When Metallica’s St. Anger came out the hoopla around it was pretty overwhelming, which once everyone had heard it reversed to underwhelming. “Trendy”, “no solos”, “that snare sound” were a just a few of the many things that were mentioned as part of the overall indictment of the long gestating, long drawn out, post-rehab, post-therapy, and post-Jason Newsted record. The San Francisco speed metal kings seemed to have left tradition behind, and instead went the path of modern heavy music. “Nu-Metallica”, as their sound was dubbed by me just now. What the hell were our big bros that created “Metal up your ass” thinking? Were they so lost that they had to jump on some musical bandwagon in order to rekindle those flames that seemed to have been quashed by years of pent up resentment at each other?
And really, that snare sound? Did you not hear that guys?
Well, here’s a little secret for you. You see, St. Anger wasn’t as bad as you remember it. In fact, St. Anger was a damn good album(yes, even with the snare thing.) All the bands that Metallica were blamed for copying? Those trendy new(nu) metal bands? Well they were copping Metallica’s sound, while morphing it into something of their own. System of a Down, Slipknot, Deftones, Korn, and all those other late 90s/early 00s bands that brought the heavy music drama to popular music in a heavy way grew up with James, Kirk, Cliff, Jason, and Lars. If anything, Metallica were just inspired to go a different route by these bands. St. Anger is still very much a Metallica record, both lyrically and musically. And its probably their heaviest record since …And Justice For All.
Let me explain this…
Every year since 2006 I will watch Some Kind Of Monster at least once. It’s just as much therapy as it is entertainment. From the first time I watched it I was completely enthralled with seeing this band that I grew up with not act like the mega rock stars they are, but human beings. Human beings with egos, anger issues, self doubt, fear, and just generally being like you and me(albeit with a ton more dough.) There was a lot said for how they came across as whiny and spoiled and just generally not rock star-like. That’s the whole point of it all, isn’t it? We know what these guys look like in magazine spreads, on stage, and on record. We get the persona that’s built for us. I think the genius of the movie was that Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky captured one of the greatest metal bands ever at the point of complete implosion, and despite what the popular consensus is I think the band handled it pretty well.
You see James Hetfield, the prototypical front man that exudes machismo and tough guy,”fuck yeah, dude!” righteousness turn into this guy trying to rebuild himself after years of alcohol abuse and running from his feelings. Lars Ulrich seems to get the most flack for being, well, Lars. But here’s the thing, I think he comes across pretty earnest. He’s not putting on a show here. He’s got an ego and that’s that, but he’s not being anything else but himself. He seems generally concerned for his longtime band mate, friend, and long time band. Can he be self-absorbed? You bet, but that’s just Lars. And really, I think history has proven he was on the right side of the whole Napster thing. Sure he’s a millionaire, but does that mean it’s cool to steal from him? I don’t think so. Poor Kirk Hammett. He’s still like the little kid stuck in the middle of two battling parents. He seems like a genuinely sweet guy that wants to just keep playing with his big bros and tour the world and buy horror memorabilia. You say anything bad about Kirk and I’ll take you out back and introduce you to Jack Johnson and Tom O’Leery.
The rest of the players? Well there’s Bob Rock, the mega rock producer that turned Metallica into MTV darlings thanks to The Black Album. He seems genuinely confused and uncertain of the band’s future. He stepped up here to get the album finished, and in the end it seems to have finished his over 10-year residency as the fifth member of Metallica. Phil Towle, the therapist/performance coach brought in by Q Prime Management to help Metallica deal with all the internal and personal strife. He’s a hired hand, and his job was to dig deep and get to some core issues that had been long festering between the group. There is some cringe-worthy stuff here with Dr. Towle, I have to be honest. The Dave Mustaine session? Ugh. Dr. Phil arguing about trust issues between him and James? Seemed like the doc was trying to manipulate the most vulnerable guy in the group to me. I think he did help the band overall, but he seemed a little too cozy by the end. Robert Trujillo. I love this guy. I think he was and is a great fit in the band. I think he makes Metallica work harder and think outside the box, honestly. And thank Christ they didn’t go with Twiggy Ramirez. Jason Newsted, the man at the center of the movie, really. He was the earthquake that brought the Metallica Corporation down. Can you blame him for leaving? I can’t. And Torben Ulrich? What an interesting dude he is. He’s like a Tolkien character come to life. His “screaming in the echo chamber” comment makes me laugh every time. The honesty of a parent is undeniable and hilarious, regardless how painful it can be.
Some Kind Of Monster is one of the best documentaries about music I’ve seen. It’s up there with Dig!, Don’t Look Back, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, 30 Century Man, and I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. I’m sure part of that is because I love the band so much. Some people probably hated this movie because of precisely the reason I loved it: it humanized Metallica. Some people don’t want to see their heroes vulnerable, broken, and well, human. For me, seeing Hetfield, Ulrich, and Hammett struggling to figure shit out is exactly what I need to see sometimes. It makes me feel not so bad in my own daily struggles. One of the greatest metal bands of all time nearly fell apart because they couldn’t deal with their emotions, so I think I might be able to get thru this whole “oldest kid going off the college” thing. Also, I love that inside look into the making of music. The scenes in the Presidio, regardless of how uncomfortable they were, were still fascinating. The process of hashing it out together as a band and seeing where things go is something I love. And the HQ sessions were equally engaging. The little moments where a lyric clicks and a melody emerges from spitting words into a mic is just fascinating. Hetfield stumbling onto “Some Kind Of Monster” while trying to figure out what the song is about, I love it.
There are so many little bits in this that keep bringing me back to it.
So St. Anger may be your least favorite Metallica album, and there may not be anything I can say to change your mind. That’s perfectly acceptable. For me its a therapeutic thing that happens every year. I will watch Some Kind Of Monster, extras and all, then I go into a St. Anger death spiral that lasts for a couple days and then it gets shelved for another year. Lars said it best, that they wanted to prove that you could make an angry album out of positive energy(I’m paraphrasing here.) I think the creative process started in a very negative energy space, but by the end that energy had gone 180 degrees in the positive. There’s nothing more therapeutic than cranking up a record full blast and letting massive amounts of pent up rage come down on you. It’s like a dip in a hot spring, or surfing waves of hot lava while shooting devil horns to the world. There’s nothing like it.
St. Anger and Some Kind Of Monster are some massive waves of hot lava, baby.