METALLICA — St. Anger (review)

METALLICA — St. Anger album cover Album · 2003 · Alternative Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
adg211288
A Journey Into Metal Part I

The year was 2003. The place, a small town in the United Kingdom. The hero of our story is yours truly, then between fourteen and fifteen years old. His quest? To discover a taste in music that he could claim as his own. It is a strange tale of how he came to find the form of music known as metal thanks to an album that goes by the name of St. Anger, which many will tell you on a dark night, telling ghost stories by firelight, is some kind of monster. In most stories, it would cast as the villain. This is not most stories.

Every metalhead who ever lived has a tale about how they came to metal. Many may start with the band Metallica, but something earlier, more classic like Master of Puppets, Ride the Lightning or the self-titled 'Black Album'. Or perhaps more likely they'll come to metal through one of the classic British heavy metal bands of the 70s or 80s. Like Black Sabbath, where it all began. Or Judas Priest, who then refined it. Or Iron Maiden, the kings of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. But not so for our young protagonist, and so our story starts in that little town in the UK, where if you wanted to buy a CD, your best bet was Woolworths or a supermarket.

I came late to any kind of taste in music perhaps at first because of my parents; a Father who lived and breathed Pink Floyd and was determined to impose that band on his son above all others he listened to (if he'd gotten the Led out this tale might have taken a very different turn) and a Mother who worshipped Bruce Springsteen to the point that all other music was almost entirely irrelevant. Neither of these artists made me sit up and think 'yeah, that's for me!' In fact, I understood music so little that, in a rather cringe-worthy moment that was probably in the late 1990s, I even went as far as asked my old man what the point of music was. I don't recall the answer I got. I think the question stumped him as much as it would me today. Being into music, it really is an unnamed feeling. Fast-forward to 2020 and I, now in my thirties, have just recently purchased my 1000th CD (and counting fast). But how did I get there?

It wasn't an easy journey. Particularly because it's one of those journeys that you don't really know you're even on until you get there. To understand why, we need to take a closer look at our setting. The early 2000s were dark times for any would-be metalhead in the United Kingdom. It wasn't standard in households to have satellite TV, which (at least by the time I did get access to them) had a couple of music stations that specialised in heavier music (the better one being the now defunct Scuzz), just the standard five channels (used to be four and I still recall how much excitement there was over the launch of Channel 5) where the best and only options to hear new music were the likes of Top of the Pops (which has Led Zep's Whole Lotta Love as the theme which I had taken note of) and CD:UK (where teenage me noticed Cat Deeley more than any music). And they only cared about three things: the charts, the charts and the charts again. And I was a little late to pick up on Iron Maiden when they came up with Brave New World and probably got some coverage at least from TOTP. Maiden would be undiscovered by me until 2006, but would eventually become my first proper concert at the end of that year.

The internet wasn't an option either. In those days, even having the internet wasn't a given depending on your situation. Rich Kids (meaning kids who had rich parents, but Rich Kids was the term we used back then due to the way they flaunted the wealth as their own) had PC's and the internet. You, among the plebs in your more humble background, didn't. It wasn't the thing everyone takes for granted now. It certainly wasn't on your phone. The mobile phone may have a history going back much further than 2003, but it would be a while yet before it was normal for every kid to have one and they weren't the iPhone and Androids of today. If you were lucky enough to access to the internet, it was strictly in the home. And it was probably dial-up, whose speed and constant disconnections would likely make the youth of today who are surgically attached to their phones shoot themselves. And then ask someone to shoot them again because they ain't dead yet. And even if you were lucky enough to be online, this was 2003. There was no Spotify. No YouTube. No Bandcamp. None of the websites that in later life I have come to rely on to check music, old and new, out so that I can make an informed purchase of it.

If you were a Brit in those times you either had to hear new music that made the charts, or hear about through word of mouth from someone you knew, or buy a magazine, the ultimate quality of which remains debatable to this day. Metal Hammer did help me in the following years, though Kerrang could fuck right off, and who'd think to buy a Metal Hammer when you haven't yet realised you liked metal? This was thing: how could one find metal, if one didn't know to even look for it?

Like my parents, my circle of friends and peers tried to enforce their taste upon me. Some were trying to be helpful. Others were more aggressive in their belief that everyone should like the same bands as they did. To protect identities, I'll just refer to these people by their first initial.

