“Enough’s enough, enough’s enough, enough’s enough,enough’s enough!” growls James Hetfield on My World, track six onMetallica’s eighth studio effort St Anger. Enough was indeedenough for Hetfield and co. A decade on from their landmark Black Album sawhair trimmed and albums criticised. Bassist Jason Newsted left andrecordings on St Anger were delayed when Hetfield checked himself intorehab suffering from alcoholism.
Added to this are 60 million album sales, money,fame, worship, respect and middle age. What do you do?
The expectation on St Anger was enormous. Would it beanother lukewarm hotch potch of metal and bluesy country rock? Would we seea return to old Metallica?
Eleven songs, 75 minutes and eight seconds on andMetallica answer. St Anger is the fruit of a year’s work which had gestatedfrom years of criticism, success and experience. Disjointed, uncompromising,raw and utterly heavy this is Metallica’s call to arms. A welcome return toform, yet a flagrant and successful attempt at kicking the boundariesoutwards.
Beginning with the bonecutting thrash which definedthe genre, Frantic sets the tone for the imminent onslaught. Theproduction exemplifies the meaning of the term “stripped down”. Gone are thepost-Black days of jaw-dropping reverb. The big guitars remain, chugging andmaraudingly furious. Yet Lars Ulrich’s drums are noticeably toneddown, his snare uneasily pings, pongs and clanks. Speed has not been lost,the drumming so incestuously fast that one begins to question how muchcocaine needs to be taken to get on par.
New single St Anger is an awesomely brutal son ofthe Master of Puppets era, darting from all out megalomania to melody andanthemic chorus: “Fuck it all, fuckin’ no regrets, I hit the lights on thesedark sets…” shouts Hetfield at his critics, with just a hint of irony.
Deeply personal and direct, Hetfield confronts hisalcoholism. On pedal to the metal Motorhead-like Dirty Window, hebattles assumptions that rehab works: “I see my reflection in the window, Itlooks different…this house is clean baby, this house is clean,” beforequestioning, “Am I who I think I am?…look out my window and see it’s gonewrong.”
Invisible Kid suggests his struggle and the effortsof those who cared: “I hide inside, I hurt inside…I’m okay just goaway…I’m okay, but please don’t stray too far.”
The gravely grungy riff-romp on Unnamed Feeling seesHetfield at his most honest, “It comes alive and I die a little more…Ijust wanna get the fuck away from me, I rage, I glaze, I hurt, I hate, Ihate it all, Why? Why? Why me?” he strains.
It takes a few sittings to appreciate the structure ofSt Anger. There are no ballads,no solos or radio-friendly unit shifters – it averages out at six minutes a song.Beneath the extended jams and stop-start staccato thrash bursts is an albumfew would expect from Metallica.
It tussles between staying true to theirsound and taking what four men in a studio can feasibly generate. Forgetoverdubs and intricacy. Old school fans will not be disappointed. And whileKirk Hammett seems sacreligiously under-used, those epic solosfittingly remain left where they should be – in the ’80s. Though is asolo here and there too much to ask?
St Anger, while not flawless, sees Metallica wipe thefloor of nu-metal and piss back on it again – the bonus DVD even does so,featuring each track live in rehearsal. Like a simple polaroid, St Angercaptures a moment with Metallica at their most honest, creative and willingin years.