Published Jul 21, 2020Even 17 years after Metallica released St. Anger, the hollow, ringing snare tone that dominates the band's eighth studio album still prompts listeners to wonder, 'what were they thinking?' The particular sound has been likened to a trash can in myriad memes, but producer Bob Rock now says it means much more outside of a listening environment.
Rock recalled his time working with Metallica in a recent appearance on Tone Talk, and was asked about some of louder gripes about St. Anger, including the snare tone and a lack of guitar solos. After noting that he was "fine" with the drum tone, the Canadian reflected on how Metallica sought to capture a rougher, jam-like quality for the finished product, similar to the feel of demos recorded for the album.
"We went to their clubhouse; we were in San Francisco, we went to their Oakland place where they rehearsed with Cliff [Burton]," Rock recalled. And we had a great time, and Lars told me about his drums, how they were set up in a certain place."
Rock would then try to shake things in the name of inspiration through getting the drummer to rearrange his kit. "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," Rock explained.
"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,'" Rock recalled. "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?'"
Speaking with Rhythm magazine in 2004, Ulrich said of the drum sound, "One day I forgot to turn the snare on because I wasn't thinking about this stuff. At the playbacks, I decided I was really liking what I was hearing — it had a different ambience. It sang back to me a in a beautiful way. It just felt totally natural."
Rock continued, "So basically, we did a demo, and I used two [Shure SM] 58s [microphones], 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."
The producer clarified he was not piling on Ulrich, adding, "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."
"I'm okay with all the flak I've taken," Rock reiterated. "It's a fucking snare drum sound, give it a break."
He added: "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?' 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 [Hammett], go ahead, and it just never worked."
You can catch Rock's complete appearance on Tone Talk below.
Metallica recently detailed their S&M² box set, and may even get around to recording new music sooner than later. Their most recent studio album remains 2016's Hardwired…To Self-Destruct.