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Album Review: Metallica "St. Anger" Released 6/5/2003 Rating: no… - Speak Friend and Enter
Grammar and Lord of the Rings
Album Review: Metallica "St. Anger"

Released 6/5/2003
Rating: no stars

It is 2003, and Metallica returns with their first completely original work since 1997's "Reload". Actually, if you want to be technical, its their first original work since "Load", since "Reload" was the remainder of the original recording session. This album has a great deal to say, and unfortunately, none of it is good. More telling is that none of it is really coming from the music itself. It is my firm belief that Metallica simply doesn't care anymore about how their music sounds. I'm not yet cynical enough to think that a band could release an album like this and actually be proud of themselves. Its hard to even know where to begin, so we'll start with the first thing you hear. The absolute lack of production. Now, the liner notes will tell you that there are 5 main people contributing to this record - James, Kirk, Lars, Robert, and Bob Rock. I'd be willing to bet that only 3 of them actually had anything to do during the recording of this album. That would be James, Lars and Bob Rock. Robert didn't play bass on this album, and I'm pretty sure Kirk sat around and looked pretty. There's no lead guitar parts, so what else did he have to do? The producer, Rock, decided to handle bass duties (poorly) instead of his regular job. The result is a sound worthy of a 4-track demo recorded over the weekend in someone's basement. This is what I mean when I say they don't care anymore. Everything sound unpolished, and that's not good. You can try and pawn off the "its supposed to sound raw and ANGRY rawr" argument but I'm not buying it. Norwegian black metal is supposed to sound raw. Multi-million dollar recording artists can afford to do better.

Onto the songs themselves. There is little variation in structure, most songs being content with following the same riff/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/repeat pattern to the bitter end. The actual riffs do tend to sound different, but most are throwaways and the ones that do stick out are quickly replaced with something less agreeable to the human ear. There are few tempo changes, and most are unnecessary as this band has no need to prove themselves as br00tal maniacs anymore. Lars once again relies on the 4/4 beat which has gotten him this far. Actually, there isn't a whole lot more to say about the songs as a whole. Most are just forgettable, unless you're subjected to the constant repeated radio airings.

A few words on the individual performances. I have to start with James, because I have the most to say about him. He exhibits an unevenness on this recording in his vocals that is hard to miss, and hard to stomach. Previously, he would bark like a fiend, or more recently, actually put effort into singing. Here, he can't decide which to do, and it goes on for every song on the album. He's not a bad singer by any means, but he sounds like one here because he won't make a decision on his vocal style. The songs are quite frankly better when he's not performing vocally. The other huge effect he has on Metallica are the lyrics. I feel the need to make a comparison here. I started wondering if his lyrics were always this bad, and it took this album to make me realize that; or if they've just degraded to a point that no longer resembles thoughtful writing.

From 1986's "Master of Puppets" title track:

Needlework the way, never you betray
life of death becoming clearer
Pain monopoly, ritual misery
chop your breakfast on a mirror
Taste me you will see
more is all you need
you're dedicated to
how I'm killing you

from 2003's "St. Anger" title track:

Saint Anger 'round my neck
Saint Anger 'round my neck
He never gets respect
Saint Anger 'round my neck

Fuck it all and no regrets
I hit the lights on these dark sets
I need a voice to let myself
To let myself go free
Fuck it all and fuckin' no regrets
I hit the lights on these dark sets
Medallion noose, I hang myself
Saint Anger 'round my neck

Is there a profound difference there in the level of writing, or is it just me? That's simply one example. This album is so loaded with inane lyrics and attempts (and failures) to be clever that its almost sad, especially if James was actually trying. Gems such as "I'm madly in anger with you", "My lifestyle determines my deathstyle" and force rhymes such as the one in "Invisible Kid" (Invisible Kid/Never see what he did/Got stuck where he did/Fallen through the grid) adorn the tarnished crown Metallica proudly wears.

