Metallica’s 2003 release St. Anger is arguably one of, if not the most debated albums of all time. Is it a good album? Is it awful? Is it a good album but not a good Metallica album? Is the snare terrible or a mark of genius? These are all questions I’ve had to ask myself over the years and I’m still undecided on St. Anger. ‘Frantic’ is an absolute tune and a song I will defend to the death. But last year one group of musicians took it further; they re-recorded St. Anger with a cleaner production and made something great. Some people even commented saying it was better than the original! To get to the bottom of this internet phenomenon, I spoke to guitarist Daryl Gardener from the project about the monumental task he undertook of recreating St. Anger.
Jack: Hello there, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you doing?
Daryl Gardner (Guitar): Not a problem, thanks for reaching out. I’m very well thank you.
Jack: So when did you first discover Metallica, what was the first song or album you heard?
Daryl: I think like most people of my age it was ‘Enter Sandman.’ It used to get played (and played) on Scuzz whenever I tuned into the channel, and from there I started to listen to their older material as I had a friend who was massively into them.
Jack: What makes Metallica still relevant and appealing 33 years after their debut?
Daryl: I think they are one of the only mainstream bands who just don’t give a fuck about record sales. They had mainstream critical success with the Black Album, and instead of just making a part two, they decided to develop into an alternative rock outfit with Load and ReLoad. Some fans went against them, but I think these kinds of risks are why Metallica are still relevant.
Jack: Have you ever seen them live?
Daryl: I actually haven’t. Usually money related. I have always wanted to though so will make sure I do when they tour Hardwired.
Jack: What were your first thoughts on St. Anger when you heard it?
Daryl: Most people don’t believe me but I absolutely loved it. I was 13 when the album was released, so I was in the middle of my awkward nu-metal phase, so anything loud and heavy, I loved. I still think St. Anger’s main riff is one of the heaviest metal riffs of all time.
Jack: Do you think it is a good album?
Daryl: I think it’s good that a band who were considered mainstream (and going through so much at the time, as documented in “Some Kind of Monster”) could release an album without a single commercial moment and such different production. It’s a unique album for sure.
Jack: One of the main criticisms was the snare, would you say this is the main ‘issue’?
Daryl: I liked the snare! I’d never heard anything like it before, but I can understand why many people didn’t. I think that they went for ‘raw’ and over shot it a bit, but if you have seen the DVD that came with St. Anger on release (showing the band playing the album in it’s entirety), the songs have so much energy and power, and it’s really, really heavy, with a regular snare!
Jack: Why did you decide to re-record St. Anger?
Daryl: So many people hated on the album, just because of the snare. The original idea was to digitally replace the snare hit across the record, but that turned into an impossible task. So we just thought, “let’s re-record the whole damn thing!” I was yet to see an album be covered in it’s entirety before, and I wanted people to judge St. Anger based off the songs, not just the production.
Jack: The re-recording was done with Chris D. (from Grace The Skies) and Dave C. (of Adust). How did you all meet?
Daryl: I’ve known Chris since school, and we have worked together musically for years and years. He was the vocalist in our band Grace The Skies, and also produced both of our albums. He didn’t really have a choice on this one [laughs] I just said “I have an idea, and I reckon you can make it work.” With Dave, I met him when I started working at GuitarGuitar Birmingham. We were both massive Metallica fans and dropped the idea to him, as I knew he was a vocalist previously in a few thrash metal bands. The first time we pressed record we were shocked at just how much he sounded like Hetfield! We knew then and there that we were onto something special.
Jack: Was it hard reworking the songs?
Daryl: Not as hard as editing the video to be honest. I usually play in drop tunings, so of all the Metallica albums for me to cover, this was by far the easiest to get to grips with. I’m also a rhythm player, so no solos! [Laughs]
Jack: When you reworked the album, it was shortened by 16 minutes. Why did the finished product end up shorter?
Daryl: We removed some of the riff repeats, and also upped the tempo slightly (to a click this time as well) on the majority of the tracks. The only riff section that isn’t included is the last 3 minutes of ‘All Within My Hands.’
Jack: The response to the album was huge; some commentators have said it is better than the original. It has been viewed half a million times and has been shared by websites such as Metal Sucks, did you expect this?
Daryl: Not at all! I was expecting 10k first month at best. It was a great achievement and made the hard work feel worthwhile. We were internet famous for a week! [laughs] I’m glad Metallica fans shared the same vision as me and can appreciate St. Anger in a new light. I still think the original is better though, I mean, c’mon, it’s Metallica! [laughs]
Jack: Why did you record mono and stereo versions of the album?
Daryl: [Laughs] It wasn’t intentional! I still have sleepless nights about it. It was an error with the original export, but I didn’t realise until the video had already started to go viral. I started seeing a lot of “why is it mono?” comments, so I played the video with headphones, and they were right. So I frantically exported it again with different settings, but by the time it was uploaded the mono version had over 600,000 hits, so decided to keep both versions up. It’s a shame but things like this can happen when you are working with no budget.
Jack: Have you ever been contacted by Metallica or their management regarding this album?
Daryl: I reached out to them (Q-Prime) initially, who granted me permission to release the project, as long as no money was involved, which was fine as making money from this was never our intention. Since then I did hear rumours that the band had heard it and liked it, but nothing since unfortunately.
Jack: Have you ever performed it live or plan to?
Daryl: Budget constraints and time just wouldn’t allow us to do it unfortunately. I can dream that Metallica call us up to support them in the UK next year, but I seriously doubt it [laughs].
Jack: Did you like their new song ‘Hardwired’?
Daryl: Loved it. Felt like a natural progression from Death Magnetic, and hopefully the album continues in a similar vein.
Jack: What other bands do you play in?
Daryl: I’m not currently in a band, but I was the guitarist in Grace the Skies from 2011 until 2015. (You can actually download our entire discography for free on Bandcamp). I just play guitar for fun now when I have time.
Jack: What do you do outside of music or is music your life?
Daryl: My day job is a video editor, so I do a lot of corporate videos for councils and promotional work for businesses. I also film the news for a local TV channel. I’ll be honest, I don’t get much time to really play guitar, and I don’t even own a drum kit! I’d love music to be my life, but it doesn’t cover the rent unfortunately.
Jack: Are there any plans for any more reworking of Metallica albums or is this the end for now for your Metallica related activities?
Daryl: At the moment, I have no other plans. The success of the project did make me want to do a compilation album of other Metallica songs with modern production, but I can’t make a penny from this work, so I have to be realistic and cover bills. If I suddenly have a bit of free time, I might give it a go, but no promises.
Jack: Finally, what is the best Metallica album?
Daryl: “…And Justice for All”.