It might have taken six years for a new Metallica album to arrive, but even just one listen is enough to convince that had they had just a two-week start to finish, do-or die deadline, then St. Anger would surely have been the result.
Both musically and spiritually, St. Anger is the most honest, stripped-down soul-baring exercise that you’re ever likely to hear from the world of Metallica. You can feel through every raging beat and pumping, nervous riff that St. Anger is the sound of a band seizing what they believe might be their last ever chance to stand in a room together under that name. And it’s a gleeful racket that they emit.
Make no mistake, St. Anger is by far the most pissed-off Metallica record since the fading chords of 88’s …And Justice For All and – no word of a lie – it features some of their thrashiest material since 86’s …Puppets era classic Damage, Inc. No bull. That good.
St. Anger is a pummeling, very metal record of the highest vicious standards, that can stand toe-to-toe with System Of A Down, Disturbed, Godsmack, Korn and all manner of platinum lined pretenders. St. Anger can do this, because it’s the painful howl of a wounded band hell bent on protecting their turf. Metallica were listening when they heard the best form of defence is attack, and this time they’ve come armed with MOABs.
Opening song Frantic hits like a high explosive round. Imagine Ministry stripped of their technology, right down to their primal punk metal roots, then add that Hetfield guitar, and you’ll begin to feel the dark place where Metallica 03 are at.
The title track clocks in over the seven minute mark, with almost as many time changes and riffs to boot. Gone are those Black Album days, when producer Bob Rock insisted the band concentrate on one riff per song if they harboured any serious intentions of cracking the mainstream. Back are those long yearned for years of monstrous progressive workouts, with ebb and flow with numerous riffs and complex time changes. The song St. Anger is a crunching tour de force of snatched riffs and a melee of drum sounds., but for all its surface chaos still coveys the simplest of messages: Metallica are back – don’t fuck.
Some Kind Of Monster (surely the album’s unofficial title) builds from a looser, almost bluesy lick, but no sooner are you into the comfort zone than down comes the pain, as Lars and Kirk smash the vibe to pieces in full rage. It’s a complete minutes before James’ vocals even start, a point underlining the fact that this is a record written in Metallica time, not radio airplay accessibility time.
Dirty Window at 5:42 is one of the few potential singles, and it locks back into the album’s early pounding groove. Though certainly less intense than Frantic and less complex than St. Anger, Dirty Window’s inherent simplicity lends the song a brooding, boisterous edge. When an accusatory Hetfield snarls, ‘I’m judge, jury and executioner, too!’, the shivers that’ll flood down the spine let you know that you can believe it.
Invisible Kid and My World (another possible single choice) lie at the centre of the record’s wounded soul. Both are layered with odd drum fills and jarring, edgy time changes that suggest good drummer Ulrich has been spending much of his recent down time listening to System Of A Down if nothing else.
If the Black Album was about fulfilling Metallica’s potential, and the Load/Reload albums were an attempt to tap into the cool, alternative markets, then although St. Anger is largely written for the band’s enjoyment first and foremost, it is undoubtedly a compromise between them and their hardcore fans. Metallica will give you those multiple riffs per song, they’ll up the tempo to maximum levels, and they’ll even extend the songs beyond the reach of the musical fast food consumers on MTV, but this is still Metallica, and they won’t make it that easy for you to follow. Around the point of My World, when Lars’ increasingly strange drum sounds filter through, and James’ frenzied punk riffs pile up, you’ll wonder just what the hell this band are playing at. While the band may look at St. Anger as their contract to the faithful, which should renew belief in their passion once again, this is still a band who are beyond having any interest in repeating old glories; they’re just pushing back the boundaries once more.
The sublime bass intro to Shoot Me introduces the monster groove of St. Anger. That whole ‘groovy sound’ that Lars claimed would define the Load sessions can be found better executed on this one tune than on any of the previous 27 attempts, for sure. As Kirk’s scratching leads and James’ slicing riffs tear scars across the mood, Shoot Me rapidly turns into an angry, throbbing wound of a song that – like the voyeuristic scene of a car crash – is impossible to ignore.
That said, the uptempo Sweet Amber is a more conventional rocker reminiscent of Fuel’s chrome-polished nu Metallica, and such also adds little to the edgily compulsive new sound of the record. With nearly 80 minutes of new music on offer, you have to wonder why something so traditional made the final cut.
The Unnamed Feeling – a band favourite – gets its hooks into a lazy, almost feelgood kinda vibe over the firs half of its life, before getting the veritable shit knocked out of it during an unexpected final, frenzied attack.
Any notions of leaving a record such as St. Anger bereft of an emotional high are ground into dust by the twin finale of _Pure If I _and All With My Hands, a song to match the classic, closing adrenalin spike of either Damage, Inc. or Dyer’s Eve. Where Pure If I recreates the breathless and basic savagery of Frantic, via a series of simple electric shock Discharge-style riffs, All With My Hands unleashes a complex battery of piss ’n’ vinegar. With just two minutes to go, and just when you think that this most mean spirited of junkyard dogs has finally barked itself hoarse, comes the final deadly reprise: yet another new tank sized riiff is ground out, as a foaming Hetfield, clearly in the midst of some berzerker-type battle frenzy, unleashes the way cry “Kill! Kill! Kill!…Kill! KILL!” that’s guaranteed to leave you bouncing off the walls in an exhausted, sweaty-faced state. Friendly, violent fun for all.
You can be proud that Meallica cared enough to make St. Anger the way it is. Indeed, you can be proud that Metallica are still pissed at the world enough to make St. Anger at all. But you can definitely be proud that Metallica wanted to make a lasting difference to their own legacy that they were prepared to drag the spiritual depths to come up with a record like St. Anger.
You can, once again, be proud of Metallica.