Indefensible Positions: Dr. A.N. Grier Attacks/Defends St. Anger

If you’ve been a reader of this site for a while now, you’re skimming through this article in hopes that it ends like Steel‘s Indefensible Positions of Celtic Frost’s Cold Lake. Well, it won’t. I’m gonna level with you: six people wanted to see this article come to fruition. Some Kind of Monster killed four of them and the hearts of the other two stopped midway through the theatrical release of Metallica: S&M2. If you’re as olde as I am, and grew up with thrash in your blood, you’ve never wanted to read this piece. But such is life; as unfair as it is. So, grab your popcorn, crank up St. Anger,1 and prepare to shake your head in disbelief as I delve into the darkest period of Metallica’s existence.2

How it all began, no one knows. It seemed like any other day when the dark clouds began to move in formation over San Francisco. The storm used the evils and unfortunates that amassed in its billowing blackness to flood the city in rage. Anyone that was there, who cared to look beyond what appeared to be nothing more than a typical squall, described the events with this single word: anger. Metallica’s peeps were angry. They were angry at Lars and James. They were angry at Jason. They were angry that Lars and James let Jason leave. They were mad that Kirk’s solos were gone. They felt sad for Mustaine’s crybaby bullshit. And they hated Bob Rock. They hated him the first time they heard the “Black Album” and hated him, even more, when they heard “Mama Said” and “Low Man’s Lyric.” Many of these same people sat around their television sets each week watching burly men smash aluminum3 trash cans over each other’s heads. Because of this, the world would be forever littered with empty cans of malt beer and other metalhead trash. The hate and anger for the simplest trash receptacle were too much to bear.4 No one knew how the storm began. But it was here. And it was real.

St. Anger goes something like this. “Frantic:” some of James’ worst lyrics—so bad they gave me a tick. “St. Anger:” more trash can than anyone should be subjected to; also I’m madly in anger with these lyrics. “Some Kind of Monster:” four minutes too long. “Dirty Window:” filler track #1. “Invisible Kid:” eighteen minutes too long. “My World:” rocks. “Shoot Me Again:” filler track #2. “Sweet Amber:” oh-so-sweet. “The Unnamed Feeling:” an underrated song that deserved more than this. “Purify:” St. Anger should purify itself of this song. “All Within My Hands:” not the worst, but still one of the worst closers in Metallica history.5 Are you convinced yet that you should listen to this monstrosity? Two-to-three songs worth checking out? If we consult the rating scale of AMG, Inc., that would be a 1.5/5.0 on the Grier scale.6 But, in reality, a 2.0/5.0 for St. Anger would be fitting, as it is a “disappointing” album for longtime Met fans.

That said, my issues with the album go beyond the lyrics and the band’s inability to edit themselves. But, now that I mentioned that, these songs are too long. And the amount of riffs stuffed into them drags the album out more than Death Magnetic. That album got so much shit for doing this because no one remembered St. Anger. I enjoy “Invisible Kid” and “Some Kind of Monster,” but, good-goddamn, quit while you’re ahead. No builds, no solo sessions, no nothing. Yet, these two songs are eight-and-a-half-fucking-minutes long. But I digress. Other than the unfortunate decision to turn the snare off on Lars’ snare drum, the dynamics, the recording techniques, the lack of solos, and the bass are the biggest flaws on the record.

Though St. Anger isn’t as compressed as Death Magnetic, it’s still hella loud. After seventy-five-fucking-minutes of music, you can feel it. And, the feeling of getting stabbed in the brain by an ice pick is made even worse by the recording. The lead guitar lives in the left channel. When I first bought St. Anger, the driver-side speaker of my ’96 Geo Tracker blew out and I have permanent hearing loss in my left ear. It’s one of those details no respecting band or producer would want to be noticeable. But it is. And it kills many songs for me—including “Frantic’ and “St. Anger.” No solos? Fuck you. You strip a guitarist of what he does best and you expect fans to be okay with that? Sure, someone needed to take that fucking wah-wah pedal away from him, but this is extreme. While no Kirk solos suck the life out of these eleven tracks, Bob Rock’s bass performance is worse. Stuck in the purgatory between Jason and Rob Trujillo, St. Anger was further tampered with by Rock’s hand. In this case, by recording a LOUD, lifeless bass part to an already helpless album. Hell, minus the snare, Lars’ performance is the life of the album. You can bitch all you want about the lack of bass on …And Justice For All, but this is worse.

