Saturday, July 19, 2008

In Defense of St. Anger

The last entry here at HYH, in which I listed my favorite albums for each year of my life, prompted the following comment from Jamie:

You gotta be kidding about St. Anger... You know I'm down with Metallica but I hated that album with a fucking passion... Listened to it once and shelved it.

I know that a defense of Metallica's 2003 album, St. Anger, will probably be met with the kind of skepticism usually reserved for articles with titles like "Charles Manson, Misunderstood Sweetie" and "The Crucifixion: Why Not One More Nail Through The Forehead?" Given that, it's important to note that...despite what you may read on Metallica fanboy message boards...St. Anger was not universally reviled upon its release. Far from it, in fact. Rolling Stone magazine gave the album 4-out-of-5 stars. Entertainment Weekly called it Metallica's best record since 1991's "The Black Album." The UK's New Musical Express says it's "an immense statement of superiority." The problem, according to so many of the Metallica faithful, was that it wasn't the desperately-hoped-for return to Kill 'Em All/Ride The Lightning-style thrash. Instead, it was a document of a breakdown and a damn-near breakup. It was Metallica, warts and all.

And, to be perfectly honest, it's an album Jamie...I wasn't nuts about at all upon first listen. Just like I wasn't nuts about the first Ramones album the first time I heard it. Or The Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat. Or the first Clash album. Or any other number of classic albums that took time to "get." I didn't "get" St. Anger until I saw the acclaimed Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster. "Frantic," a song that reads like a postcard from rehab, didn't resonate with me until I learned first hand about James Hetfield's nine-month exile from Metallica, during which he finally confronted his alcoholism. Watching James go nose-to-nose with drummer Lars Ulrich brought home the line about being "madly in anger with you" from the title track. I don't want to say the movie and the album are indispensable from each other...but, much like The Beatles' Let It Be movie and album, they each fill in a lot of the other's blanks.

Granted, there are plenty of things to dislike about St. Anger. Jamie and I haven't talked about this...but I know that with Jamie being a drummer, he is rightly and very much correctly dismayed about the album's drum sound. Holy's like Lars is pounding on coffee cans. There's an audible "PING" with every snare shot that is downright headache-inducing. Then, there's the lack of guitar solos...on a METALLICA album. Come on, not even I was down with that. Producer Bob Rock filling in on bass? Fucking yikes! Here's what I would recommend to Jamie, and anyone else willing to give St. Anger another listen: Take the DVD of rehearsals that was included with the CD release and rip the sound from it. I swear the songs come to life like a sumbitch. You get for-real drums. You get new bassist Rob Trujillo thumping his fingers off. Kirk Hammett improvises a few solos. The soundtrack from the rehearsals DVD is the real St. Anger, as far as I'm concerned.

And, you know what? I didn't even buy that many albums in 2003. So there.


Anonymous said...

I'm not even sure my copy came with the DVD... But I'd be willing to give it another spin if you send it to me.

I still think I'm on the other side of the argument when it comes to Some Kind of Monster. While I thoroughly enjoyed the doc... I don't think it did a thing for the credibility of James and Lars with me. It just seemed silly to listen to these rich rock stars go back and forth with each other like a buncha crybabies. I can definitely respect Jason's decision to leave after watching it.

You completely nailed my biggest complaints with St. Anger, musically. It's also an album that I had problems finding any decent singalong hooks which were always present in everything after Justice... I just think they needed fresh ears with a new producer. And there's no doubt about it, Trujillo is the second coming of Cliff. I saw it with my own eyes right before my face was melted off.

Thanks for taking the time to address my hatred of this record. Hell, I doubt I ever convinced you to see Fargo.

Mike-El said...

My only concern, based on the YouTubes, when it comes to Rob-vs.-Jason is the Michael Anthony Factor. Just like Van Halen did in losing Michael, Metallica is losing Jason's KILLER backing vocals. Sure, Kirk can croak the occasional "Seek and destroy!" but I think it's going to hurt the live presentation for James to be lacking harmony vocals.

And NO ONE will ever replicate Jason's "DIE! DIE! DIE, MUH-THUH-FUH-KAH, DIE!"...ever.

James and Lars can be big babies...but I'm firmly Team Het, all the way. The guy IS Metallica. The world's greatest rhythm guitarist. Never bends a string wrong. He could be the lead guitarist for practically any other metal band. Limitless energy and charisma...I'll never, ever forget how he bounded and bounced around that enormous in-the-round stage for over three hours at The Omni.

I'm thoroughly convinced that Lars has gotten lazy. Listen to the drums on the "Justice" CD and you'd think he's the next Neil Peart. Now he can't even be bothered to do the tom roll into "Creeping Death." Now it's just snare, snare, snare. What happened to the double kick bass? That used to be Metallica's trademark, man! He's just completely addicted to the fucking snare. Hell, Lars ought to just scrap his giant kit and get a Stray Cats setup. He could just stand there and pound his precious snare all goddamn night.