There were a few bands of the time, all chart reaching types, that were rock bands but not metal bands, that were collectively liked by a few of these people. Blink 182. Feeder. Green Day. Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Not liking the song Can't Stop by RHCP was something that some of my mates, particularly 'D', couldn't get their heads around. I remember vividly one day in the school grounds in 2003, when Can't Stop was a single, how 'D' was so shocked that I did not like the song that he went running round to the group who liked these bands mentioned above about how I didn't like Can't Stop. I'm still not sure what he intended to achieve by that. Validation? Who knows, this was the same person who in the school canteen one day asked me why I always ordered a chicken burger from the stand instead of a turkey burger. The answer of course was that they were made of chicken. I still can't believe that 'D' retorted that they were 'the same fucking bird'. Last I heard of 'D' he was training to be a chef.

Possibly there were other bands to whom I was introduced (either willing or just by being in proximity) by these people, but these were the stand out names that kept being presented to our hero. Well, there was also that one friend, 'R', who was all about Sum 41 and also had a thing for Slipknot's Iowa album at one point, but the less said about him the better. He, after all, completely turned his back on all rock music and started exclusively listening to hip-hop and adopting the culture of that music. A common issue of white kids acting and talking like they're black. These days they'd probably label it cultural appropriation.

While I did get a few (heavy) rock bands that I liked it this time period, which would have been the very early 2000s, the only one I still listen to every so often is Foo Fighters, who were the gem of that era as far as mainstream rock music went. Other bands I found I liked were Nickelback (who I later found out were if anything even more hated than St. Anger not just for one album but as a whole, which I must say was rather a childhood ruining experience) and Muse, but my interest in Muse turned out to be short lived. I even sold the albums I owned of them, which in later years I have begun to wonder if I may have been hasty over. I didn't sell the Nickelback. Not just because of greater nostalgia than Muse, but because no bugger would have bought them anyway. Still, back in the early 2000s I liked these bands, but something still wasn't quite right. I wasn't interested in moving beyond these bands.

One mate, 'C' who to this day is my best friend, was the most useless of the bunch at the time. 'C' joined our school in year 8 and when asked what music he was into I recall him answering one time the exact words of 'black man rap'. These days, excluding myself, he's the biggest rocker/metalhead of the lot of them.

The truth was, I did actually hear metal music before Metallica came up with St. Anger. And I didn't like it. In fact it was some the worst shit that was bothering the charts. Wait...the charts? We have to take an intermission here to give a rather sarcastic round of applause to the following bands, who almost did a damn good job of forever derailing my journey into metal.

Linkin Park. Limp Bizkit. Papa Roach. Korn. Actually, not so much Korn, but they didn't exactly do it for my young mind either and honestly Korn weren't getting the airplay at the time like the likes of Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit were. But these bands were what I first knew of as metal. Again, this was pre-Internet for me, so there was no going on the likes of Encyclopaedia Metallum and seeing how these acts were rejected as metal by those in the know (a stance that would have (and did) swayed my younger self but at this point I can recognise bigoted elitism when I see it).

And because of these bands I thought metal fucking sucked.

Salvation then, come from a source that years later seems a most unlikely one, a much maligned album by Metallica, a band that I was aware of, but had never heard until this, and just assumed sounded like those other shitty metal bands. I'd certainly never heard the term thrash metal before. There was just nu-metal. Other metal presumably being old-metal and redundant. Lord knows there was that one guy 'L' in school who gave his own friend 'K' all kinds of shit for liking Iron Maiden and Nirvana. ''K' only listens to artists who are over 50 or dead', 'L' would say regularly in that 'I'm better than you' way of talking that he had. A showcase of ignorance: Iron Maiden weren't that old in the early 2000s. The oldest member is Nicko McBrain who is only 68 now in 2020, making him the only one who had passed 50 in 2003.

In hindsight I should have gotten to know 'K' better. He probably had the best taste in music of all of us. But I don't recall sharing any classes with 'K' and so we didn't really socialise. He was also really quiet, like an invisible kid. Somehow I ended up getting to know 'L' better, since he seemed to attach himself to as many people as possible. I think he only hung out with us because he didn't like that some of his mates from primary school had befriended some of us who went to different primary schools once we all merged for secondary school. But we weren't friends, 'L' and I. Our relationship ranged from toleration to hostility. 'L' was into all those bands I mentioned earlier. He eventually forced his way into my school years band, since the rest of my mates thought the sun shone out of him, to the result of that band never trying to play together again after one bedroom rehearsal at 'D's' place. Of course we were crap, couldn't string one song together, had no bassist (my mate 'A' would turn his guitar low to try to compensate) or singer (I would try to growl briefly, which was quickly put a stop to by interfering parents), but that wasn't the point. It's because of 'L', more than anyone else who tried to push their taste onto me in these years, that I even today have an irrational hate of bands like Feeder, Green Day and RHCP. One might even say I was madly in anger with them.