If it sounds like I’m going after Bob Rock, I am. This was the last straw. I sat tight during the Rock era of ‘Tallica’s career, thinking this was temporary. Though many hate the infamous “Black Album,” I enjoyed it. The detail given to all the performances was impressive. Although it wasn’t thrash, I wasn’t scared. Then the double-album-esque Load and ReLoad felt like a band shrugging some shit off their shoulders and having fun. Those albums were enjoyable and non-threatening. As was the cover album, Garage Inc. “They’re having fun,” I told myself. “They’ll be back,” I told everyone. Then one of the sickest jokes in metal happened. When the album we were all waiting for came, it was nothing we were waiting for. After a decade of Rock molding them into a clean, smooth machine, delivering perfectly-executed performances and some of the most-powerful vocal deliveries in the world, Met and Rock threw all that to the shoulder of the road. The performances on St. Anger are rough, the recording is nasty, and James’ vocals are unhinged. The sleek voice of ’90s Metallica screams and barks out of tune from the very real anger and frustration of the time, supported by backing vocals so cringe-worthy I want to throw myself into oncoming traffic.

Now you’re wondering where the “defense” of the album is gonna come as you notice the comment section lingers below. Have you ever been so broken by something in life that you didn’t recognize yourself on the other side? A divorce, a tragic death in the family, a career coming to a halt? Something so crippling that your anxiety and/or depression hits the roof, your desire to keep moving is no longer there, your confidence in yourself and everything around you gone forever? That’s what Metallica saw when it stared into the eyes of St. Anger. They broke bad. And what you hear in this album is one of rock and metal’s most confident bands playing music written by four guys that felt alone and wanted nothing to do with each other. More than any other album I own, St. Anger is the ultimate time-period piece. You can hear the anger and you can feel the frustration, from “Purify” to “St. Anger” to “All Within My Hands.” The songs come off like a “band” trying to get it over with as fast as possible. And James wails and screams like someone hiding a monster inside that has discovered its captor’s secrets and is unlocking the cage door from the inside.

So, the next time you get on a Metallica binge, don’t forget St. Anger. A lot of shit happened between ReLoad and Death Magnetic. And you can feel it as much as you can hear it. I’ve never felt so much pain and anger in one album. That’s what makes it so unique. How often do you get to experience the darkest moment of a band’s career through their music, rather than reading about it on Twitter and Facebook? Pour yourself a strong cocktail, strap on your headphones, and settle in. St. Anger’s got a lot of hate to share.7

Show 7 footnotes

  1. But not too much. It’s too fucking loud.
  2. “Minus that time they cut their hair, amrite?” Grow the fuck up.
  3. I’m sorry… steel.
  4. Isn’t it ironic that a publication once misspelled “thrash” as “trash” to describe Metallica’s sound?
  5. #10: “My Apocalypse” (god I hate this fucking song); #9: “Spit Out the Bone” (I also hate this song); #8: “All Within My Hands;” #7: “The Struggle Within;” #6: “The Outlaw Torn;” #5: “Fixxxer;” #4: “Metal Militia;” #3: “The Call of Ktulu;” #2: “Dyers Eve;” #1: “Damage, Inc.”
  6. Or 0.5/5.0 for not having any Mercyful Fate covers.
  7. Clean out your dumpster cubicle and leave the Hall. – Steel Management
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