Heading into the making of 2003's St. Anger, Metallica seemed to be in disarray. First, bassist Jason Newsted quit the band citing "private and personal reasons, and the physical damage I have done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love." Then, three months into the album-making process, frontman James Hetfield announced he was entering rehab for alcohol abuse and "other addictions."
Six months later, Hetfield checked himself out of rehab, then rejoined the band — it didn't mean that things were automatically hunky-dory. As revealed in 2004's warts-and-all documentary Some Kind of Monster, Metallica had to work through years and years of accumulated shit during the creation of St. Anger. They weren't getting along personally or clicking musically, and they even hired "performance enhancement coach" Phil Towle to conduct group therapy sessions while they wrote and recorded the album.
Some Kind of Monster directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky captured every uncomfortable minute, revealing all the stress, distrust and chaos Metallica experienced while working on the album. Despite the cracks in the band's armor — or perhaps because of them — St. Anger is like nothing Metallica ever released, either in sound or execution. It's so raw and ragged it makes Venom sound like Def Leppard. Some of the vocals are off-key, the rhythms lumber and meander, and the drums — especially the snare — sounds akin to trash cans being struck by hammers. And there were no guitar solos.
"I wanted to do something to shake up radio and the way everything else sounds," producer Bob Rock told MTV shortly after St. Anger was released. "To me, this album sounds like four guys in a garage getting together and writing rock songs."
Yet despite its unusual sound and backstory, the 2003 album debuted at No. 1 in 14 countries, including the U.S. And in 2004, the title track won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance. To date, St. Anger has been certified double platinum in the States and sold almost 6 million copies across the globe.
What's left to say about an album so popular and so pored over and dissected? Here are five tidbits that you may have missed.
1. While they worked on St. Anger, Metallica dipped their toes in hip-hop
When Hetfield was in rehab, Metallica had a lot of downtime. During this period, they hooked up with rap producer Swizz Beatz to collaborate on his solo album Swizz Beatz Presents G.H.E.T.T.O. Stories. The band presented him with a variety of parts they had written with James. Swizz chose sections from two different pieces and edited them together for the cut "We Did It Again." Then, the producer brought in rapper Ja Rule to lay down the vocals. Six weeks later, Swizz, Ja Rule and Berlinger's filmmaking partner, the late Bruce Sinofsky, met up at a studio in New York. "Ja Rule brought along an entourage of about 15 people, who gambled away tens of thousands of dollars playing dice and smoked enormous blunts," Berlinger wrote in his book This Monster Lives: The Inside Story of Some Kind of Monster. "At the same time, I was in an L.A. recording studio, filming Kirk, Lars and Bob. Both sessions were linked via a computer hookup. The Metallica guys decided Kirk should lay down a guitar solo long-distance. The idea was for Ja Rule to ad-lib over the solo." Hetfield couldn't get back soon enough.
2. Metallica got back into the groove with help from the Ramones — but even that turned dark
The first day Hetfield returned from rehab and rejoined Metallica in the studio, the group worked on Ramones covers for We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to the Ramones, which was co-produced by Rob Zombie. "It was a little surprising to see Metallica, after so many months of inertia, use their reunion to pay someone else's material," wrote Berlinger. "Maybe they figured that the shaky transition of acting like a band again would be easier if they put off the grueling process of making a Metallica record, especially give the emotional histrionics of their last recording session almost a year [earlier]." Metallica recorded "We're a Happy Family, "Cretin Hop," "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World," "Commando" and "53rd and 3rd." The latter wound up on the album and other tracks were released as St. Anger B-sides. True to the times, however, even these sessions were cast under a shadow when Dee Dee Ramone was found dead of an overdose on June 5th, 2002, the day Metallica decided to submit "53rd and 3rd" for the soundtrack. "Kirk seemed to take it particularly hard," Berlinger wrote. "He was noticeably pale. 'That is fucked up,' he said. 'That is fucked up.' He got up and left the room."
3. Metallica didn't include any guitar solos on St. Anger on purpose
Kirk Hammett spent time in the studio recording numerous leads for St. Anger, but none of them were used on the record. There are two reasons for this: 1) Lead guitar was widely considered self-indulgent and unnecessary by the rest of the band at the time, and 2) they felt like nothing Hammett came up with complemented the songs Metallica had recorded. "We made a promise to ourselves that we'd only keep stuff that had integrity," Rock said. "We didn't want to make a theatrical statement by adding overdubs. If we added something and it helped the mood or what we were trying to convey, that stayed. But if it distracted from that, then we killed it. Every time we tried to do a solo, either it dated [the sound of the music] slightly or took away from what we were trying to accomplish in some other way. I think we wanted all the aggression to come from the band rather than one player."
4. Bob Rock's unusual post-production editing played a major role in the unnerving sound of the album
After Metallica recorded the songs for St. Anger, Rock went to town. Instead of working with the material to make it sound as cohesive as possible, Rock engaged in some bizarre techniques inspired by avant-garde artists. "A lot of the songs were done in William Burroughs cut-and-paste fashion," Rock said, referencing the beat writer's style of literally cutting up his text and reassembling it in a different order. "There are movements in movie-making and in music where you take technology as an art and you actually abuse it. Some people use ProTools to trick and fool the listener, but we used it more as a creative tool to do something interesting and stretch boundaries. Technically, you'll hear cymbals go away and you'll hear bad edits. We wanted to disregard what everybody assumes records should be and throw out all the rules. I've spent 25 years learning how to do it the so-called right way. I didn't want to do that anymore."
5. Lars Ulrich got left out of Kirk Hammett's birthday party
Tensions were high throughout the recording sessions, and Kirk Hammett's 40th birthday party should have been an opportunity to let off some steam — unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. The staff of Metallica HQ organized a tropical-themed party, and band members and crew showed up in "shorts, Hawaiian shirts, even some leis," Berlinger wrote, but when Ulrich arrived at the studio, he was in his everyday clothes — no one had filled him in on the plans. "Lars felt snubbed and stalked into another room with a plate of food to eat in silence," Berlinger reported. "'Nobody throws me a birthday party,' he sulked. '… Life is an eternal birthday party for someone else,' he said, then added, 'Life is a limp dick with an occasional blowjob.'"