Metallica: St. Anger

Metallica has encountered all sorts of roadblocks, distractions, and bad karma in the last few years, with troubles encompassing a high-profile dispute with Napster and its users, the departure of bassist Jason Newsted, and a stint in rehab for singer James Hetfield. So it's small wonder that the long-awaited St. Anger delves into themes of frustration, pain, and (naturally) anger, with a raw sound to match the visceral emotions in play. But "raw" is often just a gentle way of saying "badly produced," and St. Anger suffers mightily for its thin, washed-out sound. Lars Ulrich's tinny drums frequently sound like garbage cans being struck in the next studio over, the guitars almost invariably get mashed into a grubby paste, and Hetfield's vocals—hardly the crown jewel of the Metallica sound, especially after decades of full-throttle use—are maxed out for all the world to hear. The frontman's post-rehab navel-gazing doesn't help, nor do rote lines like "Invisible kid / never see what he did / got stuck where he hid / fallin' through the grid." More troubling is that St. Anger doesn't really deliver on the promise of its core concept: For the most part, it's about coming to terms with and embracing anger, but it never illustrates that process in a cathartic or disciplined way. Instead, the album's sprawling, rumbling raggedness manifests itself as monotonous mid-tempo indulgence, with songs that whomp along aimlessly for seven or eight minutes without momentum or purpose. In light of its controversial stance against file-sharing, Metallica earns points for including a pass-code to access bonus content online, not to mention a full-length DVD documenting St. Anger's rehearsal sessions. But that generosity doesn't seem to have extended to the album's production budget, and the result is a messy, unsatisfying misfire.

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