i’ve mentioned this in other posts, but i will say it again; whatever songs i do, i have to connect with them in some way. That connection can be emotional or spiritual; it could be that a memory that was jogged up about the song when thinking about something else. It could be that the artist i am covering has played a significant part in my life’s journey.
The ‘Metallica Fridays’ posts were birthed for this reason.
Before we get into why the title of this post is the way it is, i do want to briefly (re)discuss a memory: December 3, 1991- the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. It was four months after the start of the first leg of the Wherever We May Roam tour. i had just turned 15 one month prior. ‘Battery’ was my favorite Metallica song (and honestly, probably my favorite song of all time at the time). i didn’t make the connection that they were touring for the Black Album. i was entirely fixated on wanting them to do ‘Battery’.
i have seen hundreds of bands as a teenager, and most shows are a blur- including this one. i don’t remember them doing ‘Through The Never’ at all (which makes me sad, since it was my favorite song off of the Black Album at the time, and still is). i don’t remember any of the guitar, bass or drum solos, and i have a vague remembrance of the banter in the opening film and between songs. i vaguely remember the Justice medley, but ultimately i don’t remember this set list at all. From the looks of it this was a pretty great show (i mean, they played ‘Whiplash!’ ‘Creeping Death’! ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’! ‘Eye Of The Beholder’ (as part of the Justice Medley- A SONG THEY NEVER PLAY ANYMORE!!! Part of that medley was also ‘Frayed Ends Of Sanity’, ‘…And Justice For All’ and… ‘BLACKENED’!!!- BUT I DON’T REMEMBER IT. i don’t even remember them playing ‘Master Of Puppets’, the title track from my favorite album of theirs at the time. i guess that makes me a terrible fan- heh heh…
While not remembering the majority of the show, i remember what happened directly after the show. That said, i DO remember them opening with ‘Enter Sandman’ very clearly though- the first song in a 2.5- 3 hour set (of 22 songs!!!). i remember them playing ‘Battery’ as part of the second encore- the song i had been waiting for all night. When i heard that opening riff, i went OFF.
And i DEFINITELY remember the final song of the night (and the third encore): their cover of Queen’s ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ (from their 1974 album, Sheer Heart Attack, and b-side to ‘Enter Sandman’). i remember James Hetfield introducing the song by saying something like, ‘This song is by the not so straight band, Queen…’ Something like that. It’s funny that i remember those things, but not the much else of the show. i already liked Queen (and songs like ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ (from 1977′ News Of The World) piqued my punk sensibilities), so i was very pleased with Metallica’s cover. Of course, they Metallica’d it up (with some lyrical changes, the little tail at the end (as opposed to the abrupt end) and no harmonies in the chorus), but their cover is just as good as the OG.
Let’s keep it real- i know there’s the direct connection and influence with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), as well as punk bands like the Misfits, Discharge and GBH; but Queen walked so bands like Metallica could run. Queen had ‘thrash metal foreparents’ like ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ sit right next to pop hits like ‘Killer Queen’, and didn’t stutter. Would any of their albums post-Kill ‘Em All be as they were, without the musical diversity of Queen albums? Who knows. i also wouldn’t be surprised if Metallica (and especially bands like Guns N’ Roses) took performing cues from Deacon, Mercury, Taylor and May.
So here we are… jogging that precious memory back from December 3, 1991. i am not as good a drummer as Roger Taylor or Lars Ulrich, but it’s my little tribute.
(Also, you can’t tell me that Lars was not influenced by Roger Taylor in any way. Look at side by side videos of them (not just drumming wise, but interviews as well), and you’ll know what i mean.)
So here we finally are…. St. Anger.
If you’ve been following these posts up to now, you know that there are songs from the album spread throughout. This week though, i was particularly feeling it. Sometimes there are songs i want to do for these Friday posts, and when i go to do them it doesn’t feel right. But this week, St. Anger felt right. And i began to think more about it.
St. Anger is the Metallica album i actually listen to the most.
You heard that correctly.
With all the Puppets, the Justices, the Black Albums, the Hardwireds… With all of those beloved albums, yes… i continually return to St. Anger. WHY??!!
