Happy long weekend, Canada!
METALLICA – St. Anger (bonus DVD, 2003 E/M)
Ahh, the much-maligned St. Anger! When I first reviewed St. Anger back in 2003, I pointed out that some Metallica fans are suffering from “Highschool Syndrome”:
Highschool Syndrome: “The band doesn’t sound the same as they did when I liked them in highschool, therefore they are sellouts and I don’t like this album.”
A staunch critic must remember something before they brand St. Anger a sellout. An album recorded this harshly, with songs this aggressive by anyone else would get zero airplay. How is that selling out?
Perhaps by “selling out”, some fans are referring to the lack of solos and the alternative, downtuned sounds on St. Anger. Unfortunatly, the lack of solos is really a mistake. Kirk Hammett did record at least one very cool and appropriate solo for this album; check out the movie Some Kind Of Monster for a glimpse at that. Hammett felt that the cutting of guitar solos was a mistake and so do I. As Hammett said in the movie, “Having no solos dates the album to THIS time (2003)”.
The production by Bob Rock was definitely the wrong direction. He was overcompensating for what was perceived as overproduction on Load, Reload and Black. The band probably should have taken a production direction like Garage Inc. (heavy, but conventional) instead of pushing the envelope like they did. The sound he created was so harsh that it is actually headache inducing for me to listen to St. Anger in one sitting. (And this is selling out?)
The songs contained herein are by and large pretty decent. The title track was brilliant, with a great video to match. My personal favourite is the fast and furious “Frantic”, the melodic “Sweet Amber”, the angry “Shoot Me Again” and the epic “All Within My Hands”. There are ample time changes and musical adventures going on here, which harken back to the ambitiousness of Justice, while not sounding like old-school Metallica.
The lyrics, mostly introspective, are not my cup of tea. Some may call them brilliant, some may call them psycho-babble trash. Whatever they are, it is the first time that Hetfield didn’t helm them and they were written by the entire band. Truly, they’re not that bad when you’re banging your head at full speed, but most fans want to hear Metallica raging against something other than themselves.
The CD comes with a cool booklet, and of course the bonus DVD: all of St. Anger, recorded by the Hetfield / Ulrich / Hammett / Trujilo lineup, in order, in the studio. (Bob Rock played bass on the album.) At the time, a freebee like this was a bigger deal. They were obviously trying to placate pissed off fans after the fallout of Napster. There was even a code to download an entire live show of your choice. Basically, you are getting the value of three albums in one, for the price of a single CD. Not bad.
Yet, St. Anger was a hard album to love, and few people did. It is the sound of a fractured band piecing itself back together and experimenting with some interesting directions. It could have been better. It’s an important album in the sense that, this was a huge turning point. The band were basically reduced to two guys (Kirk and Lars) for months on end while James was in recovery. We all know the story.
From that point of view, it’s an interesting listen. Music had changed, Metallica were trying to lead and play catch-up at the same time, so it seemed. I think you have to give them credit for attempting something new, sometimes those albums end up classics 20 years down the road. There are enough good riffs and solid songs on St. Anger to come back to it once in a while.
Besides, if you want a band to sound the same album after album, why would you listen to Metallica? AC/DC are still around, you know.
Don’t count Bob Rock out — his work with the Tragically Hip has been excellent!