Metallica may be a thrash metal band, but for all their aggressive drive, they manage to make their music balanced. The same cannot be said for “St. Anger”. To put it quite simply, it is a mess. In an attempt to recreate the raw sound of their early work, Metallica decided to make new material for their album in an old military barracks. A noble idea, but one that ultimately failed. In the end the band decided the sound was too raw, and moved to their own studio to record the final product. Sadly, even a bona fide studio and the skills of producer Bob Rock were not enough to save this album.
Shortly before recording started, Metallica’s bassist Jason Newstead left the band. Determined to release a new album, Metallica had Bob Rock step in as a temporary replacement. James Hetfield’s alcohol addiction and personal issues further complicated recording, and a sloppy album was the result.
Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich is often criticized for his decision to remove the wire from his snare drum, and for good reason. The drums are overwhelming. The kit doesn’t sound raw, but like it is composed of trash cans. The gimmick is distracting from the rest of “St. Anger’s” noise, which is probably a good thing. Apart from their sound, the drumming is tame compared to the skill Ulrich has shown before.
Putting it mildly, the vocals are strident. Hetfield is frequently off key and manages to sound far less suave than before. Uncomfortable wailing and ugly shouts plague the album too. The lyrics are all things childish, cliché, and boring. In the title track, Hetfield spouts cringe worthy lines like “fuck it all and fuckin’ no regrets” and the album ends up sounding ridiculous, rather than metal. Other times the lyrics are lazy. For example, Metallica lists off as many words as they can think of ending in “or” in the track, “Dirty Window”, to show off their rhyming skills. The background vocals are usually buried in the mix, but Metallica has hung on to the kind of gang vocals that have worked for them in the past. Unfortunately, we can often hear what sounds like layers of Hetfield screeching over each other, like what is heard on “Some Kind of Monster”, as if he wasn’t making enough of a ruckus already.
It was depressing to listen to a Metallica album without a single guitar solo. Kirk Hammett usually delivers standout riffs at the least, but none were to be found on “St. Anger”. In general, the guitar could be described as uninspired. Hetfield’s performance wasn’t very impressive either. It doesn’t have much of an impact on the album, instead it’s just there. Perhaps they are rusty or old, but it was a lackluster performance.
Bob Rock’s bass performance was completely drowned in the mix, which is strange considering he was the album’s producer. You really have to press your ear to the speaker to notice the bass, and when you do, it sounds like a carbon copy of Korn’s signature rattling bass, especially when listening to “Purify”. On the other hand, who knows what that sound is. It could even be Hetfield puking into one of Lars’ trashcans.
“St. Anger” is not cohesive. Each transition is clumsy, and the instruments fail to complement each other. Not a single aspect of this album is without flaw, and that includes its themes. The lyrics, like those heard on the track, “Invisible Kid”, try to be philosophical, but sound like they were written by an angsty teenager. The songs last too long and even when they have something good going, they ruin it moments later. One of the albums redeeming moments, reminiscent of the stylish rhythms of Metallica’s self-titled album, is when the band lays down a grooving riff to Hetfield’s well delivered lyrics of “Open your heart, I’m beating right here”, but the moment is murdered moments later with more horrible wailing. Overall, this is a horribly discordant album that relied too much on production despite its goal of achieving a raw sound. Something tells me that recalling an album on the sight of a trashcan is not a good sign.
Album Review by Zachary Norton, November 2016