I am first and foremost a music lover; I buy what I like and respect. But from time to time, when I am perhaps only an album away from completing my compilation of a band’s discography, I revert to my baser instincts and become… <shudder> …a collector. That’s right, I abhor the term and the very idea, but sometimes I say to hell with it and just bite the bullet (although, in fairness, usually for a low price.)
That was my rationale for purchasing Metallica’s latest contribution to the metal-loving public, St. Anger. While I’d like to say that this purchase was an impulse buy and that I had no previous exposure to the album’s content, I’m afraid that I had heard from both friends and the media that this was perhaps the worst offering from the band whom many consider the founding fathers of modern metal. And while I’d like to say that these friends and magazines were horribly mistaken, I can’t do that either. Lars, James, and the boys have really blown it this time.
This album tries desperately to hook with you the opening three tracks by making them arguably the most “important.” Like its predecessor Reload, St. Anger starts with a strong opening track, “Frantic.” It begins with a speedy guitar riff followed by steely, dirty-sounding drums, and never looks back. My favorite track, this song works hard to recapture the Kill ‘Em All feeling of early Metallica, complete with James Hetfield growling through most of the lyrics rather than singing. But admittedly, having his vocals regress here does wonders for the overall feeling of the song. “St. Anger,” however; instantly puts the album on a slippery slope. The same steel-sounding drums that provided a garage band feeling for “Frantic” here simply sound unpolished and poorly produced. Hetfield’s vocals are an appropriate mixture of true singing and grunting through certain sections, but one can only hope he grimaced through the lyrics. The climactic part of the song comes with this lyrical absurdity: “I’m madly in anger with you.” See, it’s a pun: instead of madly in love, he’s madly in anger. And since madly can also mean angrily, it’s like a second dose of ….oh, forget it.
“Some Kind Of Monster,” the lead single and title of the band’s previously released documentary, really does have promise, all unfulfilled throughout the eight and a half minutes the listener must endure. The opening bass riff, soon accompanied by guitar, is a simple, catchy one, reminiscent of “Enter Sandman.” Unlike that Metallica classic, however, it goes nowhere from there. No real solo for Kirk Hammett to employ to show his brilliance, no frightening lyrics, simply the same ridiculously simple riff over and over again. This is the one song that upon my first listen actually sounded like vintage Metallica, making it all the more disappointing when it ends, leaving you with a feeling that surely the song isn’t really over, that it was just starting.
After these three, the rest of the album doesn’t really even show promise, it’s just a collection of trash, rather than the thrash that the listener expects. “Purify” and “Sweet Amber” are listenable, but then you find yourself cringing when you realize that a band once as strong as Metallica has now allowed tolerable to be an acceptable synonym for good.
The rest of the album feels like the same useless filler fans have become forced to grow accustomed to through Load and Reload. Songs like “Dirty Window” and “Invisible Kid” show nothing special except that same nasty sound to every drum beat. “Shoot Me Again” is a unique experiment, but it’s a trial that just doesn’t work. And then “The Unnamed Feeling” and “All Within My Hands” slap the listener in the face once again with ugly production, stupid lyrics, and simply, boredom.
St. Anger tries desperately to keep Metallica relevant in a musical era in which metal has returned to a genre for the dark and frightening and exited the mainstream altogether. By attempting to create a garage band feeling, they manage to alienate both diehards and newcomers. The raised red fist on the album cover might as well have the middle finger sticking straight up, because these days that seems to be the attitude with which Metallica approaches not only life, but their fans as well.