METALLICA's LARS ULRICH Has No Regrets About 'St. Anger' Snare Drum Sound: 'I Stand Behind It A Hundred Percent'
July 29, 2020
During an appearance earlier today (Wednesday, July 29) on SiriusXM's "Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk", METALLICA drummer Lars Ulrich defended the band's controversial 2003 album "St. Anger", which was criticized by many fans for its lack of guitar solos, extended riffs, its raw production and the thin drum sound. Asked if he stands behins the LP's much-maligned snare sound, Lars said: "I stand behind it a hundred percent, because at that moment, that was the truth.
"Just my personality, I'm always just looking ahead, always thinking about the next thing. That's just how I'm wired," he continued. "Whether it's METALLICA always thinking ahead, or in my personal life, or in relationships, whatever I'm doing, I'm just always thinking ahead. Sometimes, arguably, I spent too much time in the future, but I rarely spend any time in the past. And so the only time this stuff really comes up is in interviews.
"I hear 'St. Anger'. That's a pummeling and a half, and there's a lot of incredible, raw energy, and it's, like, 'Woah!' 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. And 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 kind of 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."
Ulrich went on to say that he has no regrets about any of the production choices METALLICA made throughout the course of the band's nearly four-decade career. "I'm proud of all of those decisions, because I know at that time, they were the truth and it was the instinctive and the right thing to do," he said. "And then, 20 years later, it's, like, 'Well, how would that have sounded if the snare was on?' Or, 'How would that have sounded if we did two instead of four?' I mean, I don't know, but I don't really think about it, to be honest with you, other than when I'm confronted with it in interviews. And I wouldn't change a thing about the past. Of course, how far are you gonna push that? Of course, yes, bus accidents and things like that, of course. But the point of what I'm saying is I just don't spend a lot of time sitting there, going, 'Well, if we hadn't done that,' and, 'If we did this instead…' I'm just always too busy about what we're doing next, and that's just my M.O. And I think all of us in METALLICA generally operate like that. So we're just always excited about the next thing, the next thing, the next record.
"I say this often, but people always go, 'What's your favorite METALLICA record?'" he added. "My standard answer is, 'My favorite METALLICA [album] is the next one, and the next song we're gonna write and the next album that's coming,' because if you don't think that your best work is still ahead of you, why do it? And we're always so excited about the opportunities that lay in front of us."
"St. Anger" was released in June 2003 at the end of a turbulent two-year period in which bassist Jason Newsted left METALLICA, Hetfield went for a lengthy stay in rehab, and the entire band threatened to break apart. The album's raw, lo-fi production, lack of guitar solos and unorthodox sound were not well-received by many of the group's fans, who still often cite it as METALLICA's worst record. "St. Anger" has nevertheless sold more than six million copies worldwide, although fans have generally not warmed up to it in the 17 years since its release.
Back in 2003, KORN singer Jonathan Davis made headlines when he told Swedish journalist Martin Carlsson that "St. Anger" was "the shittiest thing I ever heard in my life." He went on to say: "I respect those guys immensely since some of those songs are great. Some of that shit sounds like it's beginners' shit. I understand they're going for a new raw and heavy sound, but that's just shit. I don't get it. I like some of the songs, it's cool and it's not [me] talking shit [about them] at all, but the production is just horrible. I know what they're trying to get across, but Lars's snare drum is the most irritating thing I've heard in my whole life."
Two years ago, former DREAM THEATER drummer Mike Portnoy said that he had mixed feelings about "St. Anger" when it first came out. "There's no question, it's an incredibly weird album," Mike told the "Speak N' Destroy" podcast. "As much as I liked a lot of those elements of what they were going for [on that record], I also remember sitting… DREAM THEATER was making the 'Train Of Thought' album at that time, and we had just [played] the whole 'Master Of Puppets' [LP in concert] and put that out. And I remember while we were making the 'Train Of Thought' album, 'St. Anger' came out, and I remember sitting in my car outside the studio and I called [DREAM THEATER guitarist] John Petrucci into my car to play him some of the songs. And it was… I can't remember… maybe the middle of 'Invisible Kid' or 'Dirty Window', this weird middle section with just screaming and moaning, and James's vocals are… [I was, like], 'What is going on?' And the sound of the snare drum.
"As much as I appreciated that album and it got me back because of the spirit and the intention and I really got that, there's no question there's some really hard-to-listen-to stuff on that album," Portnoy added. "There were moments where I was, like, 'Oh my God! What are they fucking thinking?' But then there were other moments [where I was], like, 'Oh, man! This is fucking great!' It was a really mixed album for me."