METALLICA - "ST. ANGER" (VERTIGO)
"St. Anger" is probably metal's (or rock's) most anticipated release this year. For several months before its release, the marketing machine was carefully constructing the hype, announcing Metalli-related factoids that also mentioned the pending album release.
It has to be said, judging by the hype, that the album would have a lot of things going for it. For starters they used the hallowed "back to the roots" phrase, even though in their case it would have to mean "going back over 15 years" for it to be any good. They also announced a free DVD that would go with every CD for free. A good marketing move, obviously, and a good bid for a band that's lost a lot of street cred with their money-hungry MP3-supressant attitudes of recent years.
I have to admit I had completely fallen for the hype. Surely, I reckoned, if so many people at so many magazines were over the moon about the new musical style and the songs and the cool Metallidudes then there'd have to be some truth in there? Interviews with band members seemed promising. Bob Rock still produced the band, so if all else failed it was going to sound good at the very least, right?
Wrong. Horribly, totally, painfully wrong.
Once upon a time there was a band that urged you to tone down the volume a bit to prevents parts of your ceiling from coming down. Even "Load" and "Reload" sounded heavy as hell where they had to. Not so "St. Anger". Bob Rock must have concentrated too much on his bass playing (Trujillo didn't join until after the album was recorded) for him to pay attention to the actual mix of the album. The snare sounds like an oil drum. The guitars sound like they do when your distortion effect pedal has too little low and too much high. The vocals sound a bit distorted. The bass is audible for the first time in 15 years...but you immediately wish it weren't: The strings sound dead. "St. Anger" sounds like an expensive garage band demo, with the exception that I've heard better on, say, "No Life Till Leather".
And that's just the sound.
The lyrics don't amount to much either. Where are the days of cool song lyrics instead of all this autobiographical shit? No critical lyrics about society or culture, no cool stuff about death and myths and Cthulhu. Instead it's mostly about James Hetfield and the way he got to grips with himself. And what the hell are they angry about? About kids who download their music? About their lack of self-discipline that lets them indulge in, say, alcohol and general rock star debauchery? There is a lot of anger, but it all comes across pretty pointless. Half of the vocal delivery is lacklustre as well, most notably in the title track chorus, "aimallyinangawiyou", repeated ad nauseum. Metallica used to be my number 1 band, and I used to look up at Hetfield pretty much as a hero (up to and including even the black album). They are a far cry from a shadow of their formers selves, as a band and as individual musicians.
Musically, there is plenty to complain about, too. All songs are pretty long but it's just endlessly repeated riffs with a lot of repeated vocals. Everything is too damn long, too damn boring. Even if I had nothing to do, I'd have something better to do than to listen to this again. There are no guitar solos either. Kirk is, despite many young (very young) kids' opinions, not god's gift to the world of six-strings...but no solo at all is being a bit harsh on the the wah-wah loving axeman. The end of "Frantic" is OK, there's a hint or two at good drumming in "All Within My Hands", "Invisible Kid" starts off promising but then just becomes rerepepetitive, and "The Unnamed Feeling" would have something good in it if it weren't covered in musical sludge.
Poor Robert Trujillo, to join a band that you probably lived in total awe of, only to discover their new music is the sonic equivalent of a mixture of all bodily excreta you care to think of.
Packaging is nice (despite evidence that Lars has joined the Yngwie Malmsteen school of lip pouting) and the DVD is cool, but that's nowhere near enough.
I hope the "real" metal press will be honest, and not take into consideration the potential ad revenue they may lose when writing a bad review. It's probably too late already... As for me, this is the first Metallica album I've sold. Every earlier album (including "S&M" and "Garage Inc.") had its merits where "St. Anger" has not one. It's not worth 1 centimeter of CD shelf space. Thankfully it's a digipak so it will be less environmentally unfriendly if people just chuck it out of their windows. And to think that this album had 1 million copies pre-ordered...what a waste of resources and shipping efforts. I guess Ebay is going to have an unprecedented number of $0.01 "no reserve" "good as new" "only played once" CDs on offer soon.
If there are such things as ghosts, I think James and Lars should look forward to Cliff coming back to haunt them.
Stuff added 10 June 2003:
Geez, it seems like I've opened up a can of worms...or Pandora's Box, if you will. In the past day or two I have received some emails that are, um, critical of my review. Metallica, so it was claimed, have merely come full circle. They must have intentionally made "St. Anger" the way they did, to make an anti-technology statement (as in "all other music these days sounds very refined and processed, and Metallica doesn't want that").
Two words: Bull Shit.
Using the same analogy, an author could jumble together sentences in a near-illegible font and call it "anti-syntax" or even "anti-readable". That author would, rightly, sell preciously few of his books. Metallica have made an album that just sound bad, with inspired and oft-repeated riffs and threadbare lyrics. Music should be made to listen to, not as an artistic statement per se. Metallica have made an unlistenable CD.
Enough said. And I stick by the rating only because I can't be bothered to make a "half bullet" graphic.
Written June 2003
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