This is the most difficult Metallica album I have ever listened to, and I have listened to them all more times than I care to admit. The guitar solos are gone, songs stop and start, tempos change and new riffs come out of nowhere. You do not have to be a recording engineer to recognize that James Hetfield recorded many of the vocals on his first take. Drummer Lars Ulrich sounds like he is playing drums on pots and pans in a kitchen. Worst of all, you may even hear the influence of (gasp) "nu-metal." After a first listen, I sat back and wondered what on earth I had just spent 75-plus minutes listening to.

With time and some additional spins, my liking for this album grew in leaps and bounds. Tracks like "Dirty Window," "Some Kind of Monster," "Unnamed Feeling," and "All Within My Hands" are immediate Metallica classics. Some of the songs, like the first single, "St. Anger," might go overboard in terms of length and repetitiveness. But when taken as a whole, the album is a profound statement and a new lease on life from a band that almost never lived to make another album. You do not miss the guitar solos. The ping of the snare soon fades into the background. There simply is no time to catch your breath to think about such things.

Metallica has polarized listeners since they released their second album in 1985. St. Anger - probably the most anticipated metal album in a long time - does nothing to change that. Frankly, no album they could ever release would. Time will tell if St. Anger lives on to influence a new generation of bands, but in the meantime the future of Metallica seems brighter than ever.