Aside from "Lulu" (linked here), this is possibly the most controversial release Metallica have been associated with (although you could make a case for "The Black Album" but to be fair, there were some good songs on that - and the only real complaints came from a group of thrash purists whilst the millions of masses lapped up what is a good album). Whereas they were Lou Reed's backing band on that album ("Lulu"), this was their baby. A baby born during a less than rosy time for the band. Longtime bassist Jason Newstead quit before the sessions for this album could take place, fallout from the Napster controversy was still being felt (That was ironic, considering Metallica made their name from tape-trading), there was internal friction between the remaining band members - not helped when vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield checked into rehab to get treatment for "alcoholism and other addictions" and to top it all off, they filmed the whole thing! This became the now legendary Some Kind Of Monster film which was a revelation - for all the wrong reasons. The biggest metal band in the world who've known each other for twenty years cannot talk to each other or be in the same room with each other unless they have a so-called "life coach" or whatever in there? Get real. Still, if that's the kind of cheap-ass easy-street shit that makes you feel better, then knock yourself out. It was odd to see a band who'd spent a while cultivating a macho reputation of sorts all of a sudden acting like toddlers in dire need of a bum-change and a nap. In fact, when Dave Mustaine - of all people - comes out of it all looking and sounding a damn sight better than you, then you know you're at the end of your rope.
The band relocated to a former army barracks and turned it into a makeshift studio in order to record this album. Bass playing duties were handled by longtime producer Bob Rock (They'd yet to hire Rob Trujillo by then). As we all know, there were two main bones of contention regarding this album (well, a third, a lot of people thought it sucked but we'll get to that) so let's get them out of the way now - the production is awful. Whilst I respect the fact that there will always be a place for lo-fi no-frills production, it is not in the canon of a big metal band. The snare drums were altered to sound more like a 'clang' which gave a weird ambience to proceedings. And there were no solos. Now whilst I respect Kirk Hammett and apperciate he's been very successful, he was never my favourite shredder. His replacement in Exodus (Rick Hunlot) was better, as was Hammett's predecessor in Metallica, the aforementioned Dave Mustaine (Listen to the "No Life Till Leather" demo and then "Kill 'Em All" and you'll hear what I mean). So, while these changes didn't sit well with purists, they didn't really bother the band, themselves no stranger to accusations of selling out - which went as far back as "Ride The Lightning" due to including acoustic guitars. Besides, Metallica are pretty much the U2 or The Rolling Stones of metal. Their better days may be behind them but they still tour and create music, even though they've made more than enough to retire on. Still, up to them - and their movie "Through The Never" was fucking awesome! Still, back to the music...oh, and the band had tuned down to C# instead of their usual Eb tuning. This, plus the lack of solos lead to accusations of following current trends which instantly dated the album from the off. Let's see if that's the case.
The opener, "Frantic", starts off as it's name would suggest. Quiet interludes are strategically placed in the song too in order to break up precedings. Hetfield's voice is in decent form, although some of the lyrics are laughable - "my lifestyle determines my deathstyle", "frantic tic tic tic tic tic tock". Whilst the previous questionable lyrics have kind of went down in lore - GIMMIEFUE, GIMMIFAA GIMMIDABITADESAAAA!!! - these haven't. And don't even get me started on I AM THE TABLE!!! But back to this song. It's actually a lot better than I remember it and all credit to them for trying something relatively new.
Next up is title track "St Anger" and a song which has a special memory for me. I was recovering from an operation to repair my leg after breaking it (long story - but the short version is I got hit by a car while running to catch a bus so I could get home in time to go to the gym but the Blog Creator - Eddie Carter - said I'd bent down to pick up a pastie (baked pastry filled with either mince and veg or cheese) when my friends - Eddie, and another lad called Mark Watson came round one night to keep me company. One of the music channels played this song as a world preview or something. The video was slightly unremarkble, shot in San Quinten Prison with the band playing to the prisoners, Johnny Cash style. Anyway, the song itself starts off with a quite frankly fantastic build-up before dissipating into a quiet, melodic verse wihch made us all go "what the fuck??!"...then it starts getting heavier towards the chorus before getting fast again. The chorus itself harks back to the old days by quoting the songs "Damage INC" and "Hit The Lights" which is a nice touch. Again, it's not a bad song and so far, the album doesn't sound as bad as I remember it.
