In the six years between Reload and St. Anger, Metallica began to fall apart.
1998 saw the release of their second-ever "covers record," Garage Inc., which featured takes on tunes by the likes of Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fate, and Killing Joke, as well as a dreadful version of Thin Lizzy's "Whiskey in the Jar" that, because it was by Metallica, got massive play. The next year, the band hooked up with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for the "concert experience" called S&M. Not content to de-bone just their classic material with the assistance of over one hundred classical musicians, Metallica composed two brand new songs for this revelatory event. Stunningly, both of them stank worse than a Cincinnati chili crap.
A new century, new signs of tarnish.
If cooking up a new album seemed far off on the horizon, the guys were still able to converge and cobble together "I Disappear" for the Mission: Impossible 2 soundtrack. When word reached the Metalli-camp that a demo version of the track had hit radio, they were able to trace a trail back to the peer-to-peer file-sharing service Napster. Aghast that people were sharing officially-released music, at no cost to them and thus of no profit to the artist, Metallica hired NetPD to monitor Napster for a single weekend. On April 13, the group filed a lawsuit, alleging copyright infringement and racketeering. They also presented a list, some 60,000 pages long, naming over 335,000 users guilty of "sharing" Metallica's music. Their demands were for Napster to remove all Metallica songs from their service and to ban all of those users. The judge ruled in favor of the band, but in the court of public opinion, their reputation took a massive blow. Devoted fans felt betrayed and even those who sympathized with the artists assertion that they should be duly paid for their efforts bristled at the direct attacks on specific people. Not to mention Lars Ulrich posturing in the media as though his band represented an almighty hammer ready to strike the death blow to all thieving geeks on behalf of capitalism.
Less than a year after this shitshow, bassist Jason Newsted announced his departure from Metallica. The reasons why became a bit clearer two months after the news first broke, with the appearance on newsstands of Playboy's April 2001 issue. If the decision to conduct interviews with the members individually was intended to have an internecine effect--mission not only possible, but accomplished. Kirk and Lars took shots at James for his conservative lifestyle and opinions, while Jason saw fit to bitch out James for cock-blocking his side project Echobrain, demanding absolutely loyalty to the Metallica family. Basically, the guys used the pages of Playboy to absorb their nagging frustrations. Something a lot of other guys do too, really.
July 2001, James Hetfield skips off to rehab for his addictions to alcohol and…other stuff. He returns nine months later, on a strict work schedule. With tensions simmering and the future uncertain as ever, producer Bob Rock proposed the extemporaneous approach for the next album--he encouraged the guys to "jam out" and not worry themselves sick over "being amazing." Rock also took over on bass, at least for the studio recording. They'd still need to find another new guy, hopefully one that their hopefully matured selves wouldn't treat like a ginger stepbrother.
They would also need to work on that maturity thing! Enter "performance-enhancing coach" Phil Towne (for only 40 grand a month!) and documentary filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. Exit common sense.
The whole group is credited as songwriters (including Bob Rock). Communal creation will bring back that family vibe! But a democracy? No, Metallica are never that. There are no solos anywhere on the album, at the behest of James and Lars but not the man who normally plays them. Lars argued that if the new album was to signal a new age for Metallica, the hoary tricks of the past (like solos) should be abandoned. Kirk argued that omitting them would make the band sound like trend-chasers. Guess who won?
Another outdated musical standby Lars saw fit to jettison from the arsenal: turning on the snare drums. This unorthodox decision proved a bit unpopular with listeners, as the resulting ringing sound from a struck snare can drive a person to autoerotic asphyxiation while forgetting the "erotic" part.
This is what happens when you order your Metallica "guerilla style."
"Frantic"--Risk and St. Anger are the two shittiest Big 4 albums, but what puts St. Anger a step above (below?) are the literally dozens of moments that cause the chair a person is sitting in to break and send them falling to the floor as they listen.
