Metallica messin’

Heavy rock heathens reinvent themselves with St. Anger

METALLICA with Limpbizkit , Linkin Park , Deftones and Mudvayne at Skydome (1 Blue Jay’s Way), Friday (July 5), 8 pm. $81-$91. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN

No Metallica recording has split the band’s fans like the new St. Anger (Elektra) album. It’s easy to see why. James Hetfield’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics seem confused, and at times his menacing bellow veers off key. Guitarist Kirk Hammett’s bum notes have been left in. Lars Ulrich’s offbeat drum patterns don’t seem to keep strict time.

As if that weren’t confusing enough, producer Bob Rock is playing bass in place of Jason Newsted (who switched positions with Ozzy’s bassist, Robert Trujillo) and using the Spector NS-1 bass with which Scott Smith cut all of Loverboy’s hits, including Turn Me Loose and Working For The Weekend.

Perhaps even more distressing for Metallica heads than the cut ‘n’ paste lyrics, the rehearsal jam vibe of the playing and the unusually rough distortion-enriched sound, is that there are no guitar solos. You read that right: no widdly-widdly bits.

Short of releasing a 70s-style disco record with programmed drums and synthetic strings, Metallica couldn’t have gone much further to fuck with fan expectations for the new album.

But the fact that these hombres were still rocking mullets into the late 90s should tell you they couldn’t give a shit what anyone thinks they should be doing.

“Each time we try to do anything, it seems to split the fans,” sighs Ulrich, who’s talking on a cellphone outside a soccer stadium in Madrid, “so we’ve become used to the whole polarizing thing. For us to remain interested in Metallica, we need to keep challenging ourselves. I can’t go out there and do the same shit over and over again.

“A couple of times in the past when we’ve tried to do something really raw, we’ve pussied out. By using Pro Tools to tidy things up we wound up cleaning the life right out of the music. We didn’t do that this time. We kept it raw because that’s what the material dictated.”

Whereas Pro Tools software is typically (over)used to correct parts that are out of time or intonation, Metallica instead recorded days of rehearsal jams, then went to Pro Tools to creatively mix and match various guitar riffs with different bass figures and drum patterns.

After piecing the music together, Hetfield freestyled lyrics until an idea clicked, then went back to cut his vocals in a minimum of takes.

The quick ‘n’ dirty approach Metallica employed to give St. Anger its kick isn’t anything radically new. In fact, back in the late 30s the urge for spontaneous expression unbound by intellect was the unifying aesthetic of the CoBrA clique ( Co penhagen, Br ussels, A msterdam) of artists that included Karel Appel, Asger Jorn, Egill Jacobsen and others.

The parallel isn’t lost on Ulrich, who is surprisingly well-versed in the work of the CoBrA artists and their historical relevance within the European avant garde.

“What I’ve always loved about the CoBrA artists is that whereas other groups were based around conceptual ideas and had a beginning and an end, the work of the CoBrA guys was more about a moment and conveying a human emotion within that moment.

“I’ve wanted to incorporate elements of that way of thinking in our music for a while now, and with St. Anger we’ve come closer than ever before, stripping away as much of the thought as possible from the creation of sounds.

“The album, to me, is a collection of moments. It’s very pure. Just four guys in a room playing music where 90 per cent of what you hear on the record is the first take – the first time we’d played this stuff together. Usually, the songwriting and the recording are split into two separate processes. This time it was just one.”

The idea of Metallica turning to computer technology to make themselves sound more like a real band is bizarre enough. Building songs from minute recorded fragments creates other problems: it could be they’ve made songs so “pure” they can’t be played!

“It wasn’t so easy relearning some of the songs for the tour,” confesses Ulrich. “There are actually a couple of things that we can’t even play. But you make the best album you can, and then you figure out how the fuck you’re going to interpret the shit live.”

Ulrich became the unwitting poster boy for the record industry’s war against file-sharing when Metallica sought to reclaim their music from Napster.

“I’m the drummer in a band. We’re not part of any scene we exist in our own little bubble. We weren’t trying to make any kind of statement about the Internet or the record industry. We were just trying to protect what was ours, and we got blindsided by this huge shitstorm.

“The hardest part was trying to relate who I saw in the mirror to this guy people were accusing of being ‘pro-record label’ and ‘anti-bootlegging.’ I was, like, ‘Who are they talking about? It can’t be me.’ I had to live through that for three years, but I’ve now compartmentalized it all in my mind as just a bad dream. ”

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