Seventeen years after its release, the drum sound on the Metallica album St. Anger remains a fun point of contention. Metallica spent years recording St. Anger, and vast piles of money went into the album’s creation. As captured in the documentary Some Kind Of Monster, Metallica put themselves through group therapy to make the album. They delayed its recording so that James Hetfield could go to rehab. They made it without a regular bassist, as Jason Newsted had recently left the band. (Producer Bob Rock filled in.) And they came out with a tinny, ugly, grooveless album with lyrics about “my lifestyle determines my deathstyle” and drums that sound like a can of soup falling onto a trash-barrel lid.
Over the years since St. Anger, the members of Metallica have been alternately contrite and defensive about the album. For reasons that might have something to do with quarantine-based boredom, we’re going through all that again. As Loudwire reports, Bob Rock made an appearance on the podcast Tone Talk earlier this month and told the story of how that drums sound came to be. While defending the sound, Rock pointed the finger at Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich:
[Ulrich] set up the drums in the rehearsal room, we were on our way, and Lars just kept staring at the drum. Finally, he sat behind and said, “Just give me a snare drum.” I had bought a Plexi Ludwig snare because I wanted to try it, and he put it on the drum kit, and he said, “That’s the sound.”…
He just would not go back. I’m not blaming him. Basically, if you can wrap around a concept, this was the sound of the drums when they were rehearsing the album, it’s basically the closest to them being in that clubhouse. And no matter what everybody says, it kept the band together, and that inspired them to go on…
So I’m okay with all the flak I’ve taken. It’s a fucking snare-drum sound, give it a break.
Blabbermouth reports that Ulrich is also talking about the St. Anger snare sound once again. In a SiriusXM interview yesterday, Ulrich said, “I stand behind it a hundred percent, because at that moment, that was the truth.” He went on to tell the story of how he arrived at it:
I hear St. Anger. That’s a pummeling and a half, and there’s a lot of incredible, raw energy. It’s, like whoa! It’s been slapped around a little bit. But the snare thing, it was like a super-impulsive, momentary…
We were working on a riff. [James] Hetfield was playing a riff in the control room, and I ran up. I was like, “I need to put a beat behind that.” I ran into the tracking room and sat down and played a couple of beats over this riff to not lose the energy of the moment, and I forgot to turn the snare on. And then we were listening back to it, and I was like, “Wow! That sound kind of fits that riff, and it sounds weirdly odd and kind of cool.” And then I just kind of left the snare off for the rest of the sessions, more or less.
Then it was, like, “Yeah, that’s cool. That’s different. That’ll fuck some people up. That sounds like that’s part of the pummeling,” or whatever. And then it becomes this huge, debated thing. And sometimes we’ll sit on the sidelines and go, like, “Holy shit! We didn’t see that one coming,” in terms of the issue that it turns into.
It sounds like the St. Anger drum sound still makes Lars Ulrich happy. Given that none of us has ever played drums for Metallica, maybe we should just let this one go.