Metallica – St. Anger (Elektra)

Metallica-St-AngerIf the cover art by Pushead weren’t enough to invoke the Metallica of old, the opening track, Frantic, finds Metallica at their fiercest since …And Justice For All’s closer, Dyer’s Eve. The production is loud and live. Guitars find new timbres of overdrive; cymbals are bright; drums have plenty of space around them; vocals are dry and up-front. Oddly, guitar solos are almost completely absent.

The bad news is that the songs sometimes sound long-winded and strained. They shift gears so much that you may wonder if you’re listening to the same song. After 5 minutes, Shoot Me Again stops and wanders into a new version of the main riff before returning to the chorus then the song goes into a bridge.

Some of this musical meandering is no doubt a grasp toward their old riff-heavy sound. In the 1980s, Metallica pioneered non-mystic metal with straight-forward lyrics fused to oddly-timed riffs and clean-to-dirty dynamics that never lost their heaviness. In the 1990s, Metallica lost some of that pioneering spirit. The success of 1991’s black album steered Metallica towards simpler arrangements.

So, in a sense, the undeniably intense opening salvo of Frantic, St. Anger, Some Kind Of Monster and Dirty Window are welcome returns to form and the criticism that they wander is just nitpicking. Questionable judgement comes in the less aggro Invisible Kid and Sweet Amber– both of which begin with sharp riffs but are blunted by less heavy lyrics and vocals. The Unnamed Feeling, too, seems to attempt to reach in the direction of the band’s 1990s output – slower, less dynamic.

The colossal amount of music here, the great-looking packaging and the inclusion of a DVD show that Metallica, despite (or because of) their antagonism toward Napster, have not forgotten their fans. The bold production and rediscovered ferocity will be warmly embraced by the Metallica faithful, but St. Anger will not necessarily reach out to those who lost touch with the band during the last decade.

[This piece originally appeared in The Rage.]