While Load is actually my favorite album of theirs (and as i love to say, Load walked so St. Anger could run), St. Anger is the one that means the most to me. Ultimately, while people are repulsed by the chaotic nature of the album, it’s actually the reason i love it.
i don’t get upset when people say how much they hate St. Anger. The album is full of a mishmash of copy and paste riffs and beats, no guitar solos, an infamous ‘garbage can’ snare, ‘therapy 101’ lyrical content, and a production as if it was recorded in a cave or tunnel. The album gets linked to a lot of ‘nu-metal’ that was produced at the time; however, while i’ve heard of a lot of the bands tagged with that label, i’m not familiar with the actual music made by those bands. So for me, St. Anger stands on its own without those influences.
On the surface, it is my favorite album to work out to. On a deeper level, There is no way an album like this could be made without it being chaotic. Load/ReLoad (lyrically) were rooted in the same mental health and addiction struggles St. Anger depicted; however, a whole band wasn’t openly on the brink of a breakdown. With Load, it was much easier to reinterpret some of the lyrical content, because you weren’t necessarily familiar with the root. With St. Anger you couldn’t escape that (especially if you watched Some Kind Of Monster, the documentary charting the journey of this era).
On the film, James Hetfield states: “It is the best mirror we’ve ever had in our lives.” On St. Anger, he says: “Everyone was pretty vulnerable with each other. And it made us stronger.” He’s also talked about “a lot of (the) growing up (that) happened” in the process of recording the album. Self-criticism is crucial for any progress to happen in life. St. Anger was the musical accompaniment to the self-critical process of Some Kind Of Monster. The Playboy interview (published in 2001) were the first public tinges of a band on a sinking ship. Most people who read it or knew about it (including myself- the interview was actually circulating on the internet at the time) were most likely thrown off by the candidness, and were still surprised by Jason Newsted’s departure from the band. i didn’t see this performance until years later, but most people who did see the original airing of the VH1 awards in the year 2000 were not aware that (the aptly titled) ‘Fade To Black’ would be the final song Newsted performed live with the band. This includes the rest of Metallica.
Everything is dialectical. Jason Newsted leaving not only held a mirror up to the entity that is Metallica, but the humans within it as well. The perceived/assumed/creative chaos of St. Anger is a direct contradiction to razor sharpness and coldness of what has previously shaped the band’s identity. Each song on the album was a chapter in the collective mind and experience of the band, but for all intents and purposes it (like every other album) was still a vehicle for exploring the mind of James Hetfield. As everyone did contribute to lyrics for this album; since Hetfield is (usually) the primary lyric writer in the band, it does make me wonder if the others who contributed wrote what they imagined would be his perspective, or were they writing to chart their own mental health journeys as well. ‘Frantic’ set the stage of someone who is aware their addictions have utilized more hours in the day than desired; by the end of ‘All Within My Hands’, you’ve met someone who, despite talking about control being the driving force of things, has lost complete control.
Again, i totally understand why someone would hate this album.
Anyone trying to play anything off of this album- unless you are absolutely skilled at everything- might need a little bit extra time to learn these songs. For some of the songs, there is no solid BPM or count you could follow. Time changes/signatures are all over the place. Everything about this album, as far as i’m concerned, despite the copy/paste nature of it, is as complex as Justice (which was ALSO a copy/paste album, just much colder, cleaner, and drier). Both albums have a lot to do with grieving the loss of a bassist.
So while Load walked so St. Anger could run; St. Anger walked so METALLICA could run. In more ways than one.
Within St. Anger is that much-maligned, universally panned, never performed second to last song, ‘Purify’. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS SONG. To me, this is the thematic crux of the album. while i could (obviously) be wrong about the song’s intent, i interpret this song is about therapy itself, and the use of it to strip away any illusions or pretenses- whether it’s the image of the entity which is Metallica, or the accoutrements that accompany said entity (the addictions and behavior fueled by it). i don’t think the message of ‘Purify’ is to forget the past as a whole, but to not hold onto it as a crutch. The cobwebbed skeletons are the coat rack in the closet, and you keep putting more and more clothes on it, hoping the coat rack doesn’t break.
