Am I judging the boys too hard? Aren't I the same guy who reviewed Linkin Park positively? Well, yes and no. No Metallica didn't become technically inferior and all the boys remained great musicians. Yes Metallica is a much better band than this, and knowing what they're capable of made their recent efforts pretty much disappointments. Imagine if Led Zeppelin had said "You know, those Bay City Rollers have a good thing going! Maybe we should hook up with K.C. and the Sunshine Band and pick up some tricks for our next few albums!" Would Zeppelin suddenly have sucked? No. Would I have bought those albums? No! And neither would you have, MISTER!
Metallica have spent years defending their 1990s works (although they sold plenty of copies in true sell-out fashion) and pretty much explained that they were more "comfortable" playing mid-tempo, shorter (read "more radio friendly") songs. In the time between Garage, Inc. and such fun cash ins as S & M (Symphony In Metallica) the boys took a little time off to relax and rethink, and (in drummer Lars Ulrich's case) to testify before congress of the evils of music piracy (ya rebel ya)! Let's also not forget Bassist Jason Newstead got burned out on defending their work and left the band (though not as dramatically as previous bassist Cliff Burton had... sorry), lead guitarist Kirk Hammett... um... what did he do? And Lead Vocalist/ Rhythm Guitarist James Hetfield checked himself in to an alcoholism rehabilitation program. While the main songwriter having spent the nineties inebriated does explain such songs as The Memory Remains one had to wonder what else might be up. (For more to this story, see also Metallica: Some Kind of Monster!)
St. Anger is unquestionably a heavy metal album with wildly rattled drums darkly textured chugga-chugga guitars and steadily driving Bass lines. Hetfield's voice has matured to more of a song than a scream, but there are absolutely no Mamma Said or Nothing Else Matters ballad moments on this album. The album even features full artwork by Pushead in a return to form there! There really are some truly great moments on the album, and it is an infectious listen with heavy beats and interesting themes.
The first track, Frantic, sets the theme with its drum-driven harshness and self-introspective fury that echoes throughout the rest of the album. Without even a breath the album shoots in to the second (title) track which is as angry as its name and viciously echoes the self-explanation of a support meeting every bit as much as if the first line had been "My name is James and I am an Alcoholic!" Other highlights include Sweet Amber and Purify. In fact there isn't really a "bad" song on the disc, from the opening licks to the chant of "Kill Kill Kill" on the final act's All within my Hands. But there also isn't very much that can be considered daring about the album.
Bob Rock again produces as he has before for both Metallica and countless other Pop-Rockers. (Rock also takes over Bass duties from Newsted [now guesting in his own favorite bands like VoiVod] as new bassist Robert Trujillo hadn't been hired by the time the record was recorded. Trujillo's name and picture do both appear within the inlay card.) There is almost an air of desire to return to proven ground before both with this choice and the direction of the album avoiding easy rock and going for longer and more meandering metallic structures as they did in the past
Unfortunately one item from the old formula that they avoid almost completely is the element of solos. There are no guitar solos and minimal leads on the entire album. It's a numetal convention to avoid solos as self-indulgent and masturbatory, but why should Metallica, who does them better than just about anyone, fall into such trappings. They should be teaching the numetallers not learning from them. Hey, I am a big fan of Korn and Deftones, but Metallica is made of sterner stuff.
Hetfield reportedly included the other members into his song writing processes, which could be great, but Hetfield's lyrics here sound very therapeutic and counseled. There's nothing wrong with James Hetfield sounding like an AA meeting or a diary because that's what he needs. Lines like "Am I who I think I am?" and "I want my Anger to be Healthy!" and "My Lifestyle Determines my Death Style!" and "God, it feels like it only rains on me!" and "I'm Madly in Anger with Krusty the Klown!" (kidding on that last one) sound straight out of Group Therapy. I feel almost guilty writing about them, afraid of breaking the confidence of the group. In fact Hetfield gets so very into the feel of the emotion purging that he starts sounding more like Aaron Lewis than Dave Mustaine. I actually had to double check the album cover to make sure I wasn't listning to Staind! James' voice is growling when needed, cracking when desired, and steadily heartfelt with its extended syllables and standardized radio-rock conventions. He also experiments with fitting his lyrics into the tight song structures he offers up, and it doesn't always work. Often he ends up with silly lyrics and stretches for rhymes. In some cases he even uses the same word twice in a couplet, which isn't a rhyme at all. "Pure" doesn't "rhyme" with "pure," it's the same darned word! Likewise such tracks as Dirty Window and Invisible Kid pick a vowel sound and rhyme everything that they can for as long as they can with that one sound... Sometimes it works well, sometimes it falls flat.
Don't get the impression that this is a bad album. In fact it's pretty darned good, and repeatable in its listen-ability. In spite of its flaws it has enough of the Classic Metallica to really get a guy feeling nostalgic. I've listened to it a few times in a row without getting burned out and I seem to want to come back to it after some gaps. Again, it's great to see the guys back doing what they do so well, but knowing what they could be doing it pulls the reigns on a perfect review. Were this any other band this might be a real accomplishment. As it is it's a good and fun listen worthy of repeated spins and the occasional sing along on the freeway. Yeah, it's careful enough to gain MTV2 and KROQ airplay, but so is a lot of metal out there. At least these guys know what they're doing.
Three Stars for Metallica's St. Anger. It's a good album and it's better than their last three or four outings, but not as good as their vintage '80's work. Oh, it's very good all right, but knowing these guys it could have been just incredible. I say that, of course, while I'm in the middle of listening to Shoot me Again (track 7), so how much of a complaint do I have? I can't say that Metallica isn't a heavy metal band anymore. They've proven it here... now let's hope that there's a future in this vein. Now if only we could get Pist-On to release a new one. Now that's invention!
If you're an angry person who needs to purge some emotions...
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