Review Summary: Metallica says "Fuck You" to everyone...
I'll get right into it: St. Anger is one of those records that people either love or hate. There is no in-between, people either say it's one of the worst albums ever recorded, or one of Metallica's best albums. Everything about St. Anger, from the drum sound to the solo-less songs has been so endlessly critiqued that it's almost not even worth discussing anymore.
St. Anger is unlike Metallica has ever done, and probably unlike anything they will ever do again. It is easily the most abrasive Metallica record, with those down-tuned riffs repeating themselves over and over and over and that drum "sound" that Lars Ulrich came off. To be honest, the drums are horrible on here and basically just sound like noise. But in a way that's kind of the point about St. Anger: this is noise, and Metallica is going to *** you with it.
It's important when discussing St. Anger to discuss the circumstances in which it came to exist. The band's longtime bassist Jason Newsted has just quit under extremely acrimonious conditions. Metallica had just finished suing the living hell out of Napster for illegal file sharing practices. James Hetfield was in the midst of being thrown out of his home by his wife and a subsequent trip to rehab. For months on end, it was just Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett in the studio with producer/album bassist Bob Rock. All of this was documented in the 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster. To wrap up this little prelude, the point I'm trying to make is, Metallica was falling apart, and that is integrally important in the context of St. Anger.
"Frantic" is just what it's title applies: it's a frantic ball of energy, with the battery being supplied by Lars beating the *** out of his makeshift drum kit, and a grungy thrash riff from Hetfield/Hammett. James screams his eyes out in the chorus (Tick Tick Tock) and this cycle repeats itself throughout. Most of the songs on St. Anger are built around a basic riff that Metallica proceeds to rape your ears with for the entirety of the song. The title track is pure pissed-off anger, "Some Kind of Monster" is lumbering, "Dirty Window" is chaotic, along with much of the rest of the album. "All Within My Hands" is an epic closer, with the now infamous "KILL KILL KILL" chant at the end. St. Anger is thrash in the truest sense of the word: Whether Lars is thrashing away on his ***ty drum kit, or the bass is rumbling along, or Hetfield/Hammett are riffing away, this is as abrasive as it gets.
This is the part of the review where I go left-field. There is a reason St. Anger sounds so uncompromising and raw: St. Anger is the sound of a band who has lost themselves and are trying to find themselves again in the only sanctuary they know: the studio. I believe that the raw production from Bob Rock is incredibly on purpose, along with that noise coming from Lars's general direction, those riffs from Hetfield/Hammett, and the absence of guitar solos from Hammett. All of this leads up to one conclusion for me: St. Anger is the classic midlife crisis album. It is entertaining to hear one of the world's biggest metal bands be so lost without any real idea how to get back.
On St. Anger, James Hetfield is the most lost of them all. As I mentioned, he was in rehab for most of this process, and thus St. Anger is like shock therapy. "The Unnamed Feeling" is literally about therapy, the title track is about Hetfield confronting his anger at the world, "Invisible Kid" reflects back to his childhood, "My World" is a basic "I'm sick of this ***" tune.
St. Anger sounds like four (really three) men who feel lost and thus have turned back to their adolescence. On St. Anger, there is an obvious attempt to rediscover themselves through garage-esque jamming. The feeling all throughout St. Anger is one of a band who doesn't care what anyone thinks anymore because they're too busy trying not to tear the unifying force between them apart. James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, and Lars Ulrich are all very separate personalities, with Metallica being the thing that brings them together. St. Anger, in terms of tone, is the heaviest Metallica album ever, and the only one that truly feels "metallic". If St. Anger was concrete, it would've covered everything in it's path and formed a road for Metallica to find themselves on.
I am unapologetic in my appreciation for St. Anger. Sometimes, even the most famous heavy metal band in the world needs to shake it up, and St. Anger is the ultimate shaking all this *** up album. For the first time in years, it felt like Metallica had passion for music again, and it shows. Indeed, it's a very angry and defiant passion, but it sounds like Metallica gave a *** on St. Anger. This is the very definition of a band exorcising it's demons in song, and the results is explosive. Yes, Metallica was lost somewhat on St. Anger, but it's an entertaining trip riding along with them as they try to find themselves again.