REVIEW: Metallica – St. Anger (bonus DVD, 2003)

Happy long weekend, Canada!
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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?)

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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.

3/5 stars

Don’t count Bob Rock out — his work with the Tragically Hip has been excellent!

29 comments

  1. I’m first to comment? Well then, bravely on! You know what, I like this record. For the time it was made, and where they were at in their lives, it was the record that needed to get made. Fair enough. It still hits hard, just… differently.

    I wrote about it, way back in November of 2006 for the KMA, and funnily enough I just reposted it to the HAAP recently. If you’re interested, here ya go:

    http://harlanateapug.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/st-anger/

    Mike and I said a lot of the same things. Interesting!

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  2. I think your review is very fair. Strangely, I never picked up on people calling this a sell-out. Really? I remember a lot of people saying it was shite! I’d agree with you though, it’s ok. Good moments but a lot wrong with it too. Don’t like the production (though it sounds better on headphones), the lyrics are crap and pretty much every song is longer than it needs to be.

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    1. A lot of my customers called it a sell out. I think basically, in this town, any metal band that even remotely dabbled in alternative sounds were considered sell-outs!

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        1. In context, in the wake of Napster, Metallica had a lot of people just waiting to trash the album on the internet.

          The same people came and bitched about it in my store. I defended this album a lot.

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        2. That’s a great point about the post-Napster backlash. And also that song I Disappear that came out for the MI movie was total pish.

          I guess that’s the double-edged sword of being as huge as they became. A large portion of your fans will just want you to stay that way forever.

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        3. Bands change. Every band has changed. Even AC/DC to a small but measurable degree.

          I don’t know if you recall this story from last year:

          https://mikeladano.com/2012/08/03/part-87-the-great-change/

          Here’s the relevant text:

          I remember one guying coming in with a great selection of Metallica discs. All the albums, plus the Live Sh*t box set.

          “Wow, this is a great Metallica collection you have here,” I commented as I went through the discs.

          “Thanks. I’m selling them because of that fucking asshole Lars. I ripped them all to my computer and now he can go fuck himself.”

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        4. Yeah right. It used to piss me off. Because while I’m not going to defend Lars on this, it was such a bitchy move by fans., And everybody ignored all the other celebs who backed Lars, and focused their hate strictly on him,

          I think the Load and Reload albums kind of set up this hate. But I like Load. Fuck it, I’ll have to post my review of it some day. So I’m uncloseting myself:

          I AM LEBRAIN AND I LIKE METALLICA’S LOAD ALBUM!

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        5. I never liked it that much. There was some good stuff on Load but it was just sooo bloated. Some tracks were plain awful. But again, people have over-reacted about how bad it was. There was definitely some worth while stuff on it. I prefer St. Anger to those albums though.

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  3. Perfect review well said; LeBrain’s in my brain! I don’t hate this album. I absolutely never cue it up but every time a St. Anger tune comes up on the “shuffle all” I find myself paying attention and being surprised at how much I’m enjoying it.

    As for AC/DC, I’m like one of those self-absorbed wine snobs, having convinced myself that my aural palate is somehow discerning enough to be able to distinguish the varying nuances between the vintages, er, I mean tunes.

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    1. Thanks man! I think with AC/DC, yes, I can tell a Back in Black tune from a Flick of the Switch tune for example…but we know that AC/DC are not going to make any left turns. They’re not going to drop guitar solos. You can always count on the next AC/DC sounding like the next AC/DC.

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        1. This is what I’ve heard as well. I have a review coming in a week or two of the Stiff Upper Lip CD, It’s going to be a two-parter actually.

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  4. I quite enjoyed this album – okay not their best ever and I didn’t feel like I got ripped off when I bought it. Although now I do – I didn’t get any freebie disks…grrr…

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      1. No I didn’t – I didn’t get it straight away though and what is available in South Africa is often a let down. Hardly any deluxe editions or limited editions – if you want those you have to order them from outside.

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  5. As my Welsh pal says “It’s an undiscovered classic!”
    I actually prefer hearing the songs as they sound on the live DVD rather than the CD itself. so it’s a good job they gave that disk as a bonus gift. Not that they or anyone cares much about my opinion, of course!

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