Its simple to review Kirk's performance because as far as I can tell, he doesn't actually appear on the album. There are zero leads here. Some people were concerned with Testament's last album when only 1/4 of the songs had any kind of solo, but at least the lead guitar had its own sections. Here, there is nothing. It surprises me that such a supposedly intense album would completely leave him out of the mix. The new bassist, Robert, did not record it and so there is no need to review his performance.

That leaves us with Lars, Master Trash Can Beater. The good news is that every review I've read has mentioned the atrocious sound of his snare drum as a negative. This is just another clue to me that no production was done, because a sound that annoys EVERYONE can't be good. Everything about his kit sounds hollow as well, maybe he was testing out a new set that had its drum heads too tight.

There really isn't a single good song here. Thusly I could not possibly recommend it to anyone. Metallica needs to admit that they simply don't care about putting effort into their music anymore, and at least then everyone will be aware of the truth. If they still buy albums, they can't claim ignorance anymore. Although fans of good music should steer clear of it on principle, maybe some of the zelaous devotees will pick up on the hint as well.

Before I close, I feel its necessary to comment on the review Rolling Stone did (even though Chris will surely make many of the same comments). You can read it here. RS gave it 4 stars. Let me quote the best parts of the review:

"That same year Nirvana released Nevermind, a disc that immediately made the previous decade's worth of metal seem kitschy and outdated"

Its already clear that this reviewer knows less than nothing about metal whatsoever, to claim this. So while his review is now rendered irrelevant, its still fun to pick apart.

"Across seventy-five-plus minutes of savage but intricate structures that recall those pre-Black glory days, Metallica go back to their brutal essence. There's no radio-size, four-minute rock here, no pop-friendly choruses, no ballads, no solos, no wayward experimentation. Recorded with longtime producer Bob Rock on bass, this is loud, expansive, unrepentant Metallica."

The most telling of all. Intricate structures? Did he listen to the same album I did? What makes me laugh is the allusion to "brutal essence" and then the implication that it did not involve solos or experimentation. Metallica was built on solos, and news flash, ballads appeared as early as 1984's "Ride the Lightning" (in the form of "Fade to Black" which is still one of their most popular songs). This reviewer might as well have simply put a disclaimer at the top: "I have never listened to Metallica before, and I know absolutely nothing about their history. But I heard stuff."

"It's a rush to be pummeled by this group again."

If you get your kicks from lots of painful listening, then I guess I agree.

There's an entire paragraph devoted to examining the lyrcis of James this time out. Obviously this guy has a degree in both Psychology and Literature, because he both deciphered the muddled words AND figured out what they meant. That, or he just made it up or stole from press releases.

To sum up, for six years coming, this album is a joke. They could have released this 5 years ago and saved everyone the trouble of anxiously awaiting their newest "work". As it stands, if it actually took them this long to write and record it, its time to hang up your guitars, boys. Your time is over.

© 2003
5 pity screws or Do me
drdelfi From: drdelfi Date: June 25th, 2003 10:08 am (UTC) (Link)

"Saint Anger" made my stomach turn. It made my ears bleed. There was a station here that was playing it every hour, on the hour when the album first came out.

I started listening to CDs again.
suffocated From: suffocated Date: June 25th, 2003 10:17 am (UTC) (Link)


i stopped listening to most radio stations some time ago, with the exception of the classical station. i <3 cds.
drdelfi From: drdelfi Date: June 25th, 2003 11:57 am (UTC) (Link)
i usually don't listen to the radio, though i've been trying to more lately just because i have no clue what's out now since all i usually would listen to were cds. however, my car gets crappy reception, and it's a long drive, and i hate talking heads, so cds it usually is
lairans From: lairans Date: June 25th, 2003 10:46 am (UTC) (Link)
CHEERS -- Brilliance. sigh.
From: adriftwithin Date: June 25th, 2003 04:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
"if you want to be technical, its their first original work since "Load", since "Reload" was the remainder of the original recording session"

Metallica DID write Reload's material, so it was nothing other than original.

"'Fuck it all and fuckin' no regrets'"

That's identical to a line in "Damage, Inc."

"if it actually took them this long to write and record it"

I believe it was less than a year ago when they began work on it.
5 pity screws or Do me