By Kieran Graulich
Last week, we discussed Metallica’s notorious “St. Anger,” an album that’s split metal fans down the middle for over a decade. For many, “St. Anger” was an egregious misstep by Metallica, which we focused on last week: sloppy production, poorly recorded guitars, snares turned off, odd song arrangements, and a very overdramatic and unfitting vocal delivery from frontman James Hettfield. It only takes one listen to the album’s final song, “All Within My Hands,” which closes out with James screaming, “KILL KILL KILL KILL,” several dozen times, to understand why this album ranks among the worst in the opinions of many metal fans.
However, twelve years after its release, some people have been able to forgive “St. Anger,” despite its glaring errors. Although most still dislike, some people will actually make the argument that “St. Anger” isn’t that bad of an album. Despite my gripes with the album that I outlined last week, I actually do fall into the latter category. As strange as it feels to admit it after years of despising “St. Anger,” it really is a forgivable album.
One of the main reasons why people dislike “St. Anger” so much is because of how different in sound and style it was for Metallica: tuned down guitars, the drums (still not okay), all topped with songwriting that would seem very typical for metal of the time — particularly for hybrid bands that Metallica actually influenced, such as Soundgarden or Linkin Park.
Despite how closely Metallica had stuck to their normal formula for 20 years beforehand, the new, different sound doesn’t exactly mean that the new, different sound is bad. As aforementioned, the production can render some moments almost unlistenable; however, many moments on “St. Anger” are actually very enjoyable — crushing, melodic, unstable. Songs like the opener “Frantic” are — honest to God — good. For every bad moment on “St. Anger,” there is a riff or melody behind the song that Metallica just rocks out so well. Honestly, the instrumentals, particularly in the intros to most songs, would be pretty damn good played by themselves. Although they aren’t traditional Metallica songs, they still deliver their own darker and rawer kind of punch, almost to the point where Metallica is experimenting with doom metal.
Which leads into another reason why I will defend “St. Anger” — the experimentation. Until “St. Anger,” Metallica had made, in my opinion, three albums in a row that were made almost strictly for commercial success and really catalyzed the oversaturation of the genre. “Load” and “Reload” were incredibly boring and uninspired, to the point where it became obvious that Metallica just weren’t trying that hard. However, on “St. Anger,” there is at least something. There is some passion and fire behind the music, no matter how bad it gets. “St. Anger” is the band trying to do something legitimate and exciting again, at least to themselves.
While, yes, “St. Anger” makes plenty of mistakes and laughable moments that litter the album, as time goes by, perhaps we can learn to appreciate “St. Anger” in the larger scope of Metallica’s (as well as metal as a whole’s) story arch. The hate brought about by sudden change and a band that was clearly struggling to remain relevant and functional was, perhaps, too quick to give “St. Anger” a fair shot. Maybe down the line, we can all learn to look back and appreciate this kind of monster.
Kieran Graulich is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.