Metallica St. Anger

Oh man, the conflicting feelings this one has conjured up, the hours of debate and discussion, the pulled hair, raised blood pressure and feelings of pure metal elation: only one band has the power to do this to us. And they’re back with their first album in six years, and what a wild ride it is. First off, it’s nowhere near being the second coming of thrash that the pre-release hype had us believe (for that, please see the Haunted, maybe Entombed’s last couple of albums, or the last Slayer opus). These aren’t the same young pups that gave us such wonderful releases in ’83, ’84 and ’86 — that mental space cannot be occupied by four grown men in 2003, so of course it’s a whole new beast. But what exactly is on St. Anger is a whole other can of worms. Once past Bob Rock’s bewildering, heart attack-inducing production (it sounds like shit, period — but damned if it’s not slowly growing on me, wart-like) the listener will find a stunning variety of songs chock full of memorable hooks and head-banging grooves. There’s a small nu-metal influence here, but it’s simply the old guard picking up some of the best tricks from the young pups, nothing too despicable. These songs are, at best, pure metal mental exorcisms; the title track is a standout workout through Hetfield’s last few years of personal demon fighting, perhaps up there in the top 15 Metalli-tunes ever. Oddly enough, there are no guitar solos and no ballads. Most of St. Anger’s songs are too long for no good reason, but check out the album, start digging through the production (and through your expectations) and get ready for a whole new kind of metal, dished up by the masters. (Elektra)