Old paint, old looks
Cover up the past
It’s time to move, so you have to clean out the closet.
Strip the past of mine
My sweet turpentine
In an interview he did with Road Recovery, Hetfield says, “You wouldn’t really like me if you knew my story, if you knew what horrible things I’ve done. I’m coming to grips with that, ’cause I have groups of people that I’m able to share all my horrible stuff with. Shameful, extremely shameful, dark stuff. Some of it is things I’ve taken from my parents and carried it a little further. Other ones, I’ve been able to drop some of that. Other ones I’ve picked up on my own and created. Shame’s a big thing for me.” In an interview he did with Joe Rogan he talked about the experience of therapy/treatment “tearing you down to bones, ripping your life apart; anything you thought about yourself or what it was, anything you thought you had; your family, your career, your anything… gone.” He mentioned how the purpose of this process is to “slowly rebuild you.”
For me, this is what ‘Purify’ is about.
‘All Within My Hands’ (well, the album version anyway) is another maligned song. Everything about this song is perfect. Its imperfections are what make it perfect.
(The generally preferred alternate version is just as amazing to me. Like many songs done from earlier years with more recent readings, this version is more pensive, as if they escaped the fire, not unharmed, and are ruminating on the experience.)
There is absolutely NOTHING about this song that carries the usual Metallica metaphors. “Love is control/I’ll die if I let go.” All who love me, this is your verbal warning. I WILL crush you. This is the story of a person who doesn’t have the capacity or willingness to give love in the same ways they desire/receive from others. Love is conditional. LOVE IS CONTROL. CONTROL IS LOVE.
“You wouldn’t really like me if you knew my story, if you knew what horrible things I’ve done.”
Hetfield initially sings with a self-aware smugness, and as the song progresses he is pleading, and descends into instability. All instruments follow this slow descent.
It is a brilliant look into a particular mental health struggle, and an even more brilliant ending to a soundtrack covering various aspects of mental health and addiction.
This album resonates with me greatly, as a person who has particular mental health struggles, who has experienced varying levels of trauma (the biggest one, losing a leg i guess), who has struggled with loss and rejection… and as a person who hasn’t struggled with alcohol or drug addiction, but who grew up with a mother who was an alcoholic. In terms of myself, i struggled with an addiction to food bingeing, as a result of struggling with rejection and abuse. In terms of dealing with people, a portion of my life was also played out in a song like ‘All Within My Hands.’ i hated when people left, so i did some things i thought would make them stay, but all it did was push them away. i relapsed with the bingeing a few times (all without people knowing- as far as i know), and had to do a lot of work to be where i’m at now, in terms of my relationship with food, and myself. Fortunately i currently do not have the same struggles with food i have had in the past, but i know that it’s something always lurking around the corner.
In terms of my relationships with people, i did a lot of work practicing non-attachment. It’s not about not giving love or compassion to others; the non-attachment i worked on was practicing the understanding that people come in and out of your life, and you learn something from all of those people. The non-attachment is in not holding on to toxic relationships (whether it’s you performing that toxicity or someone else) and thinking something loving or beneficial could be produced out of them. In practicing this non-attachment i have learned to accept myself as a whole person, instead of seeking validation from those who clearly don’t love me in the same ways.
“…I have groups of people that I’m able to share all my horrible stuff with.”
The other role of non-attachment in my life is understanding and accepting there are those who do contribute positively to my life who may not have the same capacity for connection i have. i am a person who does need daily check-ins, but not everyone does. If i don’t hear from someone for a few days it doesn’t mean they love me any less.
I CAN’T CONTROL HOW PEOPLE LOVE ME. But i can control how i respond to that love.
(It is interesting and amusing how at the end i miss the crash cymbal, but i thought it was fitting for how chaotic the end is, so i decided to just let it happen).
Quoting Hetfield once again; on St. Anger (an album even the band knows has divided the fan base, to the point where they joke about it), he says that it’s an album that has “found its people.”
i’m definitely one of those people.