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The fruits of the Load sessions had managed to alienate a number of diehard Metallica fans who felt that the band were losing sight of their former identity, entering into new territory that was anathema to those who longed for the days when Metallica were the world's premier art/thrash outfit.

When viewed from that perspective, the band's decision to follow up the much maligned duo of Load and Reload with a two disc, two hour album solely composed of covers almost comes across as a Dylan-esque stunt to drive away their listeners, something akin to his release of the similarly cover heavy double album Self Portrait.

While that is only half serious speculation, it's difficult to find any sort of motive to attribute this mystifying career move to ... an album of the nature of Garage Inc. was hardly apt to recover many of the band's spurned devotees; on the contrary, it was far more likely to drive away what remaining fans they'd managed to retain.

As the band's intentions relating to Garage Inc. pose a seemingly impenetrable enigma, attempting to decipher it seems futile, so the focus shouldn't be on 'why' Metallica recorded the album, but rather assessing the final product.

The album is compartmentalized into five separate sections. The first disc consists of an array of brand new covers recorded by the band near the time of release, while the second is comprised of an obscure EP from 1987, a couple of numbers dating all the way back to 1984, several B-sides and one-offs derived from various recordings conducted between 1988 and 1991, and a quartet of Motorhead covers performed in 1995.

As has already been observed by other reviewers, the performances culled from earlier sessions far surpass the band's recent work with regards to the tightness, ferocity, and precision of the instrumentation. For although Metallica had largely retained their instrumental chops over time, they were unable to fully preserve the sheer skill and passion they once infused into their output.

Despite that however, the band acquit themselves admirably throughout, and so the quality of the performances is never truly a liability. What is a liability though, is that ostensibly the album is a seemingly never-ending onslaught of mind-numbing Heavy Metal with precious few respites from its thunderous waves of sonic distortion.

Given Garage Inc. is a double album of covers, listeners might've expected it to feature plenty of diversity, with a track selection culled from a myriad of sources. That is not the case however, and the album manages to contain less diversity than both Load and Reload ... the band didn't stray too far from their most direct influences, and when that's coupled with the fact that most songs receive exactly the same treatment, listeners are left with a decidedly monotonous affair, and one that lasts for over two hours at that.

The band's choice of material to cover can also be somewhat dubious at times. While their rendition of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page", and their cover of Thin Lizzy's interpretation of the traditional number "Whiskey in the Jar" both work surprisingly well, such cannot be said for the gruesomely overlong version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone", while "Loverman" is a debacle that proves what should be self-evident ... namely, that Nick Cave's material is far too nuanced, subtle, and intelligent to be successfully converted into generic Heavy Metal.

Those tracks, including the two utter misfires, still rank amongst the most interesting fare on the album, as they depict Metallica actually taking risks and leaving their comfort zone. The problem is that far too much of the album's content was already firmly embedded in Metallica territory, thus seldom necessitating any level of creative reinvention.

As one would expect, covers of the likes of Black Sabbath (represented here by "Sabbra Cadabra") work quite well, as they're natural fits for the band, ensuring that - if not groundbreaking - they're at least entertaining. But one can only be entertained by stylistically uniform numbers for so long without growing weary of the angry vocals and abrasively distorted guitars. So - just as was the case with the Load sessions - had the band simply exercised restraint and moderation with the track listing, Garage Inc. would've been a far more palatable experience.

Overall, the album is moderately enjoyable - the band handles most of the material quite well, and they've selected some quality tracks to cover. However, it's simply too much of the same for two hours straight, thus inducing boredom and apathy toward the album as a whole. Another concern is that the band's songwriting is sorely missed at times, as Metallica are vastly more talented than many of the bands they pay homage to here.

As a whole then, the album is decent, but severely marred by the defects I've mentioned. Garage Inc. simply doesn't sustain listner interest for a full two hours, a problem that could easily have been rectified either with a more diverse selection of covers, more diverse arrangements for the songs, or a simple trimming of the runtime.

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Posted: Tuesday 2nd Apr 2019 9:52 AM

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album review
After a prolonged hiatus that had many fans believing that the band had been irrevocably dissolved, Metallica re-emerged with the 75-minute behemoth St. Anger.

