Metallica’s St. Anger Was Released Ten Years Ago Today
Metallica’s St. Anger was released ten years ago today. Since sometimes brilliant art is misunderstood and under-appreciated upon its initial debut and is only later recognized for the work of genius that it is, I was hoping that making myself sit through St. Anger all the way through for the first time since roughly June 6, 2003, would somehow turn me around on this album.
So I’m sad to report that St. Anger still has all the problems today that it did then: the drums sound like shit, the songs are too long, Hetfield’s vocals sound like shit, the lyrics were patently written by people in the throes of therapy, the bass sounds like shit, there are no guitar solos, the guitars sound like shit, the documentary Some Kind of Monster is more entertaining than the album itself, everything sounds like shit.
If we consider the longevity of the work as an object of discussion and study to be the single greatest achievement any artist can realize, than the fact that we’re still conversing about St. Anger a decade later proves that it is special, in the strictest sense of the word: it’s “distinguished by some unusual quality,” “readily distinguishable from others of the same category,” and “other than the usual.” If the Load albums are bad because of their poorly-executed pandering to mid-90s radio rock and Death Magnetic is bad because it’s such a bland attempt to recreate the band’s glory days, St. Anger is a much more noteworthy form of bad: it is so badly misguided as to make the creators appear to be insane. After all, what other explanation could there be for four grown men (yes, I’m including Bob Rock) who have collectively sold more albums than there are stars to listen to this and think, “Nailed it!“
I think this is part of the reason why St. Anger is still a work of fascination to this day. It is a work of creative hubris, but it’s also a truly singular vision in a way that most albums, good or bad, never are. It’s their world, sucker.
But I think there are two other reasons for St. Anger‘s notoriety.
For one thing, there’s the riffs: there are actually some really good ones on this album. Riffs that don’t sound just like everything else Metallica have ever written, but still rock, and don’t feel forced or trendy. As Kerry King told Terrorizer magazine, “This part [of the title track where the pace picks up] could be entertaining as hell, but I just can’t get past the mix… those [other] songs [on the album] are alright, but there’s no reason for those songs to be seven minutes long, let along eight or nine.” It Metallica had even one key member of their inner circle who had the balls to tell truth to power, it’s entirely possible that St. Anger might have actually redeemed the band for blowing their Load.
Which is certainly how the album was heralded. Recall, for example, Revolver‘s June 2003 issue, which featured Metallica on the cover, and described the album thusly:
“St. Anger – loud, complex and unremittingly brutal. The album is easily the bands most purely metallic offering since 1988’s …And Justice For All. Heavy riffs and wicked time changes abound and instruments jump out of the speakers with demonic fury. St. Anger is merciless; just when you think a song is heading for an exit, another monster riff comes along and knocks you on your ass!”
I suspect I’m not the only Metallica fan who bought into that hype. Keep in mind that in 2013, Metallica have had another ten years to be ridiculous; in 2003, a time when they totally kicked ass didn’t seem so distant, and thus, redemption felt achievable. I sat through that entire stupid MTV Icon thing just to hear a minute of “Frantic,” and that truncated, largely instrumental, shitty-production-free snippet sounded promising.
Which, I think, brings us to the other other reason why St. Anger still gets attention: for many of us, it ended the denial, the nail in Metallica’s coffin, the moment when we absolutely had to stop lying to ourselves and admit that the band we knew and loved was dead. (If we were Star Wars geeks, St. Anger would be Revenge of the Sith.) St. Anger was a sad, shocking milestone.
And the craziest part about the album? Metallica in no way, shape, or form learned from their mistake. In fact, eight years later, they got behind the wheel and wrecked the car even more fantastically than they did with St. Anger.
Oh well. At least it didn’t have an “Unforgiven” on it.