The first few seconds of "Frantic" are the perfect encapsulation of everything wrong with the album. Riff played by people wearing ill-fitting gloves caked in mud. Smack on an aluminum trash can lid. Oh fuck no, ho, put your clothes back on and go.
"You live it or lie it! My lifestyle! Determines my death style!"
That's never going to cease being hilarious. Those lyrics are like an anti-meme.
Looked cleverer on paper.
BASH BASH OOF
BASH BASH OOF
Six minutes of this insufferable jammy thing? I'd rather watch my grandparents smoke crack.
"St. Anger"--Wherein some assholes jack the main from Korn's "Blind" and say, "Let's build on it."
Seven minutes. Y'know, sometimes sex goes on a bit too long. Things become raw. Ooh baby I don't like the chafing. No matter how into it you are, no matter how caught up the moment has you…you gotta know when to breathe and stop. For real.
Dual James on the chorus! I'm so impacted by the force of his integrity. The references to "Hit the Lights" and "Damage Inc." lead me to think James is telling us that music is the real religion in his life. Like God might exist, and he might be chill, but does he even listen to Skynyrd? Does he know how to count the points on a buck? Has Waylon Jennings ever told God a really cool story about getting eye-fucked by someone asleep in their car?
Another toothless wonder (also the sobriquet of a hooker who lives two buildings over from me) that won a goddamn Grammy, no doubt due to the devastating climax (double-bass-AH!) that hears Hetfield proclaiming "I'm madly in anger with you!" over and over.
Would it have killed them to put some gating on the metal chair?
"Some Kind of Monster"--You have a monster here? I am here to kill your monster!
When I call this track "fire," I do not mean in the hip hop parlance. I mean it eats up all the oxygen in the room. So even if you can't manage to escape, at least you'll die before it finishes.
Funny I bring up hip hop, given Hetfield's semi-rapping. Gah. "Nu-metal" is just metal missing the lower half of its body. Never forget.
"Dirty Window"--These drums are what a serial killer's victim hears as the last few seconds of life ebb away. Whether they fell to the gun, the knife, the rope, the chain, the wrench, the hammer or the hands--"This house is clean, baby."
At some point, Hetfield just commences with shouting words that rhyme. How much of his larynx needs crushing?
"Invisible Kid"--Even the singer from Stain'd found this overly earnest.
Five songs in, I am no longer able to discriminate good from bad, helpful from harmful. I just ate a quarter.
James aims to evoke naked fear while surrounded by all the emperor's henchmen. Guess what, download generation? Metallica thinks Metallica are super-rich and out-of-touch too! Madly in anger with invisibility!
Oh, Metallica. Y'all and me need to discuss some things. Y'all just ran up into my domicile wearing nothing but a backpack full of random shit. I have neighbors, you self-absorbed nitwits.
"My World"--Strum-strum-STRUM! Let it ring, baby. Like…freedom! No, I mean let the chord ring, not the snare drum! You unrepentant shit-vats.
I ain't your mama, kid, but I can tell you this: it's raining in your room because all those years of chucking drained beer bottles at the ceiling have chipped away at the material and created openings for the elements to invade your space. Further, while it may seem like you are the only one whom the rain is drenching, you gotta realize, honey--you are not the only one. I have walking pneumonia right now.
Now that I have explained some things to you, little Jimmy, perhaps you can enlighten me. Why are all these songs so long? What? They're stretching out in the studio? They're taking it back like Stretch Armstrong? Stretch Armstrong had a weak heart! He had no heart! He was a doll!
Fuck you, Mego Elastic Metal Band. I don't want your world. You put ten riffs in a song, four of which are identical, and all of them about as interesting as a book on the history of boiling water. Back in the Eighties, James woulda tossed any of them into a garbage can filled with crushed cans, Chinese food containers and splutzed-on centerfolds. But this is the new, invigorated Metallica! You haven't heard? They got the chocolate, the marshmallow creme, and they brought the heat! Let's make some fuckin' s'mores we just need the…wait, no! The graham crackers are soggy. The graham crackers are soggy. Oh, foul the cursed thing! What demon from the depths of hell created thee?