Anyway, that Metallica album, before I digress from this story too far:

St. Anger. St. Fucking Anger.

And my mind was blown by music for the first time in my life.

But we do need to rewind slightly to get the full picture of this story, because this wasn't the first time I had heard metal that wasn't the awful nu-metal crap I'd previously been exposed to. I hadn't realised that another album I'd discovered slightly before this in 2003, was actually metal as well, except no one seemed to acknowledge it at the time (or since, really). Yet in hindsight it obviously was. Alternative, yes, but not nu (well maybe one song slightly, but not enough to worry about), and that really made a big difference. But the media just labelled it goth and Christian rock, so we can't really say that this album was my real gateway to metal. Sorry Fallen and Evanescence, but a misunderstanding media make you this story's tragic character who should be more important than you actually are.

When St. Anger first blared out of my speakers, there could be no room for doubt. THIS was metal. Not that nu-metal stuff that was full of rapping and other nonsense. And I somehow knew that this was it. This was my music. It was the heaviest and most aggressive stuff I'd ever come across. And it suited me like nothing else did. From that day forth, I knew one thing for certain: I had to find more metal. This was my world.

This choice wasn't met with much approval. In fact, none at all. My more punk and pop based mates thought I'd lost the plot. 'A' labelled me as having become a 'grunger'. Another show of adolescent ignorance there. This was the first and only time I've been called such or even heard the term. We were of a generation who'd missed the grunge explosion and that term may have been more widely used. 'A' probably knew it because he had a much older brother who was already an adult while we were in school and couldn't tell the difference between Nirvana and what Metallica was doing here. There's actually a lot of debate still about what Metallica was doing here, but it sure as hell isn't grunge. 'L' got something that he could throw in my face for liking even more the the crap he gave 'K'. But I didn't care. I knew I was now onto something that would likely shape the remainder of my musical life. And if 'L' had an issue with that he could respectfully go fuck himself.

My parents were more accepting, especially my Dad, though my Mum, who did her best to make sure her son lived a very sheltered life, disapproved of the swearing in the album, but by that point swearing in my music wasn't anything new. Even an ill fated exploration of techno had had the same 'problem' but the less we say about those times the better! Eventually she came around and has even attended concerts of metal bands herself, including Paradise Lost touring Medusa, growling and all. As an aside, I also found some appreciation for her beloved Springsteen, but as far as Bruce's go, I'm with Dickinson any day. I still can't stand Pink Floyd though. Sorry Dad!

But this disapproval of the time didn't stop me. If anything, it added fuel to my fire. And I found what I desired. More metal. Early Metallica, starting from the beginning with Kill 'Em All, was an early one on my list, which soon made me realise, although I'd played it to death by that point, that maybe St. Anger wasn't actually that great after all. That I'd been looking in through a dirty window but hadn't yet got a clear picture of what was possible with metal. And so I moved on from it. Convinced myself and I didn't like it at all any more for a time, and St. Anger began to gather dust.

But it didn't matter, because St. Anger had done something for me that no other album could claim, something that made me keep remembering it, which leads us to today's story and ultimate reappraisal of the album. It had made me a metalhead. And for that reason alone, I'll always have a special place in my collection for it. It might arguably be the most important album for personal discovery and growth that I own.

It is now 2020 and it's not many years off two decades since the album was released and at this point in time it's easy to acknowledge the problems that St. Anger objectively has. The writing is too drawn out. The lyrics aren't great. Most songs here could comfortably shave some minutes off. The drum sound sucks as much as every says it does and probably has harmed the reputation of Lars Ulrich for life. James Hetfield's vocals aren't what they once were. It's not the thrash metal album that people likely wanted after Load and ReLoad. It's not even a Black Album Part II. And there are no solos.

But you know what it also is? It's the sound of a long running band having the balls to do something different – to go into the studio and have Kirk Hammett not record a single guitar solo. To fuck up the drum sound because Lars Ulrich literally forgot to do something to set up his kit like he was supposed to and just rolling with it and seeing what happens. And to be honest I believe that Metallica played with a level of passion and commitment on this record that rarely comes through on a studio recording. And you know what? It's at least better than Load. Load is just boring. I'll take passionate but faulted any day over boring. I actually find myself really sorry for them that it has been thrown back in their faces so much.

Overall, today I believe St. Anger to be at least a semi-decent album. That will likely prove a controversial opinion to many who may read this. Well, I certainly have gathered quite a few of those in my strange journey into metaldom, such as believing that the idea of the Big Four of thrash is one of the biggest farces in metal. But that is another story. This one must end now and I hope it has proved enlightening in some way (or at least entertaining) and perhaps will give you pause to reconsider St. Anger. It sure as hell isn't perfect, but it could be a lot worse.

