[Album Review] "St Anger" – Metallica

St Anger - MetallicaAlbum Title: St Anger
Artist: Metallica
Year: 2003
Running Time: 75m 6s

Track listing: 1 Frantic; 2 St Anger; 3 Some Kind of Monster; 4 Dirty Window; 5 Invisible Kid; 6 My World; 7 Shoot Me Again; 8 Sweet Amber; 9 The Unnamed Feeling; 10 Purify; 11 All Within My Hands

I never really look forward to much in life because I’d rather be pleasantly surprised that feel let down. I’ve certainly learnt not to look forward to Metallica albums too much over the last few years. Following on from the hit-and-miss “Load” in 1996, the practically all-filler “Reload” in 1997 and the forgettable “Garage Inc” in 1998, I only mildly anticipated 2003’s “St Anger”.

Since their last release (1999’s collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra), a lot has happened for the band. Apart from their well documented legal attack on file-sharing company Napster, they lost bassist Jason Newsted to “private and personal reasons” and lead singer James Hetfield temporarily to rehab. Well Hetfield is back, sober and angry; and Newsted has been replaced by Robert Trujllo (formerly of Suicidial Tendencies and Ozzy Osbourne’s band).

So with all the ingredients in place, the band’s eighth album (of original material) in their 20-year career finally hit the streets. “St Anger” is a promise of a return to full-on metal that they patented in the mid-eighties with classic albums like “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets”. Does it deliver?

I’ve spent weeks wondering the best way of reviewing this album. It’s hard to know where to start. There are so many flaws and problems with it that it’s easy to forget some of them – I must gather my thoughts before I continue.

The bottom line is that the songs are just not very good at all. The high spots are very few and far between – and they are not even that high. Lead single and title track, ‘St Anger’, is a decent numiber. Throbbing rhythm, breakneck speed, slowed-down verses and then a nu-metal bridge that actually sounds pretty good. Lyrically it’s rather daft, and vocally Hetfield is exposed as not being able to even hold his own limited range, but its’ catchy and reminiscent enough of the good old days to keep your interest.

Album opener ‘Frantic’ is also pretty frenetic but suffers from repetitive and tired “rhyming” lyrics: ‘If I could have my wasted days back/would I use them to get back on track’ and ‘My lifestyle determines my deathstyle’. As for the chorus: ‘Frantic tick tick tick tick tick tock’. Good lord. ‘Some Kind of Monster’ is a reasonable, heavy, muddy number with a distorted rhythm guitar although again the lyrics are just downright appalling – ‘These are the eyes that can’t see me/These are the hands that drop your trust/These are the boots that kick you around/This is the tongue that speaks on ths inside’ – somehow these jaded metal lyrics sounded fine in 1988, but old-hat in 2003.

There’s little else to get excited about. ‘Shoot Me Again’ shows some musical promise with it’s decent stop-start hook before falling apart at the pre-chorus repeat of ‘shoot me again/shoot me again…etc (repeat ad nauseam)’ and ‘Purify’ is another nod to nu-metal and sounds dirty and f*cked up enough to work.

Another problem – the tracks all go on way too long. The shortest song on the album is the notch-over-five minutes of ‘Purify’, but most of the tracks weigh in at seven minutes-plus. This worked well on “Master of Puppets” but the tracks here are not strong enough to carry it off.

Production. Well I wonder if it was produced at all. Bob Rock, who oversaw Metallica’s work through the 90s, has tried to re-create the garage sound of the early 80s on “St Anger”. The problem is that it is phenomenally inappropriate for an arena-metal band (which is what Metallica are, like it or not) to create music that sounds like this. The mix is totally off-kilter. James off-key vocals should really be hidden more while Lars drums are far too prominent as well.

Speaking of drums – did someone replace Lars’ drumsticks with two large unweildy wet fish? Lars has never been regarded as the most talented drummer in metal, but there is just something seriously wrong with the whole sound. Thump-thump-thump….he sounds like a limited session musician trying out for a local garage band in New Jersey.

And where are the solos? Kirk Hammett is a fine guitarist but here he seems to just play the same notes as Hetfield for the entire album. There are NO solos. Considering that the songs weigh in at nearly six-and-a-half minutes each on average, most of them had room for a Kirk solo instead of a dull, repeated vocal or rhythm line that is the norm on “St Anger”.

To be fair to “St Anger”, some of it does become listenable to after a week or so. But it still can’t be considered a strong album by any means. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it’s a toss up between this and “Reload” for the accolade of “Metallica’s worst album”.

The direction that they went on “Metallica” and “Load” wasn’t ideal, but at least the music was well-written and performed. There’s nothing wrong with strong production values, as one can witness when they hear an album without these values. There are elements that are reminiscent of old Metallica for sure on “St Anger”, but all they do is re-inforce the mediocrity of the other sixty-five minutes.

If you really must buy “St Anger”, at least try and get it cheap online or at ebay. I have a feeling that there will be quite a few second hand copies floating around very soon.

1halfstar

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