Review Summary: An often misunderstood album that almost certainly is as bad as claimed, but still has features that nearly redeem it and make it listenable enough
Few albums in the world of music get as frequently criticized and as much maligned as Metallica's St. Anger. Released in 2003 to mild critical acclaim, the tables swiftly turned and those that had previous been praising the album for its return to the angry style that Metallica had mastered throughout the 1980's were now claiming it to be a tragic attempt to go back to their roots minus any of the creativity. It was seen as Metallica jumping on yet another bandwagon, this time tapping into the nu-metal craze of the early 2000's. Combining simplistic down-tuned guitar riffs with no soloing whatsoever, then added to the drum sound that resembles all the cutlery in Lars Ulrich's kitchen being rattled around and some of the most pathetic attempts at lyricism to be spewed from James Hetfield's mouth, it could be said that this album was destined for disaster.
The first song on the album is entitled Frantic, and displays all that is wrong with this album, but also one of the positives that can be found. The riffing is simple chugging, with heavy use of playing open strings, and the drum sound will stick out straight away. Another album attempted this sound beforehand, the album in question being Death's The Sound Of Perseverance, except that on that album the rattling sound achieved by Lars turning off the snares on his snare drum is far more irritating and clear on here, having been done with considerable more taste on The Sound Of Perseverance. Also noticeable is the absurd and very childish lyrics written by James Hetfield, containing lines such as "My lifestyle determines my deathstyle" and "Fran-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tock". However, the aforementioned positive is found in that the band is clearly playing with genuine energy again. Far from the abomination that was Lars' drumming on the previous three releases, with over simplified patterns, he here thunders away at his drum kit, no matter what impact it has on the listener. The guitar work is incessant, and James utterly bellows his lyrics with a passion unheard from the band since ...And Justice For All. The music is by no means brilliant, but the rage that accompanies the chorus to this song and the intensity generated from the angered men playing it is more than enough to be considered a positive.
The genuine anger behind this album stems from the back story of it. The band was in turmoil following the release of Reload, having lost both their singer and bassist in the space of five months. To begin with, Jason Newsted left the band for supposed physical damage he had sustained over the years of playing metal music. The real crippling blow came in July 2001, when James Hetfield entered rehabilitation for being an alcoholic. The sound that one hears upon inserting this album into their disk player is the sound of a band playing with real hate for what they had done to themselves over the years. The lyrics, ridiculous though they may be, are James venting his fury at what he had become and using them to overcome his past life. Lars is crashing away at his drums with a passion almost unmatched in the entire music scene. This Metallica was a very different band to the one that had pressed out thrash masterpieces consistently in the 1980's. Musically inferior though they may be, the emotional performance here is still enough to make for a decent enough album to listen to.
The songs that are the best on here are Frantic, My World and The Unnamed Feeling. The former two are two raw, pissed off, unadulterated numbers that definitely merit a listen, despite the appalling sound quality and clear lack of creativity. Frantic is the most straight up aggressive number on here, whereas My World is a much more refined form of anger, until the second half, with the refrain "not only do I not know the answer, I dont even know what the question is" spewed from the mouth of Hetfield with a tortured shout that reminds us of the broken man he has become. This is outlined more so in the latter song, The Unnamed Feeling, in which James takes us through the story leading up to this album in a personal manner, providing one of the best vocal performances he has ever unleashed, with a decent enough instrumental to accompany this. These songs prove that Metallica are still a competent enough band and should be taken more than seriously, rather than the joke the media would have the listener believe.
However, it is songs such as the title track and Some Kind Of Monster that prove the mishaps that occurred with this album, and drag this album down quite a bit. Both were enjoyable enough listens in their radio edit forms, but on here both exceed seven minutes and twenty seconds, dragging on far too long and using the same repetitive instrumental that has been heard thirty times already on the song. This is the worst aspect of the album, where many of the songs just reuse the same idea that has already been heard to the point it is stale. The shorter cuts on this album are, for the most part, the better songs, and even they clock in at over five minutes without ever really needing to. This was grating enough on ...And Justice For All, despite the fact that that album had enough musical ideas and creativity to save it. However, there is no excuse on St. Anger for having a running time of seventy five minutes, with around fifty minutes of this being rendered completely unnecessary due to the over-usage of the same ideas.
This album certainly deserves the hate that is thrust upon it, for there is enough to despise about the album, from the repetition of the same three-note riffs to the lack of solos and the excruciatingly long running time. None of this is helped by the fact that the lyrics are as immature as can be and the ear piercing drum tone. However, there are a few redeeming features, with three or four of the songs being entirely listenable, and some of the others being tolerable for a while. The fury on display here is a force to be reckoned with, and any supposed Metallica fan should give this a listen simply for the significance it has to the band themselves.