Metallica’s St Anger on trial: the defence

I guess you could call me a St Anger apologist, but it’s not a term I use myself. Why? Because it suggests Metallica has something to apologise for on this record.

And, well, they don’t. It’s a very good album – in my opinion, the best piece of original work this band has done since Load.

Look, I get it. The snare sound is bad, the lack of guitar solos is disconcerting for many Metallica fans, some of the Phil Towle-enabled lyrics are shoddy and this record would certainly benefit with a touch of editing.

None of those things merit the wrath this album receives from metalheads across the world.

Every big band has a release that people love to hate and, by virtue of being the most unusual of Metallica’s studio albums – we’re not counting Lulu here – St Anger often gets awarded the booby prize.

But it’s far better than ReLoad, far less desperate sounding than Death Magnetic and a more interesting listen than Hardwired… To Self-Destruct.

Not only that, it shits all over the ‘duds’ from their peers. St Anger takes the victory every time against Risk, Diabolus In Musica and, to be frank, most of Anthrax’s back catalogue.

St Anger is brilliant not only for its biting, chunky songs but for its sheer boldness. It’s the sound of a band struggling for relevance in the wake of nu-metal, the sound of musical gods putting their spin on what was contemporary back in 2003, and the sound of a band that was doing what it could to survive.

It’s also the sound of a band experimenting and being comfortable enough in its own skin to put those experiments out there for the world to hear.

No guitar solos from the world’s biggest guitar band? Why not? Dropped guitar tunings for extra chug and filth? Sure. Heck, even Lars Ulrich’s snare drum – no-one else dared deviating from the norm, did they?

For a band as big as Metallica to do all that, and for the resulting album to still be so full of hooks and massive riffs – some of the grooviest of their entire career – speaks volumes of its creators and the quality of this album.

Go through the tracklist and tell me a truly bad song on there.

Now, I’m no fool. St Anger isn’t made up of eleven Metallica classics. But it is made up of eleven good songs, eleven songs on one record that many bands wouldn’t get close to in an entire career.

Don’t believe me? ‘Frantic’ is stellar riff after stellar riff, ‘St Anger’ rages and ‘Some Kind Of Monster’ is a hulking behemoth.

‘Dirty Window’ is possibly the weakest, but still great; ‘Invisible Kid’, ‘My World’ and ‘Shoot Me Again’ are all good enough for it not to matter.

What often gets lost in discussions of St Anger is how good its final third is.

‘Sweet Amber’, ‘Purify’ and ‘All Within My Hands’ are pounding and experimental, but it’s ‘The Unnamed Feeling’ that deserves a spot on any Metallica ‘best of’ you want to compile, and is St Anger’s climax. The rest of the album has peaks and troughs, but ‘The Unnamed Feeling’ is genius – simple as.

In the hands of any other band St Anger would actually sound as bad as how you expect it to when you hear most people talk about it in 2019. But with Metallica at the wheel it is thrilling throughout.

And, let’s not forget that fans across the world owe St Anger a debt of gratitude. It’s the album that got the band back together, that got the show back on the road, and got the Metallica juggernaut back up to full speed.

Yes, it has its flaws – pretty much every song on it could be reduced by at least a third because, let’s face it, it is too long and some of the lyrical choices are questionable. But it also has a tonne of iconic riffs and massive hooks that stick with you for hours.

As I’ve already mentioned, St Anger is a good album. Fix the snare, maybe don’t let the therapist write any lyrics and let an independent producer come in and actually edit these songs, and you could easily be left with a truly great album.

Just because everyone in the world thinks they hate St Anger, doesn’t mean it’s true or that you have to as well. Give it the birthday it deserves and blast it loud. And enjoy it!

Happy birthday St Anger. I love you – always have, always will.

Read St Anger on trial: the prosecution

St Anger came out in 2003 on Elektra.

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Dave Musson