Yet another Big 4 band is half-assing it and calling it "experimentation." You can suck my dick as soon as I strap it on, okay?
"Shoot Me Again"--Now the drums sound like a broken pogo stick. James Hetfield seems really proud of that voice.
A "fuck you" to "the haters" who don't seem to realize that a foolish consistency is the hogoblin of oh go fuck yourselves. Does it truly count if the victim gets popped with their own gun? Static-X went harder in the paint than this.
"Sweet Amber"--Muddy-ass blues-rock that bores me to sociopathy. Ambien is pretty sweet, too. Makes you fall asleep standing up. Then you wake up and find out you just gnawed all your fingernails down to the quick.
"The Unnamed Feeling"--This one's as awesome as having itchy tits. Another pastiche of ideas that are either undeveloped or underdeveloped. "Can you help me uncrazy?" Can you?!
CHUGGA CHUGGA SCRAPE SCRAPE
BASH BASH CRASH KICK KICK BASH
MY PAAAINNNN UHHHH!
Oh walk it off on the second floor of your mansion, dude. If you're not at the mansion, then just put some hundreds on it.
"Purify"--I have a condition known as "drum-dread." If I ever hear the clatter of organ pipes hitting pavement, I may never recover.
"All Within My Hands"--Inconsistent volume on the drums is the least-pressing of all the issues confronting St. Anger's final song.
Clearly, "All Within" means a great deal to Mr. Hetfield; his caterwauling is among the most heartfelt I've ever grimaced through. His attempts to embody ruthlessness reverberate in my humerus.
The guitar parts as written suck enough without being panned like they're at the center of a custody dispute. Congrats, Metallica. Each and every song on here elicits exasperation.
People complained about St. Anger's mix, for a legitimate reason: said mix was handled by a five-year-old suffering post concussion syndrome.
People complained about James Hetfield's vocal performance on St. Anger for a legitimate reason: his range starts at defecating lion and peaks at climaxing stray cat.
People complained about Lars Ulrich's drum sound on St. Anger for a legitimate reason that I already addressed in the introductory piece because it's one of the most legendarily poor decisions made in the history of recorded music.
Even if a clear-headed adult had been seated at the mixing board…even if James Hetfield had convinced Bob Rock that multiple vocal takes would not spell the end of Metallica…even if Lars Ulrich had decided to beat on an actual drum kit instead of a steel ladder…even if Kirk Hammett had added a solo on every song…St. Anger would still be cherry-red butt cheeks. Sure, the competition between it and Risk for the brown crown would be closer, with these changes…but we're still talking about two terrible albums full of thin, watery metal for middle-aged motorcycle marauders and their moronic "mamas."
Yes, it has its fans, but St. Anger's reputation as a hideous album is well-deserved. Score one for conventional wisdom.
No way I'm leaving without talking a bit about the documentary. No. Way.
Some Kind of Monster is the justification for St. Anger's existence, a two-and-a-half hour long endoscopy that reveals alarming narrowing and swelling. In addition to struggling with their artistic raison d'être and slogging through endless therapy sessions, the band members are seen away from the studio as well, selling art for millions and attending ballet recitals. Dave Mustaine comes by to whine, bassists are auditioned, prisoners are entertained, James Hetfield does an impromptu "Rock Lobster"--how did this shit not win an Oscar?
Torben Ulrich! How did I almost forget Lars' dad? Amazing. Why they never developed a "Torben Check" for writers is beyond me. When finished typing up a piece, just click the bearded icon. It scans your text, highlights certain words and passages and when you press on them you hear, "I would say delete that."
You can live without hearing a second of St. Anger, but you cannot be said to have lived a full life without devouring Some Kind of Monster including all the deleted scenes featured on the DVD. I personally guarantee you will not regret watching driftless old men say "fuck" a lot while probing their souls with the help of some dork in a Cosby sweater. Then just marvel at what the passage of time and the presence of money can do to a person.