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Metallica - St. Anger CD (album) cover




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1.72 | 383 ratings

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3 stars It's official: I no longer have good taste. Before I first heard it in 2003, everything I'd heard about this album, both about its creation and about the song quality, set off warning bells in my head that this would suck like mad. You see, after letting Newsted leave (replaced by some guy named Rob Trujillo), word came out that Metallica wanted to get back to its roots and be a thrash band with long songs again. Now, given that they hadn't made an epic thrash metal album since '88, and that they were relatively young then and old now, I couldn't help but brace myself for a disaster. Especially since the band was praising nu- metal bands like Limp Bizkit as great music (suggesting that they'd try to sound like them if given the chance). Then, when I learned that the album would be given the incredibly stupid name of St. Anger, I couldn't help but fear even more. And finally, when I started hearing that the production was the worst on any metal album ever, and that Kirk didn't play any solos on the album, and that the lyrics sucked, well, I was ready to hate this.

So imagine my shock when, get this, I enjoyed this album on first listen. At first, I just suspected that it was an effect of overly-lowered expectations, and that subsequent listens would temper things a bit. And yeah, I enjoyed this a bit less afterwards (it's only a middling ***, after all), but I found that I couldn't get myself to dislike this album, no matter how loudly all the various forces could bellow about how blindingly obvious the flaws are. The production isn't great, yes - the bass is virtually inaudible, and one of the drums on Lars' kit sounds like he's banging on a steel water pipe (and he uses that drum a LOT on the album). Apparently, the band wanted minimal overdubs and touchups, to preserve the intensity of live-in-studio performance or whatever, but I do have to admit that they went a bit far in their resistance to any cleaning. On the other hand, though, I actually don't hate Lars' drum sound - it's horrid on a technical level, I suppose, but it's so danged novel that I end up kinda liking it, believe it or not.

What matters most, though, isn't the sound, but the songs (well, 'tracks' - these are more of metal grooves than of 'written songs'). Three important things stand out for me on many of these tracks:

1. The intensity is fierce.

2. The riffs often RULE.

3. James doesn't make a total ass out of himself.

You see, what I feared the most going into this album would be that, in trying to reconnect with their thrash past, the band would also make the mistake of trying to pretend to be teenagers (ie turning into a nu-metal band), which is a problem given that they were all around 40 at the time. But while the band (especially James) shows rage that hasn't existed on a Metallica album since Justice, it would be downright wrong to classify this as adolescent rage. No, this is the rage of an old, very pissed-off man, bitter at his struggle with alcoholism, bitter at his own weaknesses, bitter at seeing himself as an ass despite all of his success. James sounds like a man possessed on this album, like a man that believes that, if he roars deeply enough and makes his riffage loud and discordant and piercing enough, he can somehow make scare away all of his demons and be left alone. The rest of the band feeds off of this energy quite well, with Kirk sticking to riffage intertwining with James' instead of detracting from the rage with his generic solos, and while the rhythm section doesn't do that well technically, they definitely add to the roaring intensity throughout.

Of course, energy and intensity can only get you so far - a lot of the songs are a bit too primitive in construction for my tastes, and some parts are quite embarrassing (I do appreciate how it works as a sick album-ending 'breakthrough,' but that still doesn't mean that hearing James bellow "KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL....!!!!" is something that I won't squirm at). But it can get you a good distance, especially when the riffs are good. The opening "Frantic" has some of the fiercest riffage heard on a Metallica album in forever, and hearing James scream, "My lifestyle determines my deathstyle!" and "Frantic-tic-tic-tic-tic-tic- tic-tock ..." has to be one of the rawest (in a good way), most painfully (again, in a good way) cathartic passages found in the band's whole catalogue. The title track seemingly gets chided by quite a few people, mainly because of the lyrics ("I'm madly in anger with you!"), but given that it seems to be representative of James' alcohol struggle (ie this is his version of an 'albatross' around his neck), and how he's tried to cope with it, it can't help but move me plenty.

As for other highlights, a big one for me is "Dirty Window." Aside from a KILLER riff, with intensity to match, it has one of the most menacing vocal deliveries of James' life, what with the, "...and I slam my gavel DOWN!" and "projector, protector, rejector infector" parts. Plus, that quiet part where he's singing, "I'm judge and I'm jury and I'm executioner too" works as a nice counter to the heavy parts, and helps make it into quite the nice track. The followup, "Invisible Kid," might seem a bit dumb at first, but then I realized that the rhythmic groove of the guitars and vocal melody are actually fairly clever in their simplicity - besides, I can't get "Invisible kid, suspicious of your touch, don't want no crutch, but it's all too much" out of my head, and what's more, I find that I actually like it being in my head. Truth be told, for what seems to be at first a throwaway, it has quite a few interesting parts, whether or not they seem just glued together or actually part of something resembling inspiration.

As for the other seven songs, some are better, some are worse. Truth be told, they all sound kinda alike, and honestly I can only remember a bit of each specific song at the present time. HOWEVER, I can say that except for the very end of the album (and even then, I like the first half of "All Within my Hands," the track that closes things), I'm not disappointed in this at all. It's not what fans will be looking for, but it demonstrates the band's "to hell with our fans, we need to do this this way" attitude in full force, and I can't help but respect (and often enjoy) that.

That album cover really blows, though.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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