(M) Denim and Leather Remembers: St Anger, by Metallica

By Sam Graham
“F**K…” Lars Ulrich
Where to begin with this album? Surrounded in controversy, shunned by fans and haters alike, and backed up by a documentary showing the effect of decades of decadence and the potential unravelling of the most successful metal band in the world. 2003 was a commercially good, but critically bad year for Metallica.
But to be honest, I like this album.
I remember there was a great deal of anticipation for this album. Metallica had been quiet, not releasing an original album since Reload in 1997. The first song of Metallica’s comeback was the single St. Anger, but the actual album opens with their second single Frantic. After a build-up that’s incredibly straight forward compared to the likes of say And Justice For All…, Frantic plunges in the hook. Frontman James Hetfield churns out lyrics about rethinking one’s life and it occasionally drops into a weird middle-eastern breakdown midway through the verses.
The main focus of this song though, is the riffage, and that’s a flag that carries all the way through the album. Heaviness-wise, this album never lets up. However, even in the first song comes one of two things that still plague this album in the eyes of the fans: There are no guitar solos. It’s a disappointment at first, but there’ll be a paragraph on that later. Poor Kirk Hammett (lead guitar).
The title track comes second and I remember every music channel playing a shortened down version and one specific channel playing an incredibly shortened down version. Listening to it in 2012, I can’t help but snigger at the irony in the lyrics stating that St. Anger never gets respect. Rather prophetic if you ask me.
The hook is good, but when it’s heavied-up, it becomes a little muddy. All in all, this song is the most blasé on the album. As the title suggests, it’s a hateful song and carries a lot of emotion with it, but aside from that, it’s got nothing.
The third song and the third single off St. Anger features possibly the heaviest and gut-churning riff on the album, and is up there alongside Sad But True (1991) and The Thing That Should Not Be (1986) as one of the heaviest the band have produced. While there are parts which sound a little bit off-centre, like the part in the intro which sounds like it’s coming through a microwave as opposed to a massive amp, it’s the main riff that’s the centre piece. If taken literally, Hetfield is singing about a strange and detestable homunculus. In seriousness though, it’s about the dark side of human nature and about how truly evil people can be to one another. This kind of monster lives within all of us, and on some people it’s closer to the outside.
Some Kind Of Monster does go on a bit, and at over eight minutes, the lack of guitar solo starts to be more of a hindrance right here. But at the same time parts of it don’t feel that long. Maybe it’s because of the pace, the catchiness of that riff… Who knows?
Dirty Window. Another catchy riff follows a stop-start intro by drummer Lars Ulrich. This sound wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Load (1996) or Reload. There’s not much to say about this song as it’s basically a verse and a chorus. I’m taking a shot in the dark, but the lyrics are about the self-righteous and how they see fit to judge others and claim self-perfection from their ivory towers.
After the quick intro, Invisible Kid busts out the second best riff on St. Anger (the best will be mentioned later, don’t worry). It’s slick, stylish, and suits the bobbing vocal pattern well. Every time I hear that riff, I stop and think about just how good it is. It’s got a similar feeling to Holier than Thou from Metallica (1990, also known as The Black Album. Feel free to quote Spinal Tap, I’m sure Metallica will have at one point.)
Around half way Invisible Kid slows right down and gets weird. Hetfield brings the weirdness in the way he sings that section. Afterwards, that riff comes back and redeems the song, while the verse lyrics are the same as before, but on steroids.
I’ve lost count how many bands have a song called My World. Even Avril Lavigne had one! I would know, I reviewed it. Thankfully, Metallica’s is much more satisfying; with another beefed-up riff that borders on thrash, and would do if the chorus’ didn’t act as such a big break. The bit that comes after each chorus however is awesome. Like Invisible Kid, the interlude section is a little odd, but more musical in this section. The end of the song builds in both intensity and rage as Hetfield begins chanting ‘enough is enough’ and ends screaming it at the top of his lungs.
