St. Anger

Metallica

Elektra Records, 2003

REVIEW BY: Paul Hanson

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/09/2003

I went to Wal-Mart on Wednesday, June 4, 2003, and bought this CD. Happy as a clam, I was about halfway home when I noticed a little sticker that said "Edited."

Metallica "censored"?Not in my house. I turned around, returned to Wal-Mart and got my money back. I told the clerk at Wal-Mart, "I was driving home and noticed the "edited" sticker." He replied, "I never buy CDs here. They're all edited." I then went to the Best Buy store across the street and paid less money for this same release ($9.99) with all the cursing included. I told the cashier about the "edited" version and he replied, "I always buy my CDs here." That surprises me. . .. not.

When I returned home, now with the uncensored version, I retreated to my basement to listen to the first new Metallica studio release since Reload. I injested this CD, air-drumming and being able to anticipate some of drummer Lars Ulrich's cymbal catches and drum beats on my first listen. The good news: there is no bad news. It is clear to me that Metallica wanted to hear what would happen if they took their thrash-metal roots and found a way to bring that up-to-date and into the growth their sound has made with Load/ ReLoad. Ulrich has been quoted on the internet as saying he doesn't like the phrase "going back," but that's what it is; no use sugarcoating it. There are drum parts and guitar riffs that would so clearly fit into the Master of Puppets or ...And Justice For All era of their career. With this merging of sounds, Ulrich has found his double-bass drums (roots), and has maintained his snare drum being tuned high, like he did on their Mission Impossible II soundtrack contribution "I Disappear." Old and new.

Title track "St. Anger" has these lyrics: "Fuck it all and fuckin' no regrets / I hit the lights on these dark sets / Medallion noose, I hang myself / St. Anger round my neck," quoting from their Master of Puppets and Kill 'Em All releases. Old and new. Damn. It works.

I am amazed by the aggressiveness on this release and how Metallica has merged this anger and hostility with calm sections and riffs that groove. "Some Kind of Monster" and "The Unnamed Feeling" have sections that bring back memories of other 'groove' songs like "Harvester of Sorrow" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls" or, more recently, "King Nothing" or "Devil's Dance." I'm not suggesting that these two elements are not new to Metallica's music, but on this release, these common practices of their style are taken to a new place. That place harbors anger and hostility and an awareness of imperfections within us all. The perfections of "Monster" is that the groove between the band members is deep. At 8:26, it's unlikely this track will enjoy the radio success of "Nothing" or "Dance." And no, they don't sound exactly alike.

The sum of this CD is that it delivers the parts it needs to return fans that abandoned the band the first time they heard "Until It Sleeps" either on the radio or on MTV prior to Load's release. The follow-up, Reload, didn't bring their fans back either, even though that disc's opener "Fuel" was the closest the band had come to heavy metal in their trademark style. After drifting through back to back two-CD collections of either someone else's material ( Garage Inc.) or alternative renditions of their own material ( S&M), this band has a lot to live up to with this release. Losing bassist Jason Newsted, the six percent contributor during his tenure in the band, has not seemed to have any effect on the band. Replacing Newsted with producer Bob Rock makes sense as his work with the band since the bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250
Black release has helped mature the band's sound.

Like someone that reads the last chapter first, I had heard the first two songs on this release, hearing opener "Frantic" at the end of last month's MTV Icon special. I heard the title track on May 31st, 2003, while driving from Catholic Mass in the midst of Rock 108's ( http://www.rock108.com) "Metallica A-Z Special." I am glad no officers of the law saw me. "Shoot Me Again" sticks out as a track that is likely to get my vote for best track. I like the heavy groove between bassist Rock and Ulrich. At the exact same moment, "Dirty Window" stands out for the personal reflections of vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield. Perhaps summing his recent trip to alcohol rehab, he sings, "Projecting judgement on the world/ This house is clean baby." In "Sweet Amber," Hetfield Confronts his personal demons, personified by a woman named Amber. He sings, "She rolls me over 'till I'm sick/ She deals in habits, deals in pain/ I run away, but I'm back again."

