"St. Anger 2015" Diehard Fans Re-Record Metallica's Most Misunderstood Album
In early January 2015, an interesting YouTube clip started making the rounds on Facebook, as well as on various metalhead forums I hang out on: St. Anger 2015, a freshly re-recorded version of Metallica's mostly-hated 2003 release St. Anger, performed by two very talented fanboys who took it upon themselves to re-create the album "from the ground up," with cleaner and tighter production values, in the hopes that Metallica fans might give the songs on St. Anger a fresh listen and re-evaluate what is still a very controversial record. So how does it stack up against the original? Very impressively, in this old-fart Metallica fan's opinion.
So Who Are These Guys, Anyway?
The guys behind #STANGER2015 (yes, that's apparently the official name for this project, hashtag and all) are Daryl Gardner and Dave Cox and they hail from Birmingham, U.K. Daryl is a member of an alternative metal band called Grace The Skies, while Dave is in a band called Adjust. (Don't feel bad if you've never heard of'em; I hadn't, either.) The multi-talented Daryl performed all the guitars, bass and drums on the St. Anger re-recording, while Dave did all of the lead vocals. The session was produced by Daryl's Grace the Skies bandmate Chris Dando, who also contributed backing vocals.
As a long time Metallica fan who abso-lutely-freakin' HATED St. Anger when it first hit the streets in 2003, my first reaction when I heard of this re-recording was "why would anybody want to bother trying to 'improve' that album?" As far as I was concerned, no amount of studio polish could possibly salvage the songs on St. Anger, which remains Metallica's least essential album.
Curiosity eventually got the better of me, however, and after heading to YouTube to give it a couple of spins, I had to give credit where credit's due: these guys really did do a nice job. While the #STANGER2015 re-recording is essentially a note-for-note "cover version" of the entire album, the production is much cleaner, and since they also wisely cut out some of the repetitive fat from the original arrangements "2015" actually clocks in at 15 minutes shorter than the meandering original album. In other words, the whole thing is a much more focused and far less irritating listening experience than the "real" St. Anger album...which is quite a feat!
It should be noted that Daryl and Dave undertook this project strictly for fun, with no intentions of cashing in. There will be no CD release or digital download for these tunes, and you won't find them on streaming services like Spotify, either; they will only be available for listening via YouTube. The video went live on YouTube on January 13, 2015 and racked up nearly 600,000 views in just a few days. Reviews and comments have been overwhelmingly positive, with many fans saying they prefer this version to Metallica's original. You can count me as one of those fans!
#STANGER2015 Full Album Re-Recorded
When it was first released in 2003, St. Anger, quickly became the most hotly debated album of Metallica's career. As the documentary film Some Kind of Monster (2004) showed, St. Anger was created during a time of utter turmoil within the Metallica camp, when interpersonal relationships between the musicians were at their absolute lowest. First, long time bassist Jason Newsted exited the band in 2001, citing an oppressive work environment where his attempts at songwriting contributions were either belittled or ignored entirely. Guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield then entered rehab to deal with his alcohol addiction in the midst of pre-production for the record, leaving drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett behind to noodle around in the studio as a duo and wonder if Metallica even still existed. In short, Metallica had no business even trying to make a new album under such circumstances. Nonetheless, once Hetfield was released from rehab, producer Bob Rock took over the bass playing duties for recording purposes, and they bashed out the songs that became St. Anger in a series of increasingly tense recording sessions that often found them at each other's throats. It took intervention from the band's management and regular therapy sessions with "performance coach" Phil Towle to help Metallica get their personal you-know-what together enough for them to complete the album and then out on tour to support it (with new bassist Robert Trujillo, who was hired after St. Anger was recorded, in tow).
Metallica - "St. Anger" (2003)
Hear the Original:
My "Anger" Experience
Prior to St. Anger's June 2003 release, the internet was lit up with supposed "studio reports" filed by European "journalists" of dubious credibility, all of whom claimed that the new material was "thrashier than ever" and predicting it would be "the heaviest Metallica album yet." I can remember tuning into MTV for the world premiere of the title track's music video a week or two before the album's street date and thinking that it certainly wasn't the best thing I'd ever heard from Metallica, but the aggressive riffing showed promise. My Metallica fanaticism had been on a downhill slide for much of past decade anyway so I was trying to keep my expectations low, hoping that I'd be pleasantly surprised.
...I didn't keep them low enough, as it turned out, because when I finally got a copy of the CD on the release date, St. Anger was damn near unlistenable - these were not "songs," they were sloppy, underproduced odds and ends that had seemingly been thrown into a blender and then strung together half-assedly in Pro-Tools. This thing didn't even sound like the band members had ever been together in the same hemisphere, much less the same recording studio, at any time during the album's creation. Bob Rock's production sounded like a cheap demo tape, and Lars Ulrich's drum sound (which sounds like he's banging on pots and pans with a wooden spoon) quickly achieved the quality of Chinese Water Torture after only a few songs. I spent a week or so re-playing St. Anger and hoping it would eventually "click," before I finally gave up and admitted that I was beating a dead horse. I wrote a scathing review of the disc for my friend's e-zine (where I opined that the CD "stunk like a fish market in the middle of July" - ouch, that'll show 'em!) and declared myself officially finished with Metallica. A good friend of mine, who'd been holding off on buying the CD till he had a chance to hear my thoughts on it, asked me if I could burn him a copy of the disc soon afterward and I said "Y'know what? F*ck it, you can HAVE this damn thing," and sent it to him in Texas, where I assume it now sits on a shelf at his place collecting dust. (haha)
That was a dozen years ago now and it was the last time I gave any of the songs from St. Anger the time of day... until this past week!
"Some Kind of Monster" (2004) Documentary Trailer:
Don't get me wrong, the #ST.ANGER2015 recording hasn't totally changed my opinion of the much-maligned album..it's still kind of a mess, but at least in this form it's a more listenable, less antagonizing mess. There are still some songs that are downright weak, like "Shoot Me Again" and the silly "Sweet Amber" ("how sweet are yoooooooouu?") but even these benefit from Daryl and Dave's new paint job. The most important difference between the 2003 and 2015 takes on Anger is the drum sound - on ST. ANGER 2015 they sound like actual drums, whereas on the original album they sounded like Lars Ulrich was randomly firing a BB gun into a coffee can. I also must give props to Dave for his amazingly Hetfield-esque vocal work. Seriously, if you played this for a casual Metallica listener and didn't tell them that it wasn't James, I doubt they'd notice any difference. Naturally, the cleaned-up production makes the few St. Anger songs that I actually *did* sort of like back in the day - namely "Frantic," the title track, "Invisible Kid" and "Some Kind of Monster" - sound even better.
In the past three days I've probably listened to ST. ANGER 2015 more than I ever listened to the original album back in the day, and that's the highest praise that I can give it. I wonder if the Metallica guys have heard it, because it would be interesting to hear their impressions of this fan-driven homage. Nice work fellas!!
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© 2015 Keith Abt