Even though St. Anger doesn’t drop until June 10th, the hype for Metallica’s first studio album in five years officially cranked up earlier this month, when the thrash pioneers were the subject of their very own MTV special. The network conveniently chose Metallica as their third “Icon,” joining Janet Jackson and Aerosmith in an exclusive VIP room reserved for artists whose shadows fall darkly across the pop landscape. Taped May 3rd in Los Angeles and aired three days later, the special blew smoke up the asses of original members James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, and Lars Ulrich for a few hours, and featured covers of Metallica classics by the likes of Korn, Staind, Limp Bizkit, and – of course – Snoop Dogg. It’s not that Metallica didn’t deserve the award. Their 20+ year career and genre-defining early work definitely qualifies them for kings of the hill status. But while the program will undoubtedly help the band move a few more units of their new record, it was also a giant photo op for types as disparate as Don “Magic” Juan and Gillian Barberie. In a frenzied madness, with your leather and your spikes, heads are bobbing all around, it’s…Avril Lavigne tonight?
Like so many media outlets, the Glorious Noise compound was denied an advance copy of St. Anger. Out of spite, Jake then downloaded 14,000 Metallica songs from Kazaa [Kazaalite, actually – ed.] and made us all copies of his “Maxellica UR 90 Mix Tape, Vol. 2.” This was cool. But it hasn’t helped us hear anything about the new record other than Internet hearsay and record company nonspeak. The general consensus from these sources? St. Anger‘s a throwback, a return to the bleeding edge, a record that will crush Metallica’s enemies, see them driven before them, and hear the lamentation of Korn’s slutty girlfriends.
It’s possible that Metallica scrapped plans for “Unforgiven III,” and instead wrote an album of pummeling proto-Thrash to rival anything they or anyone outside of the Scandinavian black metal scene has produced since 1985. But if this is true, why the “Icon” fanfare? A record that tough would be designed not for celebrity hangers-on, but for the real heshers out there, the guys in huge white Reeboks that bought tickets in advance for the current Anthrax/Motörhead tour. And what about radio programmers? Will the LP’s title track and first single find itself slotted between the saltwater grooves of Jack Johnson and the Creed-ish southern rock of 3 Doors Down? It’s true that many FM modern rock outlets are still clinging to a waning crop of post-grunge workhorses such as Trapt, Cold, and Disturbed. But even though the goofy bombast and plodding sludge of these groups technically passes for metal, they’d be bashed to bits by Metallica, if just one riff on St. Anger is as powerful as those of Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, and the rest. This is what’s most intriguing about the “Icon” lovefest and surrounding hype of the band’s return. Metallica spent the 1980s reshaping thrash metal and selling millions of records without the benefit of radio airplay, video exposure, or widespread critical acclaim. With their eponymous 1991 release, the band embraced the mainstream, and the public hugged back to the tune of 7 million copies sold. Their shift from complex, overdriven dynamics to more straightforward riffing also transformed metal itself, and contributed to the tailspin of the thrash genre. But now, in 2003, after some disappointing releases, the Napster flare-up, Jason Newstead’s departure at bass, and Hetfield’s stint in rehab, Metallica wants to unite its past with its more recent past in order to position itself for the future. The most glaring example of this? Avril Lavigne and her band of good-natured mall dudes, barreling through a talent-show perfect rendition of “Fuel.”
It won’t be easy for Metallica to marry the alt.rock version of itself to the seering, white phosphorus thrash of yore. Underneath all that hair, heshers have long memories, and tight jeans don’t cut off as much oxygen as you’d think. But if St. Anger is as powerful as the rumors say it is, and the hype that caused Snoop Dogg to perform a “SiZad but TriZue” continues unabated through this summer’s shed tour with Linkin Park, then Metallica will either be the atropine metal needs to survive its 21st homogenization, or the band will be further hated by those who were banging their bloody heads against the stage while Avril was being conceived in the parking lot.
You can pre-order St. Anger from Amazon if you that’s your thing.