It could be Lulu.
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adg211288 wrote:
31 days ago
This is part II by the way: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/review/ascendancy/228945

It's not as good as part 1 IMO. But it completes the tale started here.

adg211288 wrote:
31 days ago
Second hand shops have been closed due to Covid-19. Might have gone by now otherwise. Shelf space is getting very limited due to recent Dodax splurging.
31 days ago
I remember you mentioned that Creed album before on your rediscovery thread. Still not got rid of it then? ;)
adg211288 wrote:
31 days ago
If you'd been there you'd have realised they were the best of them at that school. Most of each year group in the school were split between three and four groups, with some mingling between years, especially if someone had a sibling. I think my group were probably known as the uncool group. But that was fine. Most of the cool kids were arseholes.
31 days ago
I read it again. Honestly sounds like you should have chosen your mates better.
adg211288 wrote:
32 days ago
Okay, this review has just had some revision. Mainly because I decided that I did not like the continual references to myself in 3rd person after the intro, but I also ended up extending the anecdotes. By a lot. I understand if anyone doesn't want to read the whole thing again, but there's now a lot more to this story than there was originally as more memories came back to me. The core text remains the same however.

One change of note is that this now has a title that says Part I. Meaning I do intend to write at least one sequel review to this. I haven't decided which album yet (there's a few candidates), but I had such a blast writing this that I feel like telling the next part of the story.

adg211288 wrote:
32 days ago
I did consider the collector's point of view when I saw a copy of Lulu. After all at the time it was the only 'Metallica' studio album I did not own (Hardwired not having been released yet - now I don't own either one of them). But then I thought the same, I probably wouldn't even listen to it. Meaning it would only sit on my shelf gathering dust (like that Creed album I own but never have played). May as well leave it for someone who might just appreciate it.
Vim Fuego wrote:
32 days ago
This discussion finally got me motivated enough to write a review of Lulu, on about my fourth attempt!
Vim Fuego wrote:
32 days ago
I think I might pick up Hardwired... for that price maybe.
666sharon666 wrote:
32 days ago
Blimey I'd have had it for 50p just for completionist's sake. It's about all I would spend on it though.

Might never have taken the wrapping off mind you...


adg211288 wrote:
32 days ago
I once saw a new sealed copy of Lulu in a local second hand shop for 50p.

I didn't buy it.

Another true story.

32 days ago
This is what Wikipedia says about the composition of Lulu, by the way: 'The majority of composition is centered on spoken word delivered by Reed over instrumentals composed by Metallica, with occasional backing vocals provided by Metallica lead vocalist James Hetfield. Reed wrote the majority of the lyrics.'

Is this different to what the actual liner notes say? Most of us dodged the bullet of buying Lulu you know... :P

32 days ago
Let's face it we all like to dish on the albums we hate.
adg211288 wrote:
32 days ago
Yeah and a lot of them here aren't even about this album.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
32 days ago
For some reason no matter who writes a review about St Anger, this one always seems to get more comments than most other albums on this site!
Tupan wrote:
33 days ago
So, they made "metal arrangements" to the Lou Reed songs from the original play? The album sounds like it, indeed
Vim Fuego wrote:
33 days ago
Lulu is listed as Lou Reed and Metallica. Lou Reed first.
Lyrics by Lou Reed. So James Hetfield singing about tables used words not written by him.
Music by Lou Reed and Metallica, with ALL songs written on this album based on songs written by Lou Reed for the play Lulu.
It says all this in the liner notes of the CD. This is a Lou Reed album with Metallica as backing musicians.
And I happen to like it.
St. Anger on the other hand, is a pile of shit. Still not their worst though. I give that to S&M.

33 days ago
And yet you deny Lulu as a Metallica album.

Do you see the contradiction?

Tupan wrote:
33 days ago
Well, I am not in denial, I know they can do something so bad!
33 days ago
I didn't like Lulu either, but then I'm quite critical of everything Metallica's done since the 80s, Black Album included.

I honestly wouldn't be surprised though if decades in the future Lulu ends up critically reevaluated and regarded as a cult classic.

34 days ago
I hate Lulu but I think anyone who tries to deny that it is a Metallica album is just in denial about how they could make something so bad. Even more so with St. Anger, but there's no convenient excuse to hide behind with that one!

If Lulu really was just a Lou Reed album with Metallica as a backing band it would be credited as such. But that's just plain not true. It's a bona fide collaboration with all songs co-written by Reed and Metallica. Ergo, it is a Metallica album, whether you like it or not.

