# ST. ANGER REVIEW St. Anger almost feels like The Room of music. Except it's made by a best-selling band who clearly have talent and appeal, which makes it even stranger.

Created during a period of strife between the band members and after singer/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield went to rehab for alcoholism and anger, St. Anger was conceived as a raw, honest portrayal of the band as they were in that period of time, and a return to their early days with one-take production and high energy. What makes St. Anger so interesting to me is the strange dichotomy between the intended feel and actual execution. Namely, it's supposed to be this rough project that could have come out of any random garage band, but was recorded piecemeal with over-processed instruments and stitched together in Pro Tools by the band members.

Before even talking about the themes, the lyrics, or the music itself, what sticks out more on first listen is how sloppy it sounds. Tracks cut out before they're supposed to, elements of the instruments are hard to hear like some of the drum rhythms in the beginning of Frantic, and much of it sounds like it's precariously close to (or actually are) clipping hard. These flaws come across as overly digital and computerized as opposed to spontaneous and "real". Each track, and even each section of each track, almost sound completely different to the others. The volume completely changes, the way the drums sound differs, it all changes all the time. It’s not just consistently bad, that would be at least understandable, but why it sounds bad differs often for seemingly nonsensical reasons. And let's not forget about the snare. Created by disconnecting the wires on the snare drum and tuning it very high, it leads to a sound that has no sharp impact and rings out much longer than what works for metal, explaining the common comparison of its sound to a garbage can or oil drum being struck.

Actually, let's talk about the cymbals. What ends up being a bigger issue for the sound of St. Anger is not the snare, but how loud the cymbals (and in turn the entire drum kit) sit in the mix. On heavier tracks (especially the title track), it ends up sounding like a mess of noise, with little to no attack and large amounts of compression leading it to act as a wave of white noise. The kick is biting, having a little more muscle behind it than the click-y sound of ...And Justice For All while also sounding like Lars Ulrich is stomping on the pedal with all of his might with every use.

Moving on to the guitars, this album features Metallica playing at some of their lowest tunings they ever would reach. Going from Drop C#, all the way to Drop Ab (sounding closer to Korn than their thrash/heavy metal peers), again the guitars at times sound like a mess of sludgy noise, with little to no bite to the tone, not being heavy and deep nor sharp and punchy. It's nothing. Same goes for the bass (played by producer Bob Rock, not Robert Trujillo as some might believe). It doesn't really hit any of the lower frequencies a bass might need to hit (especially for how low they tuned), so it ends up being almost indiscernible at times more due to how it was EQed and recorded than the band just turning it down. It’s a very mid frequency heavy sound overall when it’s all put together, and it’s grating at high volumes.

Finally, vocals. Hetfield sounds right in your face the entire time. There's no processing or mixing that makes it more palatable. Some of his "S" syllables sound ear piercing. Hetfield either barks or sings with an almost country twang akin to what he did on Load and Reload, often off key and unprepared, with vocal harmonies and backing chants filling the space. You can hear times where he runs out of breath in the middle of a phrase (second “frantic tick-tick-tick…tock” on Frantic is a good example), and other times where he audibly strains to hit high notes. Hetfield is quite unintentionally comedic at times with his over-the-top deliveries.

For the actual music, St. Anger is a mid-tempo affair for the most part. These songs chug more than they thrash, and they run LONG. The shortest song on here is a little over five minutes. Which isn't super long, but when a greater percentage of the tracklist runs past seven minutes, it gets grating. And these aren't progressive tracks like ...And Justice. The cut-and-paste nature of the album's arrangements don't just hurt the mixing. They also severely hurt the songs themselves. Most of the songs are composed of 3-4 different sections stitched onto each other and repeated ad nauseum. Going back to the title track, it restarts twice. The second time, it repeats the entire intro for little reason.

And many of these sections feel very similar track-to-track, which does not help the grueling process of sitting through the whole album. There are no solos, a decision lead guitarist Kirk Hammett said on the documentary film “Some Kind Of Monster” (recording the process of creating St. Anger and working through their problems) would date them to the period of time, being 2003. 2003, mind you, was around the time nu-metal was still a thing in popular culture, though on its last legs. Nu-metal (generally, the “sub-genre” was very varied and a bit too broad to fit all the bands) featured little to no solos, staccato riffs, and an emphasis on rhythm and groove over speed. Sound familiar?

The grooves on St. Anger are probably its best strength. Though Lars’ drum kit sounds the worst it ever was, the rhythms he plays are infectious at times and complement the guitars quite well. Examples of this (and what I would consider the best tracks) are Frantic, St. Anger, Shoot Me Again, My World, and Purify (which most people hate!).