We're now onto song number three - "Some Kind Of Monster". Nice groove at the start, with a good riff. Then we're back to biscuit-tin rattling before slipping back into the groove. Hetfield then comes in with lyrical refrains that start off with "This is..." or "These are...". It fits the music, which is fair enough. Shame the movie of the same name wasn't as good as this song.
"Dirty Window" brings us to some good old thrash - albeit played at C# with trashcans for drums. The vocals must've been recorded on one of Hetfield's better days as he sounds great on this! Fuck knows what the lyrics are about but I'm assuming they watched the movie 'Poltergeist' due to the repeated shouts of "THIS HOUSE IS CLEAN"! He's also "Judge, Jury and Executioner". Sounds like a good idea for a comic about a law enforment officer who doesn't take any shit. Oh...Still, again, we've got another good song right now. That's four-for-four, still plenty of time to go though.
We're onto the first stinker - "Invisible Kid". Not only is the music not as gripping or as good as previous songs but the lyrics are downright laughable, even considering that what we've heard so far hasn't exactly been Chaucer. It's surprising this got past the Metallica quality control as they're usually strict on this stuff. I remember laughing like a hyena on nitrous oxide when I first heard this! Mellow vocals in the bridge are a nice touch but feed this song to the wolves for all I care. I never thought I'd find a Metallica song I dislike more than "Of Wolf And Man" (it's fucking shit, admit it) but this song takes the taco...not even dragging out the outro - a technique I quite like - can save it. Long may it continue to "fall through the grid"...oh fuck, it wasn't an outro! Song is two minutes too long, so that's another criticism for it.
Hopefully, we can get things back on track with the next song, "My World". No, not a cover of the Guns 'n' Roses song which proved Axl had lost the plot or the amazing Anthrax song, but an original composition. "Motherfuckers got in my head, trying to make me someone else instead". Making the switch between groove as well as fast verses, it's very good. Methinks the bulk of this song was written when Hetfield was in rehab. It's quite blatant about it too, no need for metaphors here. Another thing I'd like to mention is that so far, we've not heard any of the four ways Hetfield says "YEAH!!!" in any of the songs. Also, it's about now I find myself getting used to the production. It suits the songs for this album, so I guess they knew what they were doing after all.
"Shoot Me Again" - quite a restrained song for such a nasty title. Oh, there we go - we get frantic (no pun intended) during the chorus. "Shoot me again, I ain't dead yet". To be honest, I don't really have a lot to say about this song as despite the above narration, it's quite nondescript. For some reason, I'm sensing a thread in this song which points to "Lulu". It's probably less to do with any form of musical structure and more to do with an iconic frontman rambling away over harsh music. All credit to the outro which sounds like a different song.
"Sweet Amber" comes along with it's gentle bluesy clean intro that changes into the type of song we got at the start of the album. All thudding at the start before getting a bit slow in the chorus. That seems to be the jist of this song, it's pacing is all over the shop. It's good, though.
"The Unnamed Feeling" comes alive next and it's a slow song, quite lurching. Makes a change from what's passed so far. Although it's a really good song, I cannot find anything else to talk about within it. Some great riffs in there.
We're now onto the penultamite song with "Purify" and it sounds like another one where the pacing is all over the shop. A groove to it at times before going into stop-start rhythms. Changes into a lazily-paced riff (good thing) before abruptly finishing. Good song.
"All Within My Hands" is next, ready to bring the album to a close. Sounds like we're going for the "burning up on re-entry" route as well. Whoops, more slow bits to drag the song out while Hetfield bares his soul and sounds like a wounded cat. Yet another one where they drag the intro out...I guess they enjoyed that so much on the other songs, they had to keep on including it. Like Zakk Wylde and pinch-harmonics.
And that's all, folks! Well, that was the first time since 2003 that I've listened to St Anger. Does the album deserve it's bad reputation?
Yes, it does. It's obvious to everyone the band were looking to experiment on this one but it is too left-field for a band like Metallica. Sure, they've always had an experimental streak - a bass solo on the first album, acoustic guitars on RTL, the bass intro to "Damage INC" that tries to replicate an orchestral piece, abandoning the bass on AJFA, the switch to no-frills rock on "The Black Album", the alternative experiments during the Load and Reload eras (although that could have been bandwagon hopping, I dunno). This album pushed the envelope too far for some people, and all the shit in the background at the time either did or didn't help, it's hard to tell. I personally think the album is rather good, although the songs are about two minutes too long - but definately a try-before-you-buy situation. Give it a go, you may enjoy it.
7 - This is good and well worth a check.
Top Track: St Anger.
This album is available on iTunes.