Marvelous Misfires: Metallica's 'St. Anger' (2003)!

The boys killing time while Lars' Maserati gets worked on.
Much like everyone alive at the time remembers exactly where they were when they heard Elvis had died, many of us remember precisely where we were when we first heard St. Anger, Metallica's heavily-hyped eighth studio album.

The year was 2003 and, despite twelve years having passed since the massive global success of their 1991 self-titled "black album", the world was still waiting for its proper follow-up.

The band's "blood and semen" period, once realizing the sour note they'd hit with fans, was quickly dubbed a musical "lost weekend" of sorts and that THE NEXT ONE would be the one where they go back to the basement and rock all our asses off.

The band had surely meant for the cover art's defiant fist to signal a return to the brutal pummeling of albums past, but all this writer could wonder is what had this fist done to be so forcefully restrained. Or maybe it had accidentally touched a bucket of blood mixed with semen and was now in the process of being lopped off.

But its desperate, angry, profanity-soaked screams would ultimately go unheard.

Of course, somebody had to have heard it. The album went #1 in eight countries. Even so, every time this writer gives it a listen, it is as if I am hearing it for the first time, God bless the mind's ability to repress the harshest memories.

Even though it is I who presses the play button, fully expecting the speakers to come alive with sound, I am ultimately caught completely off-guard by what comes out of the speakers. I know it's coming the second I hate play but it still catches me off guard, like someone dousing you with cold water unexpectedly.

Your heart races and, for a moment, you honestly think this might be the big one, and then you listen some more and it becomes less scary and more annoying. You joke to yourself that Albini must have recorded it because, honestly, a couple of his "productions that he refuses to call productions" do sound a tad like this.

You click to the next song, the album's "title cut". They wouldn't name their album after a song that sucks, would they? Of course not!

OK, well, turns out they did. In fact, if you want to get the full "majesty" of this album's misguided nature, one truly needs only listen to this song. You can just see these guys driving up to their remote Bay Area rehearsal studio in their respective Italian sports cars, walking into a rehearsal space bigger than most clubs. It used to be four guys in a room - any room - now its 10-20 roadies and sound guys feverishly working to ensure that when the band does get down to writing a song, it will be a good one.

Thing is, when an organization that big is waiting on you to deliver the goods so that these glory days never have to end, we fans probably shouldn't blame the guys for going a little batty. Not only had they been blindsided by the whole Grunge movement and somehow lived to tell when most other bands saw their platinum days washed out to sea, then technology came along making it possible for anyone with a computer to download the band's music for free in seconds.

While the anger is definitely there, the inspiration isn't and every single song on St. Anger is a desperate cry for help. They may as well be singing: "Please, get me off this ride. It has become so much bigger than we ever imagined. I'm not that kid anymore. I just want to drive my Ferrari!"

Did Metallica bounce back from the crushing sonic void of St. Anger, you ask? Our promo copy of 2008's Death Magnetic found a place on the coffee table where I toss CD's I fully intend to listen to and their it has sat ever since, making a damn fine coffee coaster in a pinch.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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