Metallica released the best-selling album of their career, 1991's Black Album, in the middle of an identity crisis. That same year Nirvana released Nevermind,
a disc that immediately made the previous decade's worth of metal seem
kitschy and outdated. Even while outselling the albums on which
Metallica built their fan base in the Eighties, the Bay Area quartet
spent much of the last decade trying to rediscover how to rock —
fighting Napster, losing bassist Jason Newsted, watching singer James
Hetfield go into rehab and alienating plenty of loyal fans along the
No wonder there's an authenticity to St. Anger's fury that
none of the band's rap-metal followers can touch. Across
seventy-five-plus minutes of savage but intricate structures that recall
those pre-Black glory days, Metallica go back to their brutal essence.
There's no radio-size, four-minute rock here, no pop-friendly choruses,
no ballads, no solos, no wayward experimentation. Recorded with longtime
producer Bob Rock on bass, this is loud, expansive, unrepentant
Although it was written and recorded in the studio, St. Anger
barely resembles a studio album. The raw sounds on the throttling
opening cut, "Frantic," are essentially the same raw sounds that are
heard throughout the next ten tracks, as if the band members focused
solely on playing off one another, not the mixing board, and were too
busy to notice that the snare drum annoyingly goes ping instead of snap.
Rock's bass is mixed way down in a blare of guitar-and-drums midrange
that recalls 1988's . . . And Justice for All — over him, the
band hammers out its signature staccato stops-and-starts and multiple
tempo and key changes like three angry fingers on the same fist. It's a
rush to be pummeled by this group again.
Despite the songwriting help from drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett, St. Anger
chronicles Hetfield coping with recovery's ugly truths. He's still
ornery, still defensive and still sometimes overselling his rage. On the
final track, "All Within My Hands," he sings, "Love is control/I'll die
if I let go," and the album ends with him screaming, "Kill! Kill!
Kill!" seemingly unable to forgive himself or others as sobriety
demands, stuck in the same dark childhood place he's always struggled to
escape. It's a closing that puts an uneasy spin on the album's
return-to-basics approach and makes it seem more of a masterful retreat
than a fully victorious breakthrough into new territory.