34 days ago
Well, that was quite a journey! And though I don't have and haven't heard St. Anger, I can relate to your story simply because of my own experiences getting into metal back around 82/83 and hearing music that kind of worked (Billy Squire, Red Rider, REO Speedwagon) and then jumping of the spring board with AC/DC and next into the deep end with Judas Priest. So, I enjoyed reading your tale of how you got into heavy metal!
Tupan wrote:
34 days ago
I don't even consider Lulu as a Metallica álbum - it's a Lou Reed álbum with Metallica as sideband. And still after all these years, St Anger did improve nothing to my ears.
35 days ago
Well yeah, there is that. But everything else about it sucked so much that we all went back to the Loads and said all was forgiven. Well maybe not all, the Loads are still pretty poor albums. But they at least have the odd decent song that prevents them being completely worthless.

This will always be Metallica's ill fated alt metal excursion. Fortunately they managed Death Magnetic a few years later and made some progress toward redeeming themselves. Pity Lulu spoiled that again, but at least Hardwired as again a solid release.

adg211288 wrote:
35 days ago
Well I sort of get that, but then after recently also going back through Load and ReLoad, even though I have come away rated ReLoad slightly higher than St. Anger, I can't help but wonder why this wasn't at least seen as a step in the right direction, even if that step was a stumble. It may not be thrash metal but it's easily the most metal Metallica had been since the 80s. Gone is the more commercial hard rock side of the band that surfaced with the Black Album and dominated the Loads (in my view this album is anything but commercially inclined). Back in the mid to late 2000s after I got access to the Internet and YouTube had arrived that was the kind of thing the metalheads rebelled against and talked shit about those albums for, yet didn't acknowledge on this one that Metallica had at least God damn tried. St. Anger was just that album you openly hated, or were excommunication by your peers.
36 days ago
Thanks for sharing your story. Always got to hand it to someone who has the guts to talk about this album positively - pretty sure there are boards out there that would rip you to shreds for suggesting it's even halfway decent.

Personally I'm on the bandwagon that it's a load of crap, but I have the normal perspective on it. I already knew what Metallica was really capable of. And then hearing this is just a big FUCK NO!

36 days ago
Got to say that I love these reviews that tell such a personal story. I wish there were more of them.
adg211288 wrote:
36 days ago
I thing I forgot when writing this review when talking about my friend's music, I just recalled that I did have one friend that was really into Slipknot's Iowa album. I think it was the same friend who was into Sum 41. I don't recall actually hearing Slipknot's music through until Total Guitar magazine selected Pulse of the Maggots from Vol 3 as their CD's album track, which is probably why I forgot about them.
adg211288 wrote:
36 days ago
I paraphrased one from ReLoad too.
Unitron wrote:
36 days ago
Nonsense is in the eye of the beholder. ;^)

Speaking of quoting a Metallica song, I really liked how you slipped in the song titles from the St. Anger album into the writing.

adg211288 wrote:
37 days ago
Many years ago there was a specialist shop called It's Electric (likely named for the Diamond Head song that Metallica also did on Garage Inc) in the next big town. My Dad and I went in there a few times, but I hadn't yet discovered enough about metal to realise what a treasure trove that place must have been. Unfortunately it closed down shortly before I discovered extreme metal. Along with all the other music shops in that town bar HMV, now the sole survivor. There used to be at least five or six before I could really appreciate them.
666sharon666 wrote:
37 days ago
I had a much easier time discovering metal because that's what my Dad was into, but there's a lot of things mentioned in this review I remember and can relate to. Pre-internet even if you knew about a band you wanted to buy something by them your best me to actually get it there and then was a specialist shop, which were becoming more and more rare with every passing year. The internet has made being a metalhead much easier, but the thrill of looking through a CD shop has largely been lost. HMV are OK these days, but aren't great. And with Covid around who knows when we'll be able to just browse again at our leisure?
adg211288 wrote:
37 days ago
Maybe not all of it, but the singles getting airplay here at the time certainly were.
Vim Fuego wrote:
37 days ago
...full of rapping AND OTHER NONSENSE.
You can't deny the "other nonsense" bit...

So adg211288... Your St. Anger is the equivalent or thereabouts of my Licensed To Ill. ;-)

Unitron wrote:
37 days ago
Good story, one correction though: Nu metal isn't full of rapping. Several bands and albums don't have any rapping or even hip hop elements.

Anyways, St. Anger definitely does scream a passionate band. Metallica reached a point where there's no pleasing everyone anyway, so may as well just do whatever they want to.

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