St. Anger


Elektra Records, 2003

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I have now been, in some way, shape or form, reviewing music for over 35 years. I have heard some of the most amazing compositions ever put to paper and recreated onto magnetic tape or computer hard drives. I’ve had the privilege to listen to some of the greatest albums over a wide variety of genres.

I have also heard the dredges of the barrel, whether from independent artists who needed many, many more music lessons or from seasoned professionals who just should have known better than to release the aural equivalent of shit onto the market. I’m not going to name artists or specific albums; if you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you’ll be able to compile a short list that made my short list.

And then, there’s St. Anger, the oft-maligned 2003 release from Metallica. Coming off the one-two punch of the departure of long-time bassist-slash-emotional punching bag Jason Newsted and the forced hiatus due to guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield’s stay in rehab, this has been labeled as one of the worst albums of all time.

Let’s get a few things clear: this is not the worst album ever in the history of recorded music. It’s not even the worst album Metallica has done—though, I’ll admit it would have held that title until the release of Lulu, the group’s 2011 collaboration with Lou Reed.


Oh, make no mistake… this album is not good, by any definition. But it also isn’t the steaming, festering pile of cow dung it’s been portrayed as. If anything, it’s a snapshot of its time that dares to suggest that—perhaps—Metallica should have taken more time following Hetfield’s return to the band to release an album, even if they were long overdue to do so.

St Anger is vilified for a number of reasons—first and foremost being the tin-drum snare sound that Lars Ulrich chose to use. And, yes, it is grating on the ears at times—just listen to the title track as exhibit “A.” However, there are times that suggest going with this sound might have been a good idea. The closing number “All Within My Hands” does seem to utilize the lack of snares on the snare to the benefit of the overall sound of the song. If anything, I’d have suggested that Ulrich maybe could have utilized two snare drums—one with the traditional sound, one sans the snare wires—and worked both drums into the mix.

Second on people’s shit list is the simplistic, repetitive lyrics from Hetfield. Okay, they all have a point there. Granted, Hetfield has never been the most poetic lyricist out there, but he does seem to fall all too often into a pattern of repetition that, in the end, hurts the overall efforts. “Frantic,” “Shoot Me Again” and “My World” serve as proof of this. It’s here that I’d have argued that Metallica might have benefited from taking more time to write and record what became St. Anger.

Finally, people complain about the lack of guitar solos from Kirk Hammett. Whether this was Hetfield’s decision or the band’s, there is a strong argument to having solos in Metallica’s music—hell, it was Hammett’s shredding, among other things, that brought them the attention they rightfully got.

All of this said, one can’t deny that St. Anger—even at its deepest core—has some merit. If anything, this was to metal what primal scream therapy was to John Lennon’s early solo works; it captured a human being (Hetfield) at his most vulnerable, having been forced to face and defeat the demons that haunted him. The 11 songs that make up St. Anger capture a humbled, scared and pissed off Hetfield having to face the world on all new terms—and the music was his manner of expressing what he was going through.

This, however, hardly saves this disc from being one of the weakest releases in Metallica’s catalog. I can’t say it’s a complete failure, but it hardly belongs on the same shelf as Master Of Puppets or Metallica. It is what it is—and we can (and should) appreciate it as such. Doesn’t mean we have to like it or listen to it a lot, though.

Rating: D

User Rating: F



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