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The year was 2003. Jason Newsted had left the band. I, like the many other die hard Metallica fans, was disappointed by this. Jason was a great bass player, and it is a shame he never got to show his full potential in Metallica. Listen to the last two Voivod albums to see what I mean. His live backing vocals also gave more power to even the most lack-luster of Metallica songs and he had an amazing stage presence. As soon as Jason jumped ship, I knew this meant trouble, BIG trouble. If this wasn't bad enough, they didn't get a new bass player right away. Instead they had their producer, Bob Rock, play bass, while the band searched for a replacement and trying to record this album. When this disc was released, the album was met with very mixed reviews but since when is this new for Metallica? I had to check it out for myself.
At first glance, in spite of everything I mentioned above, things looked promising. Updating the logo that hearkened back to the days when they were truly great, plus the positive initial reviews, brought a false sense of security. Was I wrong or what? Now the purpose of what you have read up to this point was to back up the fact that I do not hate Metallica. In all honesty it is very much the opposite. I am a die-hard fan, although not to the point of blind allegiance, and had practically grown up with them. This band was my gateway to metal as a whole. That being said, I really wanted to like this disc. But after listening to "St. Anger" all the way through a few times, I could not bring myself to like it, much less tolerate it. Musically, it is not good in any way. It doesn't matter what genre you try to fit it in; it's simply not good. It's not pleasant, thought provoking, exciting, or stimulative of any of the emotions music is supposed to invoke. Any shred of the Metallica of old has been lost completely with "St.Anger". This album was not a return to form as promised, but a cheap attempt to get fans who had long abandoned Metallica after the "Load" era, to give the band more money and another chance. You can't blame the band for trying, but almost everything about this album is just wrong. The concept behind the album honestly isn't all that bad. "St. Anger" for the most part, is an exploration of James Hetfield's inner demons. He was fresh out of rehab, after all. So conceptually the album isn't bad, but musically it's one of the worst things I've ever heard.
My main complaint is that the songs sound unfinished and production is horrid. My first issue is the songs are lacking guitar solos completely. Kirk actually wrote solos for the songs, but Bob Rock saw that these were totally removed from the final recording. He must have lost his mind. Metallica and scorching guitar solos just go hand in hand. Kirk helped pioneer single note solos, and you knew right away you were listening to Metallica due to the solos alone. Hetfield's vocals, although rougher and angrier ("Kill em All" days), are dry, cracking, and sometimes straining. The guitars have no unity or coherence and due to the down tuning just sound muddy. They are also completely buried under the drums at almost all times. The worst part about the production is the now-infamous drums (the snare in particular). Seriously, it sounds like a friggin' trash can lid. Every song on this disc is annihilated by the drums. Drums are not supposed to screw up the song or give the listener a headache; however in this case they do both. While I am happy to hear Lars is using double bass again, this does not make up for the rest of his performance. Another major production flaw is that it sounds like they just hung a microphone in someone's garage and jammed on half-assed ideas for an hour. The production, however, is not the sole reason this album fails. It is one of many major reasons this album fails. You know things are bad when "...And Justice for All" seems like a good production job. The difference here is that "Justice" was a metal masterpiece despite the bad production. St. Anger is just abysmal. The worst part is that they spent millions of dollars on the production for it to sound this way on purpose. Hell, even the "No Life 'til Leather" demo sounds better than this.
The lyrics are another major complaint I have. They are uninspired as well as immature. It sounds like something a 16 year old would write in a notebook at school or like they came from motivational posters at an AA meeting. Lyrics such as "my lifestyle determines my deathstyle" are an example of the great songwriting you will find here. All four members of the band are in their 40's, so there is no excuse for this. Cliff Burton, had he not been cremated, would be rolling in his grave. Even though he did say in an interview once that he could see Metallica playing softer music, that means yes, "Justice", and the "Black Album" would've happened, he would not have stood for this. I was, and still am, so disappointed by this disc and it is really hard to believe it was Metallica who put this out. This was no longer the band I once loved and supported.
To be honest, on rare occasions I have gone back and listened to this album a few times since my initial listening. Very rarely, I will find an album I couldn't stand the first couple times around actually grows on me. This, however, is not the case with "St.Anger", as it fails to change my opinion each and every time I hear it. The only song it is possible to suffer through is "Frantic" as it is easily the "best" song on the album. This isn't saying much, as it only serves as a forewarning for the garbage ahead. If you have been able to listen to the album entirely, you would know the songs get progressively worse. By the end of the last track, you will probably be searching for something to kill yourself with. This disc is the James and Lars show. Period. Some songs start strong, such as "Some Kind of Monster" and "Dirty Window", the latter sounds like a Motorhead song in the beginning; however, as soon as James sings, everything but his voice and those annoying drums fade to the background. I can't even make out a decent chord progression. It is just a wall of unintelligible garbage invading your eardrums. If they would have sought a tighter, crunchier sound, allowed Kirk to keep the solos he wrote, engaged the snare, and not looped the hell out of each song, this album could have lived up to what it should have been.
Looking back at the album six years later, the album actually sounds worse now than it did then. This, I would say, is due to the release of "Death Magnetic". Also, because the album mainly dealt with the band's issues at the time, it feels very dated. The only reason I give a 15%, is because with the release of "Death Magnetic", Metallica showed us (or rather assured us) that "St.Anger" was not a permanent stylistic shift. Rather, it was a brave, albeit horribly failed, experiment.