Back in the day I always used to wonder how they made the sound that opens Shoot Me Again. It turns out its just dead notes. The main hook has a swinging feel to it and (again, just an educated guess), the lyrics are about being able to take abuse from someone or something and simply taking it on the chin, much to their dismay. It’s about sticking to your guns and being invulnerable to outside criticism, which in a way Metallica are. Another interpretation could be Metallica taunting the fickleness of their fanbase. With the way that metal elitists reacted to Load, Reload and then Napster, it’s understandable if they want to give two fingers to a few crying ex-fanboys.
Shoot Me Again’s hook is good, but it’s really the chorus lyrics that carry the song, and like most on this album, they come from a dark and spiteful place.
Now we come to my favourite riff on the album: Sweet Amber. Back in 2003, I was blown away by this riff and today, I still am. It proves that Metallica can still create such a good and catchy riff without needing to be over technical like they did on And Justice For All, and like so many mega-famous metal bands do today.
The ‘she’ in this song is a metaphor for the music industry being a two-faced bitch, milking bands then leaving them out to dry. Any band who has ever played at a venue that requires you to sell tickets yourself instead of the promoter doing their job and promoting the damn thing, can probably sympathise.
At one point this song builds up to where it’s crying out for a solo, but it never comes, and instead we’re treated to a pretty beasty riff. This is the one part of the album where the lack of solos makes the biggest impact for me, because Sweet Amber lends itself so well to one. It’s not the end of the world though, I guess…
In all honesty, The Unnamed Feeling is one of the most honest and dark-rooted songs I’ve ever heard. Danny Filth can call Jesus what he likes; shock factor isn’t a patch on the darkness in this song. The song is about negativity as a driving force. Think of everything bad that’s happened in your life; this song is about it; those times that everyone has been through where everything has turned to mud; when things go wrong and they hit you again and again in waves. All you want is some respite, but you stopped believing it’ll ever come a long time ago. Much like The God That Failed, it’s that raw bitterness that carries this song, as the music is entirely background.
The last two songs, Purify and All Within My Hands are a little bit fluffy, and certainly not a patch on the previous nine tracks. Perhaps it’s because The Unnamed Feeling was the way it was that to go back to straight-up metal is a bit of a departure. The Unnamed Feeling made a lasting impression that Purify just couldn’t live up to.
And that ends St. Anger.
Has it stood the test of time?
Well let’s discuss the issues people take with this album.
The drums. I agree, Lars’ snare sounds weird. I’m no drummer, so I asked Chris Beaumont, drummer for NitroneiN (who absolutely loves Ulrich), who said this: “either the snare on his snare drum isn’t tight enough-or he’s massively f***ed up the tuning on it”, but to me, it hardly seems reason enough to shun all eleven songs.
Guitar solos. There aren’t any, but so what? Does every song need a solo? Nope. A song can still be a good song without a solo. Solos should be about serving the song, and not a bout of self-fellation. It’s people like Yngwie Malmsteen and his E3 pals that give guitar solos a bad name.
The real ugly truth behind why people don’t like this album is because the metal crowd is fickle. Much like the film industry, people are never happy unless they get more of the same, and I’ve always said that if any other band had made this album, or if it was an unknown band’s debut, it would have skyrocketed. It’s purely because it’s Metallica that people hate it so much. They want their first four albums again, but fail to realise their first four albums have already happened… It’s called their first four albums.
To me personally, it’s not my least favourite; that’s Load. The reasons people always give for hating it don’t hold much weight with me, because like mentioned earlier, they only wanted more of the same. St. Anger has a lot of big meaty hooks, its heavy- their heaviest to date, and it has piles of energy. It’s an angry album; it’s even in the title! And talks about themes that while normally seen in metal, rarely come across as honestly or as experienced.
Lyrically, this album is a cross between a spit back at the people who give shit for years, and an existential crisis. It screams the question ‘Who am I?’, and explores the true ugly sides of life, people, and the powers that run our lives. The band had a lot of issues going on at the time, and the emotions on this album are the result of that.
Sadly though, however much I may praise this album, the fans despise it. The band almost never plays songs from it, and so like many Presidents have said about days of terror, St. Anger is an album that will live in infamy.
Devil-Horn Rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \n