Review Summary: A furious embodiment of sheer emotion that may not be the most creative or best produced album of all time but more than makes up for it in sheer attitude
Pure, raw, unadulterated anger can be a valuable tool in the creation of a masterpiece of any form of art. Metallica are a band that perfectly showcased this with their often maligned album St. Anger, possibly the finest embodiment of anger found anywhere in music at all. One thing that needs to be understood about this release is that this is not anything like any Metallica album released prior to it. Long gone is their speed-metal sounding debut Kill Em All, and the thrash days of the three albums that followed it are dead and buried. Also deceased is the commercial metal sound of their eponymous fifth studio album and the blues-ridden rock sound of the Load and ReLoad albums. The sound of St. Anger taps slightly into the nu-metal sound prominent in the early 2000's when this was released but also packs a whole lot more speed and a lot more punch,
Every song here is ridden with furious shouts of absolute hatred from James Hetfield. Not only is this far and away his best vocal performance, he also sounds unbelievably genuine across each track. The lyrical content here is not the best written out there but James certainly does it justice with his shrieks of sheer torment. "Not only do I not know the answer, I don't even know what the question is" he roars at the top of his lungs, flooding the speakers with so much rage bottled up for too long. There had to be a time when all the alcoholic madness and years of strained touring and success that Metallica had garnered would reach breaking point, and St. Anger is this. Just hear the crazed laughs about two thirds of the way through Dirty Window and try saying that James does not sound absolutely demented. On many of the songs he throws in the "ooh"'s that he has now become famous for but they are not remotely as annoying as they were on songs such as Fuel or the album that would follow this one. Barks of hatred and singing are the main vocal course of the day for St. Anger and they definitely fit the sound the band was going for.
Whilst on the subject of sounding crazed, this must be one of the most unhinged creations out there. The band were going for what sounded like their days jamming in a garage, and they more than achieve this with the sudden drops in tempo on tracks like Dirty Window as well as some of the most furious drumming out there. St Anger is an album that picks up so much hate and criticism for the disgusting drum tones found on it that noone ever takes the time to check out the actual drumming across this release. Lars pounds away at his kit without a care, letting out so much frustration on those drum heads, whilst Kirk and James cast as many pounding riffs as possible into the cauldron. Frantic kicks the album off in manic fashion with some cool tremolo riffing as well as many slower riffs that make good use of the much lower guitar tones this album contains. Meanwhile, the bass is not particularly audible but on tracks like Some Kind Of Monster it makes for a nice bridge between the drumming and the riffs.
These tracks are very long and not in the way of an Opeth song where there are numerous changes in tempo per song that constantly feel as though they are evolving in an organic way, but for some weird reason it actually works here. Invisible Kid is a good example, clocking in at eight and a half minutes exactly but in this length it contains so much deadly, hate-fueled atmosphere. The band had done long songs before on And Justice For All, but this is an entirely different animal altogether. There is only so much mind-numbing heaviness from the unrivaled anger behind the drumming and pummeling riffs and James yelping his lungs out that you can take. These songs are certainly not everyone's cup of tea but what it does is invoke certain feelings. Listen to this album when you are angry or upset and you will feel it work its way into your system and it will not be long before you to are screaming along to "Saint Anger round my neck, he never gets respect". This is also an album that no amount of listens will make it grow on you. It is an album that has to be heard under the aforementioned condition of being in a rage before it will rub off on you the right way, and after that it will become a staple of your CD player.
As mentioned before, this album has become rather infamous for its shoddy production job and it is not hard to see why within the first few seconds of opening song Frantic. The snare drum sounds absolutely ridiculously bad and the guitar tones are murky as well. The vocals are very loud in the mix and when combined with the snare it can become completely overpowering for many listeners. This is a really bad production job, and the bass work is as lazy as it gets as well, with Bob Rock performing the bass in studio for this release due to the absence of a proper bassist until after the sessions were complete. However, these are but minor flaws in the vast canvas that this release has to offer on each of its tracks. Frantic kicks the album off in furious fashion with some speedy drumming, cool riffs are insightful lyrics into the struggles that James was going through and from here on out expect much of the same. The title track is one of the best known from this album as is the song that follows it, entitled Some Kind Of Monster. Both of these are full speed ahead numbers with the trademark aggression and flair that this album carries with it. A personal favorite would be My World, one of the shortest and most exhilarating tracks on the album. This song clocks in fifteen seconds short of the six minute mark and in this time it hits hard with some really cool groovy riffing in the introduction and the aforementioned "not know the answer" shouts that get to me every time.
St. Anger is a criminally underrated album that appears to be a magnet that attracts hate due to a couple of the aforementioned flaws that really get far too overstated. This is hate embodied in musical form that hits hard with the furious fist showcased on the cover that finds Metallica soul searching and exercising whatever demons they had within them and it truly does work, and is the band's masterpiece in my opinion.