As we grow older, it becomes easier to look back on things we may have disliked in our youth and re-evaluate them as maybe not being so bad after all. This is true on an individual level as much as on a societal one. Just look at the Star Wars prequels and Keanu Reeves. There was a time when everyone hated both of those things. Now, they’re the quality standard of cultural excellence. It’s enough to make you question everything and everyone around you, including your own sanity.
That said, there is one universal, unquestionable, uncompromising truth that you can always fall back on to keep yourself from going off the deep end: I’ve listened to it a LOT over the past few days so that you don’t have to, and I can confirm that Metallica’s St. Anger is still a terrible, awful, no-good record.
Before I rip into it too heavily, yes, I am aware that “Frantic” is objectively a fucking killer song. It’s not, you know, “Battery.” But it stands up. The eerie clean guitar melodies in the pre-chorus, the slightly out of tune harmonies on James Hetfield’s manic vocals, the fact that this is some of Lars’ most fluid drumming in a decade, it all works.
And hell, I’ll even throw this thing a couple more bones: the title track ain’t half bad either. And some (yes, some) of the riffs on the rest of the album are kind of tolerable.
That’s it though. That’s all this album – which forces you through a runtime of an hour and fifteen minutes – has got going for it. The low-quality mixes on Metallica’s earlier albums were endearing, and it’s something fans have come to appreciate because the songs are just so fucking badass. The mix on this album – released 10+ years after they demonstrated the full capacity of their recording budget on the Black Album – was awful in 2003, and it only sounds worse in 2020.
On top of that, none of these songs are below five minutes. Why? FUCK IF I KNOW. On previous (and subsequent) releases, Metallica justified their longer songs with twist-and-turn structures that included beautiful instrumental passages and ripping solos. None of that happens on St. Anger. There are no solos. Hell, there are almost no riffs that venture past the third fret, unless it’s to hit an octave. It’s all chug all the fucking time. These songs are so boring they make black-and-white monotone documentaries from before the age of Netflix look like Broadway spectacles. And don’t even get me started on the pseudo-rap/screams that Hetfield decided he was REALLY going to lean into. I know they were going through a hard time while they were recording this, but damn.
This was an album where arguably the most influential and certainly the best-selling metal band of all time turned into a cheap knockoff of a bunch of bands who were ALREADY CHEAP KNOCKOFFS OF METALLICA. Just let that sink in.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter. We’ve already forgiven them for it. Why? Because we happy many who love Metallica really fucking love Metallica. They’ve taken the bass away from us like cruel overlords. They’ve hit us time and again with “experiments” like this and Lulu (I still can’t decide if it’s worse than St. Anger, but it’s definitely weirder). They’ve made us wait years for new music. And we still forgive them. And we always will. Long live Metallica.
Sorry, did that not make sense? Don’t listen to St. Anger.
Written by Syd Ghan
*Edited by Dominic Abate