The title says it all: St. Anger is the most aggressive Metallica album yet, and as such it is a blessing for their fans. At first, it’s shocking to hear the band play with such intensity, after years of heavy blues-rock experimentation. Then again, they’ve gone through some trying times recently, including James Hetfield’s rehab stint, bassist Jason Newstead’s departure and the Napster debacle, not to mention endless cries of “sell-out.”

Not surprising then is Metallica’s rediscovered brutality, which is anything but awkward. St. Anger reminds the listener just how much ass this band can kick when they want to, and how much fun it is to hear. Hetfield’s lightning-speed riffs and Ulrich’s thunderous double bass drumming are reminiscent of the old days, but this album is by no means a creative step backward. Those hoping for Master of Puppets II will be disappointed.

Indeed, Metallica have completely changed their approach. Bob Rock’s spare production is the most obvious alteration, and it takes some getting used to. That said, it fits the songs well, as do Hetfield’s vocals, which exude more character and emotion than ever before. For the first time, James screams, taking the already manic songs to a new level. But this isn’t all Hetfield’s show; St. Anger is a collaborative effort, unlike the band’s earlier albums, a.k.a. “The Hetfield-Ulrich Experience.”

But perhaps the most surprising change is the complete lack of guitar solos. While the songs work without them, some lead playing here or there couldn’t have hurt. The songs themselves show both similarities and differences when compared with previous material. Every track boasts numerous tempo changes and quiet/loud dynamics, which the band has done before (albeit not recently), but the relative lack of melody and catchy choruses is quite new.

All of this would add up to commercial suicide, were that possible for Metallica. Instead, it’ll be one of the most furious, inaccessible and uncompromising albums ever to go multi-platinum. It’ll also be nearly as controversial as the Load albums; many will love the album, and just as many will likely hate it. Hell, some have already accused the band of jumping on the n

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