There are very few things in the world I hate more than the drum sound on Metallica's 2003 album, St. Anger. This was the first album to band released after Load/ReLoad and for me personally, it was at a time when my Metallica fandom was at its peak. And, then I pressed play and was confused as to what that clanging sound was. It was Lars' damn snare.
Friends of mine, to this day, still argue that the album could be halfway decent if it was edited down a bit and mixed properly, but it wasn't. This is what they released and they chose to have it sound this way for a reason. What that reason was, we didn't quite know until recently. Producer Bob Rock was interviewed by Tone Talk and was asked how the sound came to be.
“I’m fine with that [sound]. The thing is, this is interesting, there is a story: while we were doing that [album], we went to their clubhouse; we were in San Francisco, we went to their Oakland place where they rehearsed with Cliff [Burton]. And we had a great time, and Lars told me about his drums, how they were set up in a certain place.
“We were looking for inspiration, let’s put it this way, because James [Hetfield] wasn’t there, so I said, ‘Pull off the drums, the double kick’ because we were fooling around with other drums. So he set up the drums in the rehearsal room, we were on our way, and Lars just kept staring at the drums. 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.’
“And I said, ‘What?’…
“So basically, we did a demo, and I used two [Shure SM] 58s [microphones], a 58 on the kick drum and a couple of whatever simple mics were around, and we did a demo, and that was the sound, and he just would not go back. I’m not blaming him, this was about, 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 OK with all the flak I’ve taken. It’s a fucking snare-drum sound, give it a break.”
I cannot and will not ever give it a break. Bob Rock also explained why the choice for no solos.
“The thing that really made a change in my perspective, as an engineer and producer, was ‘Achtung Baby’ by U2, where they played with the perception of drums. Sometimes you barely hear the drums, sometimes the bass is the loudest thing; in other words, throwing away the rulebook. And part of ‘St. Anger’ is just throwing away the rulebook and saying, ‘Why do we have to set up the drums the same just because what it has to do with metal?’
“I was thinking more like [1973’s] ‘Raw Power,’ The Stooges album, and without the solos, there was a band from San Francisco called The Fucking Champs, all they played was riffs spun together like a punk/metal band.
“And so Lars and I were talking, and it’s kind of a cool thing, and we just said if you can put a great solo with Kirk, go ahead, and it just never worked.”
Metallica famously documented the making of this album in their Some Kind of Monster film, which we watched a few years ago to our pain and your amusement.