Retrospective Review: Metallica - St. Anger

Updated: Nov 30, 2019

Something different was in order for this week's retrospective. In past weeks, the albums have been legendary in their quality and impact, genre definers and trend setters. It's brilliant to review those, but not much criticism can be made. This week had to be something a little bit more...contentious.

Metallica's St. Anger, released in 2003, certainly did make an impact, but for completely different reasons. To truly understand this album, you have to consider factors beyond the music. This wasn't your normal album, born out of writing, recording, promoting and releasing. This was an album years in the making, born of conflict, born of strain, born of loss and born of rage.

From a purely musical standpoint, it's not even close to being a perfect album. Halfway through, it had to be turned down, such was how my ears were feeling by that point - and not solely because of volume. St. Anger is relentless, determined to deliver its anger by unleashing an onslaught of aggression, channeled through raw riffs, bold lyrics and that Godawful ringing snare. I barely made it to the end; at 75 minutes long, it is just too much to listen to (at least, in one sitting). Too many songs go on for too long; 'Invisible Man', for example, should have finished at the 5 minute mark. Past that, it was just repetitive.

But there is undeniable passion in this release. What comes through, particularly from Hetfield's vocals and Ulrich's drumming, is this need to release their feelings and do it via the thing they love most: Metallica. Anyone who has watched Some Kind of Monster, the documentary which captured the making of this album, knows what they went through, how they spoke, how they fought. There are times when you wonder how they make it through. But their love for Metallica, and deep down, each other, is what stopped this band from coming to an abrupt halt. And what better way to reconnect with each other than by making an album that showcases just exactly what they've been going through?

The conflict within the band, particularly between Hetfield and Ulrich, was a key factor in the making of St. Anger.

They've discussed personal issues on previous albums. 'Fade to Black' was written when Hetfield was depressed, and 'Master of Puppets' deals with drug addiction. But this album goes further. Throughout St. Anger, Metallica open their doors and give us a taste of their headspaces and where they were during the making of this album. It's a deep and personal album in a way that we rarely see at all, and we'll certainly never hear anything like this from Metallica again. Hearing "Frantic-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tock" might sound dumb at first, but that ticking is a representation of how Hetfield's head became a time bomb. That's how this album goes beyond the music.

It's almost remarkable that they were able to make an album at all, let alone one that does have some bright moments on it. The title track is a good song, as are a few of them. But it is overly long and a real struggle to listen to in one sitting, due to a mixture of the length, song styles and production.

No, it isn't a brilliant album. Some would call it abysmal (one reviewer at the time gave it 0.8/10). It's certainly divisive; my personal review of it from a musical standpoint is that it's decent, but not for everyone. But what's undeniable is that St. Anger was necessary, a chapter in Metallica's life without which they wouldn't have survived. At a time when the band could so easily have imploded, they used their rage and love for Metallica to bring out an album full of passion and emotional release, if not outright quality. Love or hate St. Anger, Metallica wouldn't exist now without it. And for that, we must all be thankful for it.