we get a QR code and an onscreen prompt to get scanning so we can head over to the online merchandise store. This feels jarring. I suddenly remember there’s a reason why Metallica are the most commercially successful metal band of all time and I immediately feel like a small cog in a big unit shifting machine.
After more marketing for the upcoming tour, we finally get the band, shot in black and white, introducing us to the show. Wouldn’t you just know it: they’re eating popcorn and asking us if we have ours. I suppose it’s meant to be friendly and engaging but all the goofing around comes off a little forced. Each of the 12 songs is preceded by some chatter from various band members and accompanied by a piece of film. These films are a mixed bag of performance-centric promotional videos directed by Tim Saccenti, and some anonymous art house pieces that look more like the kind of thing a band might play as a video backdrop to a live show. All tracks it seems are not created equal.
Saccenti’s promos have a definite house style. I kinda wish I was still taking psychedelics. I would have enjoyed all the fractal images and the trippy CG a lot more. I tire of the visuals fairly quickly. I notice myself just wanting to watch the band play. Someone definitely skimped on the piece for ‘Chasing Light’ which looked like a ZX81 loading screen. That one was hard to watch, although once it’s finished I feel reassured that I probably haven’t inherited my Dad’s epilepsy.
During the band intros I find myself wondering if it’s actually quite hard to talk enthusiastically about one’s own music without sounding like a bit of a prick. James Hetfield and Robert Trujillo do a decent job here, with Hetfield in particular going beyond simple enthusiasm for the music by giving us some insight into his lyrics. His struggles with addiction and his own mental health have been well documented and I’m most engaged when he shares some of the vulnerability behind his writing. I’ve always found Metallica's openness about their influences quite endearing. We share a love of the so-called ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ which emerged in the early 1980s, and as well as name checking that, we hear ample praise for Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, and Motörhead. Lars Ulrich is harder to warm to, as his musings seem like far too much of a performance. Kirk Hammett comes off like some old stoner dude you might bump into at a festival. Affable enough, but I’ve got absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.
Aside from these trimmings, I guess we’re all really here for the music. The cinema setting makes it hard to know how to receive it. Should we headbang? Air guitar? Scream and holler at the end of the song like we would at a gig? Apparently not. Evidently, the plan is to sit quietly and just take it all in. Metallica have been on a journey since the early days, from Bay Area thrash, through mainstream superstardom, that inevitable experimental period, and pretty much losing their way before settling into a more self assured groove since ‘Death Magnetic’ in 2008. The music on offer here is hard and heavy. The riff is king and there’s not even a sniff of a ballad. “Full speed or nothing”, goes the chorus from lead single, ‘Lux Aeterna’. That pretty much says it all. It’s not particularly groundbreaking, and as much as it will surely satisfy any Metallica fan, i don’t imagine it will win over legions of new ones. Hatfield tells us that they didn’t go for light and shade in constructing the track list for ’72 Seasons’, eschewing a managed approach to creating an album of varied styles in favour of simply going with, “riffs that we liked”. This approach is possibly both a gift and a curse. If you like the riffs too, you’ll like the record. If not, it will probably all sound a bit same-y.
As a bunch of us jostled for position in the Electric's unfeasibly small toilets after the show, the initial reviews from the admittedly self-selecting crowd were positive. “Not a bad track” and, “Best thing since the black album” were both phrases that I heard. I walk away happy and drive home with the stereo up loud. There are surely worse commercial machines to be sucked in and spat out by.
Main image by Kreepin Deth - Metallica Live at The O2, London, England, 22 October 2017 (from Wikipedia)