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Metallica, ‘St. Anger’ (Elektra)

It’s been a tumultuous three years since the last new Metallica song–the Mission: Impossible 2 hit “I Disappear.” The metal pioneers have (1) pissed off their fans by suing Napster, (2)parted ways with bassist Jason Newsted, and (3) rendered thousands of vintage “Alcoholica” T-shirts obsolete by packing frontman James Hetfield off to rehab. For the first time in ages, Metallica look like underdogs. Advance word on St. Anger, their eighth studio album, promised a re-dedication to the blitzkrieg tempos and unfettered rage of their youth.

And that’s exactly what they deliver on the overpowering title track, which borrows lyrics from the Master of Puppetsclassic “Damage, Inc.” “Fuck it all and fucking no regrets” was a menacing enough line in 1986; that Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich are resurrecting it as they stare down 40 is proof that they mean business. This is Metallica stripped to the core: no Bob Seger covers, no string section, and–what in the name of Michael Schenker?–no guitar solos.

So what’s left? Personal demons, for starters. Hetfield grimly recounts his battle with the bottle on “Frantic,” and “All Within My Hands” hitches towering paranoia to agonized feedback. The band’s antagonistic Misfits/Motörhead influence hasn’t been this pronounced since the death of original bassist Cliff Burton: St. Anger’s brute force should redeem producer Bob Rock, oft-vilified for defanging Metallica’s sound on their last few records. Only the somber confessional “Unnamed Feeling” recalls the band’s ’90s commercial bent. Otherwise, this is the album Metallica lifers have been waiting for: an inspired return to the complex savagery of old.