34 years ago: Metallica unleashes ‘…And Justice for All’

For three consecutive albums, Metallica triumphed by raising the bar above themselves musically and aesthetically. Kill them all set the stage with the first full-blown display of thrash metal melodies and a wild instrumental bass solo. RID the lightning upped the ante by combining speed with nuance and technicality, showcasing both Metallica’s first metal ballad “Fade to Black” and their debut instrumental “The Call of Ktulu”. Master of Puppets took the group’s songwriting to an even higher and more structurally complex plateau and featured the even more multi-textured instrumental “Orion”.

Metallica’s plan to evolve to the outside of technical thrash metal reached a peak with …And justice for allWhich one released on Sept. 7, 1988. By and large, the album was another triumph in the air—a 65-minute epic that featured the band’s most intricate arrangements, most socially conscious lyrics and most vulnerable song, “One,” which spawned their first major MTV video. The album was a hit straight out of the chute, debuting at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and went platinum nine weeks after its release. But however successful it was, …And justice for all was born of pain and strife, and its creative process was marked by tension and hostility.

When they began planning for the album, Metallica were still in doubt after the bassist’s death in 1986 Cliff Burtonand they took out their frustrations on his replacement Jason Newsted, too often treats him like a fraternity pledge. “They threw my clothes, my cassette tapes, my shoes out the window,” Newsted said Enter night by Mick Wall. “Shaving cream all over the mirrors, toothpaste everywhere, just destruction. They’re running out the door, ‘Welcome to the band, dude!’ I was definitely frustrated, tired and feeling a little sick. I didn’t sleep properly for three months after joining Metallica.”

“There was a lot of sadness that was left despite Jason,” frontman James Hetfield added. “…You could argue that we didn’t give [Jason] a fair shot. But we weren’t able to either because we were 22 years old and we didn’t know how to handle things… other than jump to the bottom of a vodka bottle and stay there for years.”

Metallica, “Blackened”

Despite the tension, Metallica began to work on songwriting as a full band, and Newsted came up with the main riff for the opening cut “Blackened”. But he quickly faded into the background, leaving Hetfield and Lars Ulrich to compose the bulk of the new material. “We were waiting for Jason to write some big, epic stuff, but it never came,” guitarist Kirk Hammett said in Nursery school Metallica dead. “It was great that he was there and he was enthusiastic, but he didn’t make any big contributions.”

Hetfield and Ulrich worked on …And justice for all in Ulrich’s damp, smelly garage on Carlson Boulevard in El Cerrito, California. Rather than striving to lock into a groove for each song and ride it out, the band tried to incorporate as many riffs and tempo changes into the songs as possible, forcing Hetfield to plot the structures of the songs on written charts. Using the band’s tried and true formula, the guitarist came up with most of the riffs, and Ulrich helped pull them together into a cohesive form.

Metallica, “One”

Guitarist Kirk Hammett contributed to five songs, but only after the bulk of the structures were written, and he played all the solos on the album, but none of the rhythms. The band paid tribute to the late Cliff Burton by using some of his ideas in the nearly 10-minute instrumental “To Live Is To Die”, and Hetfield based “One” on a conversation he and Burton once had about a returning soldier home from war as a deaf and blind quadriplegic who could not communicate but whose mental capacities were intact.

With nine songs demoed in late 1997, Metallica entered One on One Studios in North Hollywood, California, in January 1998 to begin tracking with producer Mike Clink, who had worked on Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for destruction. While Clink received engineering credits on “The Shortest Straw” and “Harvester of Sorrow”, it soon became clear that his working style clashed with Metallica’s and the producer was sent packing. “We realized that working with Clink wasn’t working,” Ulrich said Nursery school Metallica dead. “[He] was a super nice guy [but the] the vibe just wasn’t happening.”

Metallica, “Harvester of Sorrow”

With recourse to contingency plans, Metallica flew to the Danish producer Flemming Rasmussen, who had produced RID the lightning and Master of Puppets. At first, Rasmussen worked with the band between 12 and 14 hours a day, starting at 11 in the morning. Still, Metallica were ambitious and prolific, and were able to track down most of the parts for the songs in less than three months. Towards the end of the session, engineer Toby Wright spent a single day working with Newsted on bass lines for the songs.

As complicated as the rhythms were, the bassist had practiced along with tapes of the songs and was able to quickly knock out all his parts. But isolated from the rest of the band, and even Rasmussen, Newsted felt he was being left out of the process. “My situation was very awkward,” he said Nursery school Metallica dead. “We started with ‘Blackened’ because that’s the one I know best. The rest of the songs were like a double-black diamond difficulty in terms of technical requirements. I wasn’t used to having 14 or 18 parts to a song, but I was ready for it.”

While Newsted’s parts to …And justice for all were loud and clear when the band finished tracking, somehow they were rejected during mixing to the point where they are barely audible on record. There are several theories as to why the bass was so low in the mix. Some have speculated that Hetfield and Ulrich deliberately turned it down as part of Newsted’s obscurity, others surmised that the songs were so dense with guitars that they would have sounded muddy and messy if the bass had been louder. Then there are those who blame the producers and engineers for the album’s crisp, crunchy sound.

Rasmussen, who did not mix the record, says it sounded full and dynamic when he recorded it, blaming the omission of low-end sounds on mixers Steve Thompson and Steven Barbiero, who worked on the album in May 1988, after the producer had already flown back to Denmark. Rasmussen suggested to Sound on Sound that Thompson and Barbiero use the close mics on the mix and not the room mics, giving the album a thin, bass-less sound. Thompson later recounted One on one with Mitch LaFon that Ulrich was solely responsible for setting the levels of the instruments during the mix and making Newsted’s parts inaudible. The drummer says that if that’s the case, it wasn’t on purpose.

“It wasn’t, ‘F–k this guy – let’s turn down his bass,'” the drummer said in Nursery school Metallica dead. “It was more like, ‘We’re mixing, so let’s pat ourselves on the back and turn up the rhythms and drums.’ But we kept turning up everything else until the bass disappeared.”

Regarding the situation, Newsted told Loudwire in 2013, “Historically, [the album] stands up over time. Maybe not the mix, but the songs do. The other day… a kid comes up and gives me ‘…And Jason for All.’ He has remixed the bass tracks back into ‘Justice’. … He said, ‘Dude, this is for you, the way it should be.’ I think how it was meant to be is how it came out and how it left its mark on the world.”

The absence of bass has not been the big blow too …And justice for all, which remains Metallica’s second best-selling album. The album charted for 83 consecutive weeks after its release, and on July 19, 1989, went double platinum. Sales escalated consistently, and on June 9, 2003, the record was certified eight times platinum.

As immensely popular as it was, …And justice for all marked a crucial turning point for Metallica. Playing the songs on tour required intense concentration, and when Metallica were ready to start writing their next album, they were determined to make songs with more groove and less musical acrobatics. They stopped trying to be masters of prog-thrash and sought inspiration in the straightforward, simple songwriting of AC/DCthat Misadjustments, Black Sabbath and The Rolling Stones. And the seeds off Black album was planted.

Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legendsco-author of Louder Than Hell: Metal’s Definitive Oral Historyas well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthraxand Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, The Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.

Metallica Mixer Steve Thompson explains lack of bass on …And justice for all in 2017

Jason Newsted reflects on …And justice for all in 2013

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