Some Kind of Monster, the making-of documentary about Metallica and their newest record St. Anger was supposed to be a good film whether you care about Metallica or not. Noel and I watched it a couple weeks ago, and I sat on the floor for over two hours, engrossed. Seeing the story of frustration, depression, and addiction behind St. Anger gives the album the personal relevance it needs. I’m not a big fan of the band, but the film inspired me to borrow the record from Noel. I wouldn’t have connected with the music on my own or through my individual experience, but knowing the band’s crucible over the past few years through the documentary and the fire they put their art through has forged that connection.
St. Anger‘s energy is fueled by positive, self-searching fury. The album’s sound juxtaposes the chaos of metal with a cut & pasted, ProTools-processed production style. In more ways than one, it has the characteristics of edge, striving, and tension between musical repetition/change that howie&scott’s signs aimed for. Big thrashy riffs are beaten out and given structural room to breathe; a theme is often introduced, varied, and played again, sounding achingly slow against Lars’ quadruple-time drumming. Musically, Metallica is smart and solid but not unorthodox, an extraordinary garage-metal band but not revolutionary. For the first time, the band co-authored all of the lyrics. Dominant is James Hetfield’s wrestling with his psychological shadow self – this is the correct way to hear the exhortation to “Kill” at St. Anger‘s close. It’s Hetfield’s shadow speaking; it’s poetry, “reality” in aesthetic terms only. Note the change from Ride the Lightning and other metal of that era, which took its own mythological exhortations as real.
In the tension between creativity and expectation (whether the band’s own, or fans’, or those of metal in general) a few moments falter lyrically. “Invisible Kid” would sound ten times better if the fourth line of each stanze DIDN’T rhyme with lines 2 & 3, and the chorus of “Purify” might be heard in any given Midwestern dive in a song by any given metal band; we rightfully expect more from Metallica. Yet only “Shoot Me Again” is wounded mortally by its’ cliches; it stumbles down the road without any of the redeeming qualities of the rest of the album.
With St. Anger, Metallica has created a desperate, honest statement of survival. It’s mature in all the good ways: well-played, dealing with real struggle, tempered by experience. Go ahead and be surprised that I’ve made myself its advocate; I am too.