“Enough’s enough, enough’s enough, enough’s enough, enough’s enough!” growls James Hetfield on My World, track six on Metallica‘s eighth studio effort St Anger. Enough was indeed enough for Hetfield and co. A decade on from their landmark Black Album saw hair trimmed and albums criticised. Bassist Jason Newsted left and recordings on St Anger were delayed when Hetfield checked himself into rehab 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 be another lukewarm hotch-potch of metal and bluesy country rock? Would we see a return to old Metallica? Eleven songs, 75 minutes and eight seconds on and Metallica answer. St Anger is the fruit of a year’s work which had gestated from years of criticism, success and experience. Disjointed, uncompromising, raw and utterly heavy this is Metallica’s call to arms. A welcome return to form, yet a flagrant and successful attempt at kicking the boundaries outwards.
Beginning with the bone-cutting thrash which defined the genre, Frantic sets the tone for the imminent onslaught. The production exemplifies the meaning of the term “stripped down”. Gone are the post-Black days of jaw-dropping reverb. The big guitars remain, chugging and maraudingly furious. Yet Lars Ulrich’s drums are noticeably toned down, his snare uneasily pings, pongs and clanks. Speed has not been lost, the drumming so incestuously fast that one begins to question how much cocaine needs to be taken to get on par.
New single St Anger is an awesomely brutal son of the Master of Puppets era, darting from all out megalomania to melody and anthemic chorus: “Fuck it all, fuckin’ no regrets, I hit the lights on these dark sets…” shouts Hetfield at his critics, with just a hint of irony.
Deeply personal and direct, Hetfield confronts his alcoholism. On pedal to the metal Motörhead-like Dirty Window, he battles assumptions that rehab works: “I see my reflection in the window, It looks different… this house is clean baby, this house is clean,” before questioning, “Am I who I think I am?… look out my window and see it’s gone wrong.”
Invisible Kid suggests his struggle and the efforts of those who cared: “I hide inside, I hurt inside…I’m okay just go away… I’m okay, but please don’t stray too far.”
The gravely grungy riff-romp on Unnamed Feeling sees Hetfield at his most honest, “It comes alive and I die a little more… I just wanna get the fuck away from me, I rage, I glaze, I hurt, I hate, I hate it all, Why? Why? Why me?” he strains.
It takes a few sittings to appreciate the structure of St 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 album few would expect from Metallica.
It tussles between staying true to their sound and taking what four men in a studio can feasibly generate. Forget overdubs and intricacy. Old school fans will not be disappointed. And while Kirk Hammett seems sacrilegiously under-used, those epic solos fittingly remain left where they should be – in the ’80s. Though is a solo here and there too much to ask?
St Anger, while not flawless, sees Metallica wipe the floor 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 Anger captures a moment with Metallica at their most honest, creative and willing in years.