One of the most divisive pieces in the Metallica music universe is their album, St. Anger. In particular, many feel that Lars Ulrich’s drum parts on the album leave something to be desired.
In a recent appearance on YouTube program ‘Tone-Talk,’ St. Anger producer Bob Rock shed some light on the album’s sound. Telling hosts David Friedman and Marc Huzansky that he is “fine with that [sound],” he proceeds to relate an “interesting” story about how Ulrich’s choice of drums came to be. He says (as transcribed by Ultimate Guitar),
“While we were doing that [Record], 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 58s, 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.”
Rock later compared the album to U2’s Achtung Baby for its “throw out the rulebook” mentality. He continues,
“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.”
St. Anger was released in 2003. The band’s eighth studio album, it was the band’s last with Rock as producer, who had been working with them since 1990. Despite its critiques, the album still managed to reach number one on charts all over the world and has been certified gold and platinum multiple times.
The full ‘Tone-Talk’ episode with Bob Rock can be viewed below: