Anger was what Metallica caused amongst fans when they released the 2003 album St.Anger. Although, it wouldn’t be the first time their fans would be divided with the musical style they decided to adopt as, their self-titled [The Black Album] was seen as a radical departure and a commercialisation of Metallica’s original sound. It is then appropriate that producer of the Black Album, Bob Rock, would again anger fans with the direction he and Metallica took with St. Anger.
When I first heard St. Anger, in 2003, I didn’t like it. I remember being disappointed and angered that I paid money for it. Despite listening to it several times, it just didn’t grow on me.
However, that was well over a decade ago and as time progressed, I grew strangely fond of the album. I hadn’t played it for years, yet I missed it. I could even recall the lyrics of many of the songs and the style of music that was portrayed throughout the album. All I can think of is it must have registered with my subconscious.
Just prior to the holiday season I was crate digging and came across the Blackened Recordings re-issue pressing for an incredible price. This was one time when I didn’t hesitate to make the purchase. Given my initial distaste of the album, I can’t explain my incessant need to now own the album.
One aspect that did grab me was the visual nirvana of the artwork. This is where vinyl is really the king of all music formats. The artwork alone justified the purchase.
While I lacked time to listen St. Anger during the holiday season, I decided to put it on last night. As the needle lowered, and Frantic began, I knew at that moment that I had underestimated the album and that in retrospect it was truly a heavy metal record that was not only worthy of the Metallica name, but it was worthy of being added to my collection.
As the album progressed, I felt like I was a one-man audience with the band in their garage. I didn’t stop moving for the entire 75-minute epic and I sang along to every lyric. In reflection, I think I matured as a music listener and was listening to the performance differently than I had upon its release in 2003.
The music, while being metal infused and raw to the bone, has a unique dimension about it. I truly love the shifts in tempo within the songs. It is a jolted feeling, but one that works for the entire album. Think for a moment about how you feel when you’re angry. The waves of emotion you experience. Metallica has captured that emotion and portrayed it perfectly in St. Anger.
Overall, St. Anger is reminiscent of Garage Days Re-Revisisted ‘87, Garage Days Revisited ’84, B-sides & One-Offs ’88-’91, and Motorheadache ’95 from the 1998 Garage Inc. album. I’m a big fan of that album and I love the production credit of ‘somewhat produced’. I wish they would have replicated that production credit for the St. Anger release.
St. Anger would also mark the first Metallica album that hadn’t featured long-time bassist Jason Newsted as he left he band following creative differences. In his place, producer Bob Rock would lay down the bass tracks as Metallica had yet to bring Robert Trujillo into the band. Regardless, the bass elements are really amplified in this release, unlike Newsted’s first album with the band …And Justice For All where the bass tracks are minimal at best. While Trujillo, and Newsted before him, were both incredible editions to the Metallica lineup following the death of original bassist Cliff Burton, I have to say that Rock plays some mean bass tracks on St. Anger.
Now that I have flipped my subjective dislike of the album, into pure appreciation, I should mention that it is not perfect. In my opinion this album could have been a Load/Reload style release. It would have been a perfect 40-minute album that could have been released in two editions.
Perhaps it is just me, but I find that I prefer shorter albums. When AC/DC released Rock Or Bust, I was initially shocked at the 35-minute runtime. In retrospect, I’m glad it is short and hard hitting as it allows me to appreciate the songs a little more as I’m more inclined to spin the album again.
St. Anger’s main problem with length is excessive song duration. When you think the song is about to end, it picks up again. Invisible Kid is one which could have been cut down, as could the final track All Within My Hands. With six of the eleven tracks being over seven minutes in duration, you can see where this can be a problem. Don’t get me wrong, some longer running tracks are epic, but it should be the exception, not the rule. I’m certainly not one of the fans that demands a band fill the available storage of the CD format for an album release.
Personally, I would like to see shorter albums, released more frequently. I don’t know about anyone else, but I get tired of waiting several years for a new release. Let’s get back to a 60s/70s release schedule, and album length, and I will be a very happy music listener.
At this stage, I feel it is pertinent to suggest that you should never become closed off to a specific artist or musical style. Yes, that even includes Justin Bieber. I was for a while with St. Anger and if I had not given it another chance, I would have remained ignorant to the truly masterful heavy metal album Metallica released.
The musical journey we all go on should not just be about your favourite artist, or musical genre. It should be about exploration and contemplation of musical tastes. What you may like today, you may dislike tomorrow, and vice-versa. Perhaps this bodes well for the Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration LuLu.
You will notice throughout this post that I have neglected to say much about the sonic quality of the album. There is a reason for this omission. The vinyl edition is amazingly detailed and mastered perfectly for the format. The same can not be said for the Apple Music/iTunes edition. While St. Anger is Mastered for iTunes, it is horrible. On Apple Music/iTunes the album becomes a headache inducing nightmare that makes you angry. As with Katy Perry’s Prism, it is akin to listening to two different albums. I am truly disgusted that this quality could be called music. It is noise. It lacks emotion. It lacks depth. It is the reason why I disliked this album for years as the CD is equally brickwalled.
Speaking of being brickwalled, the CD has an average dynamic range of 05. Whereas the vinyl is a slightly more respectable 09. Neither are great, but when you add low-dynamic range and then further compress it down for Apple Music/iTunes, Mastered for iTunes becomes irrelevant. Check out the Dynamic Range Database for more information on St. Anger.
One example is the song Sweet Amber. It has numerous sonic elements that are clearly present on the vinyl, but in no way are they present on the Apple Music/iTunes version. These elements add to the depth and emotive feeling of the song. I truly wish copyright would allow me to record the two versions side-by-side so that I could showcase the difference to you, but alas you will just have to take my word for it.
I wish I could tell you that there was a higher quality digital version available on TIDAL Hi-Fi or HD Tracks, but Metallica has yet to add their music to either of these platforms.
I would truly recommend you pick up St. Anger on vinyl as the visual presentation and sonic quality is incredible. The specific release I have is: Blackened Recordings (BLCKND 016-1) from 2014/15. St. Anger is also available on CD and iTunes.