The music on this song is fast and loud. The riffs are thick sounding. "The Unnamed Feeling" culminates the 'confronting personal demons' theme when he sings, "I just wanna get the fuck away from me." This release adopts a new mode for the band: few guitar solos. Since the blisterin' fancy fretwork on Kill 'Em All, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett has helped define the Metallica style. My personal favorite solos are on classics like "Master of Puppets," "Whiplash," and "Sad But True." It is within these songs that Hammett adds a tint to the other colors (vocals, rhythm guitar, drums, bass) in the song. That song style, described accurately as "here's the guitar solo part of the song, Kirk's time to shine" is absent from this release. These songs don't seem to have any room for guitar solos. Unlike Tourniquet's Where Moth and Rust Decay release, where former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman went old school thrash metal, Hammett is not given those opportunities.

What has taken the place of Hammett's guitar solos are thick riffs that sound like death metal in parts, especially on "St. Anger." Those parts are where Lars Ulrich has captured his most impressive performance since ...And Justice for All. His performance on St. Anger will help him rightly reclaim his position as one of metal's best drummers. Not the best, but one of 'em. Last track "All Within My Hands" puts the exclamation mark on Ulrich's performance. While I was initially turned off by Ulrich's snare drum tone, it is growing on me. Hetfield finishes this chapter of Metallica history by screaming "Kill kill kill kill kill" to end this song. On Ride the Lightning's "Creeping Death," he sang "Die die die." So anywhere you look, you have death.

This release is getting better with each listen. If you feared this release would be a continuation of the Load/ Reload era, your fears can be erased. These songs are all stuffed with riffs that stitch together to form 2003's most powerful release. I am eager to hear how many of these songs, and which ones, will be merged into Metallica's live set list.

You get a taste of what these songs might sound like live when you sit through the included DVD, which doubles the amount of time you get this release. The band plays these songs in their rehearsal studio. Director Wayne Isham, responsible for many of the band's videos (like the San Diego video from Binge & Purge) tries all sorts of camera tricks to keep your interest. There's black and white footage woven into color, there's reverse lighting, there's all sorts of things. You get to see glimpses of their rehearsal studio, which features the head from the statue on the ...And Justice for All cover hanging from the rafters. Metallica could have done more for this DVD. I was disappointed and I enjoy watching the band play live. I was expecting something other than "hey, let's capture Metallica playing the 'same songs' on the CD in the same order as the CD."

While I do like the idea of showing new bassist Robert Trujillo playing these songs since he isn't on the non-DVD CD, I expected something beyond the obvious from the band, like showing the band members talking at least a little bit about the songs themselves, perhaps giving us a glimpse into their thoughts. I would have especially have liked to hear Hetfield, in his down-on-earth manner, talk about his rehab and what it took to write songs like "The Unnamed Feeling" and "Purify." I speculate the sort of information I think is missing on this DVD will be on a home video that will probably be released within the year, showing alternative takes of the footage shown here. This DVD comes across as a teaser of what we should be seeing from the band in the future.

All in all, this release survives the Internet hype and triumphs.

Rating: A

User Rating: F

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Comments

by goneil on January 12, 2007 09:46:03 PM
Come on, guys! I swear every review for this particular album were paid for by Lars and company. For no one I know, musician/songwriter or not, liked this album. No one. All user reviews I've read reflect that. The lyrics sound like cheesy A.A. literature ("I want my anger to be healthy, I want my anger to be me") The drums are tuned and mixed horrifically. James is outta tune, and no that does not give him street cred or make the recording sound more raw, it just makes it sound like amateur hour. While I don't consider myself a loyal follower of Metallica, I do like alot of their material from all phases of their career....except this one.

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© 2003 Paul Hanson and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.