Ah, St. Anger. The consensus bastard child of all Metallica albums. Labeled by the masses as an album for completionists. I must admit, this is one of the few albums by any band I've listened to that, going in, I was expecting it to be terrible.
Well, it wasn't. I was actually pleasantly surprised.
In the typical metal fan's eye, St. Anger has four glaring weaknesses that make it little more than a mockery (again, to the typical metalhead) in the metal discussion: crappy production values (something the band claims intentional, but that's irrelevant), the length combined with the repetition, lack of guitar solos, and that god damned steely snare drum. I can understand anyone being turned off from this album because of any or all of those qualities. But for some reason, none of the above really bothered me.
The iron snares of death are barely noticeable after a while. At this point, its actually hard to imagine the songs not
having this drum sound, because the bulk of the guitar work on this album consists of muddy, low-pitched riff work. The drums sort of break up the monotony of this, oddly. I don't like it or dislike it; I accept it as is.
The production is a product of the band wanting to focus the rage and tension they were feeling at the time; a raw sound will better portray their feelings. Thus, the record went largely unmastered. Hetfield's voice showcases both the album's anger and imperfections pretty effectively. Most of the time, he's okay, although his voice breaks occasionally due to trying to hit a higher note than he's capable of at this point. He's not as bad as he was on the Load albums, but obviously nothing close to his pre-Black Album days. Jaymz sounds sufficiently demonic and pissed off on cuts like 'Purify', 'My World', and the title track. On other tracks (please, Shoot Him Again so he'll shut up), he's pretty awful, whether due to the emotion just not being there enough, or him changing up his style to incorporate some... I don't know, tough talk? You'll know it when you hear it.
The lack of guitar solos (and length of the songs) is the definitely the biggest failure of the album. You can't have 7 minute songs, arranged in a verse-chorus structure (which these are), without some kind of breakup, somewhere along the way. Some songs do feature breaks of some kind (other than just reverting back to the opening riff midway through the song, which other tracks do), and those are some of the album's better songs.
As for the tracks themselves, they're all over the map. The only really awful song on here is 'Shoot Me Again'. Nothing intense or interesting happens in its 7 minute run time. Though Hetfield muttering 'c'mon shoot me again, I ain't dead yet' in his best Chad Kroeger voice is worth the price of admission. The 'Unnamed Feeling' and 'Invisible Kid' are subpar as well, the former because it simply tries to hard to create a twisted atmosphere, the latter because it’s just friggin boring (and 8 minutes 30 seconds long with no originality, yippee).
There's also some great stuff on here. 'Purify' is quickly becoming my favorite track on the album. The chorus is pretty catchy, and the lyrics are simple but effective (about Jaymz's experiences in rehab). It's Hetfield's strongest outing of the album, that's for sure. 'My World' is also very strong. It’s a churning, mid-tempo thrasher with some serious heaviness to it. Finally, 'All Within My Hands' is both the longest track on the album and, strangely, the least repetitive. It has a great main riff, and the occasional shifts between agitated and calm/almost mournful work well. The KILL KILL KILL KILL section at the end is kind of silly though, and has become a small internet meme.
This is obviously an album that Metallica poured their heart and soul into; that doesn't shield them from criticism of the final product, as Larsy would like to believe, but the emotions are palpable, and in my view are the primary reason that this band was able to forgo production, guitar solos, and conventional-sounding snare drums and still come up with a decent album... depending on who you ask.
All Within My Hands