“Question,” Metallica frontman James Hetfield said to the crowd at Lollapalooza 2022. “St. Anger?” He held two thumbs up in the air to a mixed reaction. “Ha, ha, ha,” he said ruefully. He then flipped his thumbs down, once again exclaiming, “St. Anger?” as he smiled through a hail of jeers.
“Give it another chance, okay? This was the album that did not get the chance.”
So I did.
I first heard Metallica’s eighth and most derided LP following its release in 2003. This was in high school, after I learned that the local mall housed other stores besides Hot Topic, when I attempted to introduce color into my wardrobe (an orange vest worn over an orange shirt remains a particularly painful memory). I didn’t vibe with St. Anger, but I chalked it up to diverging tastes. We were too different, Metallica and me; they were still into thrash aggression, whereas I had absolutely no idea how much orange to wear.
Years later I checked in again, this time as a baby music journalist doing the baby music journalist equivalent of potty training (writing my first listicle). By now I’d heard all the complaints — that snare drum! — and while I enjoyed a couple of St. Anger riffs as I powered through Metallica’s discography, I was listening-on-a-deadline, which is a close cousin of not listening at all.
More than half a decade later Metallica launched into “Dirty Window” at Lollapalooza 2022, and the song felt charged with purpose. Part of this may have been Hetfield’s plea that St. Anger deserved another chance. Metallica only played one song from 2016’s Hardwired… To Self-Destruct, and as for 2008’s Death Magnetic and Lulu, the 2011 collaboration with Lou Reed, they may as well have not existed. But Hetfield was adamant about the virtues of old St. Anger. He really believes in that album.
Live, “Dirty Window” kicks ass. The bang-bang intro steps up into a furious assault of rising triplets. The sudden softness of the refrain, “I’m judge and I’m jury and I’m executioner, too,” is disorienting. Metallica have always been willing to blow by us with speed, but like a wily pitcher, they’re now fooling us with the slow stuff, too.