By Kieran Graulich
For this edition of Last Resort, we’re going to enter some touchy territory and probably evoke a lot of strong and bitter feelings from times gone by.
Today, we’re talking about Metallica’s “St. Anger.”
For any metal fan, just the name of this album will send chills down your spine. “St. Anger” carries the burden of being one of the most notorious musical missteps in metal history, especially for a band as emblematic at Metallica. There’s a lot of history riding on this one and any Metallica fanboy – including yours truly at the age of 13 – can probably go on for hours about how this album either ruined Metallica’s name or how it really isn’t THAT bad.
So what exactly made this album so awful that Metallica’s most loyal fans shun it?
There’s a bit of background to this album: in 2003, Metallica was in an odd place. Frontman James Hetfield had recently come forth about his alcoholism and was undergoing treatment, longtime bassist Jason Newsted had left the band, the band was under fire for taking initiative in banning Napster, and tensions within Metallica were at an all-time high. While in the studio for “St. Anger,” on the brink of an artistic and emotional metamorphosis, the band decided to switch things up a bit. The guitars were tuned down, the snares were turned off (more about that later), and the band tried to sound as 2003 as they possibly could.
“St. Anger” is a completely different sound from any other Metallica album. Fans could have seen the change coming on their previous single, “I Disappear,” a few years back, slowly showing the changing of tides from “Reload’s” sharp, safe sound to “St. Anger’s” filthy and…odd aesthetic.
What I’m trying to say is that the production on this album honest to God awful.
Experimentation is fine, but “St. Anger” sounds as if it were recorded in a garage – and not in the cool Jack White way, but in the “let me record this on my iPhone, it’ll sound fine” way. While there are many redeemable and even enjoyable qualities of this album’s sound, the drums on this record are completely unforgivable. There is no reason for drums to sound like this. Ever.
In addition to the wonky production, “St. Anger” is just written and formatted in a completely different way from any other Metallica album. The songs are not straightforward. Each song seems to be written in different segments. They’re often extremely repetitive and winding, often to the point of exhaustion. Take the title track. There are a few sections to the song that are just played in different order for eight minutes and then the song is over.
“St. Anger” is a very hard album to sit through for one straight listen. This is all topped off with James Hetfield’s overly macho vocals, overdone to the point where you can tell that he’s trying to hide some insecurity. Hetfield carries himself with a swagger and manic energy that he does not actually have. The edgy, angsty image he tries to give off comes off as what it exactly is: a forty-year-old white dad in a leather jacket. Matched with the dreadful lyricism that litters this album (the line “I’m madly in anger with you” repeated ad nauseum on the title track comes to mind), “St. Anger” gets annoying and too much to handle very quickly. It’s all experimentation, but it’s experimentation coming from a band who had, for the past 20 years, been known to stick to the same formula because that’s what they did well.
When this album first came out, it was viewed as an embarrassment and a telling sign of a band falling apart from the inside. But was it really all that bad?
Stay tuned for next week’s edition where we try to look at the other side of the monster that is Metallica’s “St. Anger.”
Kieran Graulich is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.