And strangely enough, the drums almost feel like their own instrument. They change sound often throughout the project, the snare is tuned to the key of each track, and the way that each part of the kit warbles and varies in pitch almost adds a second layer of melody. There’s also the way the drums are mixed, with elements like crash cymbals having little of the actual hit being audible, instead serving as a constant and discomforting wave of noise, filling the soundscape and turning it into a insular, claustrophobic environment.

Aside from the grooves, what makes St. Anger compelling to me past its enigmatic set of flaws is the passion and emotional energy put into it. In spite of the artificial nature, it sounds and reads (lyrically) like a real display of anger, frustration, and trauma from the band members, and Hetfield specifically.

That’s not to say the lyrics are well written. Quite the opposite, actually; there are many lines and phrases that one would consider quite cheesy and a bit odd for a man of his age to sing. They’re the most direct and confessional his lyrics would perhaps ever be. Gone are the stories about war, commentaries on corruption, and mythical monsters, replaced with stories about wanting to control one’s anger, moving past alcoholism, and anxiety and depression.

The lyrics themselves were actually written as a group, instead of just Hetfield. This partially explains why songs sometimes read as unfocused, as little lines would be offered up by individual members, and put together in the songs. Kirk Hammett, legendary shredder and soloist, was the one who wrote “My lifestyle determines my deathstyle”. Think about that for a second.

Some lines that I actually quite enjoy include “Who’s in charge of my head today?”, “Not only do I not know the answer… I don’t even know what the question is” (which is performed with such ferocity it ends up being the most psychotic moment on the whole project), “I ain’t dancing with your skeletons; I ain’t dancing with what might have been”, and “I’m madly in anger with you” (yes, it’s absurdly cheesy, but it’s quite funny).

A lot of the lyrics generally come off as shallow depth inquisitions on the human mind and behaviors like someone who went to therapy might have to say. Indeed, a lot of these lyrics were written through group sessions with Phil Towle, a “performance coach” and quasi-therapist who was at the band’s beck and call during the entire process of St. Anger. But they also feel real. Especially with the delivery. Though I criticized the lack of ability earlier, at times Hetfield displays such fire and passion that I can’t help but be enthralled. Usually when he screams. Singing, less so. He almost fully sells the ending of the album (where he shouts “KILL” about 40 times in a row). Doesn’t quite stick the landing, but you gotta respect the attempt.

Real is probably the best word to describe St. Anger. Which is weird to think about if you actually listened to it. There’s a lot here that sounds artificial as I’ve stated before. But the impetus for the project is as real as it gets. What could have spelled the end of the band instead spelled a 9/10 from NME (also a 0.8/10 from Pitchfork). Then they actually went back to their thrash sound and people generally liked it, or at least tolerated it. In spite of all its flaws, there’s an energy to this album at times that I can’t get from many others. Even in the months that I’ve spent piecing this review together, I’ve grown to like it more and more. Give it a shot, you might feel like I do eventually. Or you might just laugh at the awful snare and call it a day. Either way, I’m satisfied.

Addendum: Here’s a boatload of my favorite moments from the album: The “SET IT FREE!” on St. Anger. There’s this grinding sound that sounds like an angry cat that pierces the ears. I don’t know what that sound is or how it was made but I love it. It segways into the double-time really well. All of Frantic. Maybe cut it down a bit. This is the most “normal” one on here for metallica. The “I drink from the cup of denial” ending of Dirty Window. Invisible Kid’s bridge. Yes I like it. I like how much it slows down and the weird swingy rhythm it has. Feels like a ballad. Invisible Kid’s outro. It comes in at a weird beat (not off 4/4 time but on one of the “ands”, the third beat of the measure). Maybe a bit sloppy but it has a nice climatic feel. If only the song wasn’t eight and a half freaking minutes. Sounds very much like a Korn song. My World. All of it. Again, the outro too. Holy mackerel it’s so energetic. This is the heaviest song on the whole project. Or at least the thrashiest. Shoot Me Again “Bite my tongue…” . And all of it chorus wise. Especially the harmonies. I like how simplistic the drum part is on the last chorus. I’ve heard covers add stuff to it and I just can’t. I don’t want any fills. I want the kick to sound like it’s being slammed on with the force of a thousand suns and that’s what I got. Purify’s bridge. The chorus is funny bad. The bridge has this really nice rhythm to it. The weird shoegazy atmospheric section that shows up on All Within my Hands a couple of times. They were going for that sound a bit in the 2001 era recording sessions. KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL!!! Go back to blog posts