Album Review : Metallica - St. Anger (2003)
Listen to St. Anger here (or don’t)
Before anyone could actually listen to Metallica’s eighth studio album St. Anger, it was promoted as somewhat of a return to form. It would be purposefully raw and more complex, just like old time. Fast forward fifteen years and St. Anger is known today as Metallica’s worst album by fans and critics alike. I do believe their Lou Reed collaboration LuLu is their worst album, but most people wouldn’t call it music. This album has been shit on by everybody for a decade and a half, so what is there left to say about it? Plenty. The depths of St. Anger’s ineptitude are inscrutable.
Where do I even start? Everything’s already been said about St. Anger’s piss poor production. There’s raw production and there’s this. The guitars are ridiculously downtuned and muddled. They bass comes and goes, which I suppose can be explained by not having a permanent bassist the. And the drums… well, they are what they are. They’re an abomination of God and they’re way to loud in the mix. A raw production usually involves a vision of some kind. It’s not that hard to sound like you’ve recorded in your garage, next to an industrial washing machine, but it needs to have a purpose. It needs to be angry and primal. This is not the case here. It just comes off as lazy and opportunistic.
But the abysmal production and the meandering song structures are not even the worst part of St. Anger. These songs, which James Hetfield qualified of “deep” are laughably bad. Hetfield used to be a terrific songwriter. Songs like Master of Puppets, Sad But True or One had powerful allegories and dramatic heights that fans could live vicariously through. Not sure what happened between 1997 and 2003, but James lost his lyricism somewhere along the way and never got it back. Let’s go through some of the lyrics on St. Anger and try to connect with them like we did on Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets:
Saint Anger around my neck
He doesn’t get any respect
You flush it out, you flush it out
I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. I get that the narrator is worshiping his own anger, but who’s getting disrespected here? Anger? It’s an emotion, not a real saint. The narrator? I need a little more context here. And what’s that thing about flushing it out? Could you have chosen a verb that doesn’t evoke a fucking toilet? If Metallica had built a mythos around St. Anger this would maybe work, but it just comes off as faux-tough guy angst here.
My lifestyle determines my deathstyle
Wow. So tough. What does it mean exactly? That you’re going to drink yourself to death? That you’re going to electrocute yourself with your guitar while playing a muddled, slowed down rendition of Creeping Death? This is not deep. There is no such thing as deathstyle. And rhyming style with style is legitimately lazy. It’s like when Kid Rock rhymed things with things on a beat he shamelessly ripped from Sweet Home Alabama. This is embarrassing.
Open your heart
I’m beating right here
Is this an allusion to masturbation? For fuck’s sake, James. This is lazy pop writing that’s unbecoming of Metallica’s legacy. By the way, I had never actually listened to this song before going through St. Anger for this review and I just found out that the famous Matt Smith parody is meant to laugh at Invisible Kid. I thought Smith was just improvising on muddled guitars and trashcan drums. No, he was riffing off a song that actually exists. I don’t know what else to tell you, really.
But did I like anything on St. Anger? Not really. There are some OK melodic moments that are lost in this lazy and muddled productions. The verses on the title song are delivered with an infectious energy that almost makes us for how terrible the chorus is. The slower parts of Sweet Amber might not be all that great, but they give a respite from the one dimensional stati buzz that St. Anger is. Otherwise, this album is pretty far up its own ass, really. It’s probably the worst album about substance abuse and personal demons ever released in the history of rock n’ roll. Anger and angst at nothing in particular might’ve been something kids under 14 years old connect with, but they were too busy buying Limp Bizkit albums in 2003 to give Metallica the time of the day.
St. Anger is an album that needs to be put in perspective. Metallica was going through some all-time lows, then. It took over two years and a half, from start to finish to record it. James left for alcohol rehab at some point. They were auditioning for a new bassman and had fuckin’ Bob Rock of all people playing on the actual songs. They were an absolute mess and the music reflected that. But in good Metallica fashion, they tried to sell us poop like it was gold. St. Anger was bad when it came out and it’s perhaps even worse today. But it’s not even Metallica’s worst album. Oh no. I kept this one for the end. Next month I have Death Magnetic and then….