In a rather transparent effort to recapture their original fanbase, the band - with considerable volume and regularity - broadcast that the album was a return to their roots, touting it as a reversion to their thrash/metal glory days with all that entails, from myriad creative riffs to multi-part epics, to complex instrumental passages, to attempts to make meaningful artistic statements.

Unfortunately, Metallica hadn't even come close to fulfilling the expectations created by such claims for decades, rendering such promises rather empty and meaningless. By this stage in their careers the band were incapable of crafting an album that could achieve even a single one of the goals that they ill-advisedly set for themselves, and so the ensuing album not only fails with regards to backing up their reckless promises, but likewise fails on nearly every other level as well, easily making St. Anger the nadir of their career.

Jason Newsted quit the band prior to the recording of this album, thus St. Anger features the band's third bassist, though his playing is difficult to discern given the basswork is nearly inaudible due to an abysmal production that the band felt would help engender a live-in-the-studio feel.

Another casualty of the album's noxious production is Ulrich's drumming. For some unknown reason one of his drums releases a metallic clang whenever it's struck, and for reasons that elude me even further Ulrich strikes that drum on a very frequent basis, often with such reckless abandon that the sound of the album becomes akin to an amateurish industrial band jamming in some abandoned warehouse.

So the production is a very difficult obstacle to get past, but even if listeners successfully overcome that they'd find limited rewards for their perseverance, as the songwriting itself is simply awful, further exacerbated by the band's worst lyrics to date (which is certainly saying a lot). The lyrics are uniformly cringe inducing, perhaps good for some unintentional humor but little else.

"Frantic" - while far from a Heavy Metal classic - is easily the best cut on the album, with some ferocious riffage, effective interweaving sections, and some catchy (if horrifically moronic) vocal hooks. It's hard not to wince at lines like my lifestyle determines my deathstyle and frantic Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tock, and they aren't even candidates for the worst lyrics on the album, so one must adjust to the band's idiocy before even contemplating braving the remainder of the album.

Nearly every track is abominable, with a pronounced dearth of creative riffs (most of them are far too familiar and predictable) and few catchy vocal melodies, further exacerbated by the horrendous production that makes every instrument dissolve into another to the point where attentive listening becomes an invitation for a headache.

The band wanted the album to sound raw and savage, and they succeeded. They wanted to return to Thrash dynamics, and in that department they succeeded as well. But such factors alone are insufficient to craft a good album, a fact that nearly every track is testament to.

Were it not for the guilty pleasure (a term I'd never use to describe any of the band's classic work) of the viscerally effective and somewhat cleverly constructed "Frantic", my overall rating would be even lower, as the album truly has little to no redeeming value, with melodies that are atrocious to nonexistent, primitive and drab riffs, lyrics that transcend the term awful, and a production that infinitely compounds every single one of the many defects, coming together to produce a Heavy Metal debacle, easily Metallica's worst outing and a terrible album by any standard.

Worst of all is the album's length. Sadistically enough, Metallica felt compelled to protract the listener's suffering for as long as possible. As mentioned, the album clocks in at around 75 minutes, and - as there are only eleven tracks - each song is elongated to hideous proportions, making sitting through the whole thing a truly chthonic ordeal. While moderation could hardly have saved the album, it could certainly have diluted the extent of the listener's suffering.

The band also seem to have only a loose grasp on the purpose of multi-part songs ... generally, multi-part tracks are designed so that a song never gets repetitive, constantly shifting to a new section just as the listener grows weary of the previous one. However, by repeating every single section of every single song over and over again it completely negates the reason for having so many disparate sections, as the listener inevitably grows weary of every section and still be subjected to the same ones over and over again, as if Metallica subscribed to the erroneous notion that a section will feel fresh and exciting if it's temporarily replaced with another section, only to return moments later.

Thus St. Anger is flawed beyond all imagination, an album far worse than I would have felt Metallica capable of producing. At the end of "Frantic" I'm invariably tempted to press the stop button and save myself from the infernal aural avalanche of the rest of the album. I've only persevered with the trauma for the purpose of this review.

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Posted: Wednesday 24th Apr 2019 10:06 AM

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