On the anniversary of Metallica’s St. Anger, we ask, was the snare really that bad?

Lars Ulrich on stage during St. Anger tour, 2004
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty)

Best of 2019: The making of St. Anger was a tough time for Metallica. Still fresh from battling Napster, the band entered the studio for perhaps the most difficult period in its history. 

As is well documented in the Some Kind of Monster movie, there was the exit of Jason Newstead, creative tug-of-war between James Hetfield (himself struggling with alcohol addiction and subsequent rehab) and Lars Ulrich, constant in-fighting between the members. 

Then there was Dr Phil Towle, who seemingly lost all sense of his official position of band counsellor as he started chipping in on ideas for songs.

Upon the album’s release, the metal titans suffered the backlash of fans and detractors alike - accusations of severe shark jumping as the already-dying nu-metal influences were there in spades. No guitar solos, bouncy down-tuned riffs, pseudo-nu-metal vocal flourishes. But for drummers: that snare drum.

While it’s commonly stated that Lars ‘achieved’ the sound by turning his snares off with the drum tuned up, there is some audible snap from the snares, suggesting that perhaps they weren’t completely off. Besides, as demonstrated by Danny Carey, loose snares do not a bad hard-rock snare drum sound make.

16 years on, Lars’ snare sound from St. Anger remains a heavily-criticised feature of the album, and an often-used example of a bad snare sound. However, we’re willing to wager that the snare in a different context wouldn’t have caused such outrage. It’s cranked, wide-open, dry and ringing: in other words if you close your eyes, it’s not far off Chad Smith’s snare sound.

The problem here, is this is Metallica. The band whose snare drum punches you in the face with its dead, fat, huge roomy sound. Is the St. Anger snare awful? Subjective. 

Does it sound out of context for what we’re used to from Metallica? Yes. But we think Lars gets the rough end of his signature sticks with this one, as so much of the sound is in the hands of production. 

It’s a debate that will likely never end. So for now, enjoy Cameron Fluery's cover of Frantic, featuring a bin lid mic’d up as a snare drum.  

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.