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Surprises and frustrates in equal measure
on 24 February 2004
It has been a long wait for a new studio album. The rather toned down experimental efforts of the load/re-load sessions pleased many people but frustrated a great deal more. With Lars Ulrich's determinations that ‘tallica were back to the energy levels of the 80's (certainly proved by their resurgence in their tours) one might be have been forgiven for believing the hype. There is absolutely no doubting that St Anger is a beast of an album. It exudes a greasy-dark atmosphere, leaving a suitably bitter taste in the mouth, vitriolic in both its intensity and aural strip-down. So its heavy. Check. but does it cut the standard?
Opener "Frantic" effectively smashes you clean in the face in much the same way as classic track 1's "blackened" or "battery". A stuttering drum start rips straight into perhaps the simplest and most effective riff of the album followed closely by a growling Hetfield and a passable but melodic chorus. The song clocks in around the five minute mark making it almost the shortest song on the record. Unfortunately after such a promising opening the subsequent title track quickly encapsulates all that is not so good with the latest album. .A punky opening is quickly dispelled by Lars’ new metallic snare sound and obscure production, effectively killing out the rhythm guitar and leaving an off-form Hetfield rather stranded. References back to the old days through the lyrics (‘fuck it all and no regrets, I hit the lights on these dark sets’) unfortunately do not manage to bring back the oh-so-promised “kill’em all/ride” swing. In fact if anything, Metallica seem to miss Jason Newstead’s creativity as much as they did Burton's. The switch between loud and quiet is ungainly, as are the time changes which fall far short of the progressive nature of "...and justice for all" or “Master of Puppets”. and consequently the track quickly becomes repetitive. Add to this the fact that Bob Rock and the boys have decided to totally dispense with guitar solos ( a point of huge significance) and suddenly the listening becomes very challenging indeed.
It is these base criticisms that blight almost all the tracks. The mid-section of a mediocre ‘My world’ for example finds the band floundering almost to the point of halting, while Lars’ exuberance during ‘Purify’ completely destroys any original groove on one of the more promising tracks. Its not that the guys have lost all sense of their talents, but its almost as if they are trying too hard to fit into a new generation of thrash metal. The songs are far too long for the rather cumbersome guitars ( a criticism heard before in the rather more daring “...and justice for all” record) and melodies not honed enough to justify the slower sections. It seems that in their haste to banish the load/re-load demons, Metallica have forgotten that the subtle dynamics of classics such as “one” and “welcome home sanitarium” made for far heavier listening than the simple volume of St Anger.
Fortunately the news is not all bad. Out of the blue “Some kind of monster” manages to out strip the last two studio efforts for an alternative ‘greasy’ feel, chugging along with swagger until repetition finally rears its ugly head. It has to be said that the majority of songs start strongly, as is the case especially with Invisible kid (ruined mainly by perhaps Hetfield’s worst lyrical performance to date) and My world, only then to be tarred by the short comings endemic throughout the album.
Ironically the bands that Metallica have most influenced (System of a down, Machine head, Chimera...etc ad nauseum) have now outgrown the old guard to the extent that Metallica now have to play second fiddle. In a word St anger is difficult to distinguish from its contemporaries, and this is why the album may well sit better with those into the new wave of heavy metal. Iron maiden seemed to have decided to return to old well worn tactics and hopefully so will Metallica in order to regain the creative power that produced some of the most important albums in the history of both metal and music as a whole.
Thus St Anger will present a major disappointment to most Metallica fans. I would however still recommend you purchase this CD, if only for the strength of “Frantic”, “Some kind of Monster” and the DVD extra (which interestingly paints the songs in a better light).