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Friday, May 26, 2017

986. Metallica / St. Anger. 2003. 1.5/5

My fondest memory of this album was its release, when Utopia Records in Sydney had a midnight opening to be the first place in the world to sell the new album. My circle of friends travelled up, drank beer in a bar for 6 hours beforehand, then went in with a few hundred others, getting other material and then waiting in line to pay for those and collect a copy of the album, all the while listening to it over the store’s stereo. One of my mates enquired as to what was the rubbish they were playing, and when he was informed it was Metallica’s new album, the reason we were there, he used some language and decreed he would not be wasting his money on this abomination. As it turned out we were pretty much at the end of the line, such that when we reached the counter they had sold out of the album we had come for. Some of us were furious. I just laughed. An evening well spent, especially when I walked into K-Mart three days later and got the album for $13 less than I would have paid.

In the same way as we knew how the recording of the Metallica album went down because it was filmed and released, we have the same here with St. Anger because of the documentary “Some Kind of Monster”. So we know there was anguish when Jason left the band before writing and recording. We know there was anguish when James went into rehab. We know there was pain and anguish when he could only be in the studio for four hours a day as a part of his rehab. It’s a wonder they got anything coherent recorded at all. Certainly the process throughout was flawed. All I know is that it was better than Jason’s new band Echobrain’s album.
But how much better? The putrid taste of Load and Reload still hung in the mouth, and all we had was a hope that the band also realised they had been a mistake and that we would gain something that was a lot closer to the material we wanted. Well. We didn’t. We got something that was almost completely unexpected and unreconciled. We got an album that was what they called as ‘stripped down’. The problem was, it was stripped of everything. The band went from being produced to overkill to barely needing a producer at all. From all reports, they wanted the album to sound like it was recorded in a garage. Well, challenge completed, because that’s exactly what it sounds like. But why the amateur hour? It defies all logic. But looking at the album, logic seems to have gone out the window. For example, let’s look at the following:
1. Lars’ drum kit and drum sound. In the good old days, Lars had the greatest drum kit, and played it as the greatest drummer in the world. His drum sound was what drummers aspired for. Now, he has a three piece kit, and the sound of the kit is deplorable. Well to be accurate, the snare. The snare sound, apparently produced by turning off the mic to it during recording, is deplorable. And what is worse, it is there for the whole bloody album. No matter how I am feeling about the album, I just keep coming back to that bloody snare. It sounds AWFUL!! It detracts from every damn song on the album. Garage bands all over the world try to find any way possible to eradicate this snare sound from their dodgy four track recordings in order to have it sound like the Metallica drum sound on their albums from the 1980’s, and yet Lars goes out and embraces this amateurish sound. It is the single biggest problem with this album. Once you add to this that a seven year old could play the drums as written and recorded on this album and you have to wonder exactly what has happened to the man who was once idolised by every drummer in the world.
2. James vocals. Having crooned his way through the 1990’s having had to transform the way he sang due to blowing out his voice, he comes in here on St. Anger and seems to move into a scream and yell combination that might indicate he has had enough of that. The problem is, it comes across as forced. No one expects him to be able to sing like he did when he was 19 years old, but the middle ground between that and what he had been doing is not this. Thankfully he found it later, but for the most part his vocals on this album are again like a kid in a garage band, one who knows he can’t sing great but he will overcome it with attitude. Mind you, with that godawful drum sound to have to sing over perhaps this was the only way he could get heard over the din.
3. No Kirk solos. This was always a major, major problem for a band that has a lead guitarist in it, and one of the best at that. Just because the current mood of nu-metal when this was recorded had a directive that meant all the guitars had to mesh into one doesn’t mean you have to follow! All it did was forever tie this album to this time in metal history, one that will never be fondly remembered, and also completely waste one member of your band from not only expressing himself but from adding his own flavour to the songs and the album as a whole. Just really poor thought processes there.
4. Bob Rock on bass. He’s a competent player, and in general ever since Cliff Burton passed Metallica has tried to hide the bass on their albums anyway, but the individuality of a band bass player is basically also missing here.
On top of this, because of the way it is recorded with just Lars and James being relevant and heard and because of the length of the songs that never change throughout, this album feels like one long painful song. Yes, if you walked past a garage and heard a band jamming in there for an hour and a half straight, it would probably sound just like this. That is a long time for little variation, and to have to put up with listening to that fucking snare.

There are bits and pieces of songs that I like on this, but really no songs in total that I enjoy from start to finish. I tried to like it, if for no other reason than I thought the band was trying to make amends for their previous dive for the depths, but on reflection this actually washes up to be worse than those, for those reasons stated above. Again, there is every probability that if I was of a different generation I would have embraced this thoroughly because other generations grew up with nu metal and enjoyed it. That’s not me though, and though a couple of these songs do sound better in a live environment, overall this is a major disappointment.

Rating: “I’m madly in anger with you”. Yes, I’m talking to you Lars! 1.5/5
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