Metallica’s 1988 album “…And Justice for All” marked a major turning point for the group. It was the last of their albums to feature tricky, progressive arrangements for many, many years, and the first full-length album to feature new bassist Jason Newsted.
Newsted had replaced original bassist Cliff Burton, who died in a tour bus accident in 1986. His first official recording with the group was 1987’s “Garage Days Re-Revisited,” an EP featuring five cover songs. But “…And Justice for All” was his first full-length effort with the group, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher.
Opinion was split upon its release, mostly due to its mix. The bass was 100% inaudible, hopelessly buried under a sea of rhythm guitars and trebly, clicky drums that sounded like a novice gourmand fumbling unsuccessfully with his first pair of chopsticks.
One group of fans proclaimed the album brilliant. A masterpiece. The other group, which includes me, was devastated by how bad it was and has never gotten over it.
Metallica was a personal thing for me, almost “first girlfriend” level stuff. A friend of mine had turned me on to them in college, and it stuck. Hard. I went on a mission to make everyone I knew listen to them, with the furor and intensity of a Jehovah’s Witness. At my wedding, my best man mentioned this in his speech. If anyone was ready to approach this new record with blinders on and declare it brilliant, no matter what it sounded like, it was me.
My college friend and I bought the record the day it came out, immediately went back to his dorm room and listened to the entire thing. We tried really, really hard to consider its positives, look at the virtuosic playing and declare it a masterpiece, but we couldn’t. It was shit, and we both knew it, and there was no looking one another in the eye and pretending otherwise.
Every so often I would go back to the record and listen to it again, hoping this would be the time that I got it, thereby opening the way for countless enjoyable sessions with its grooves. But no matter what I did, it never worked. I turned up the bass. I played it super fucking loud. I played it quietly. It just always sounded wrong, incomplete, and I could never get past it, to this day.
I’m not alone in my feelings. Some fans have taken it upon themselves to overdub their own bass playing onto a copy of the record and upload the results to YouTube. Music discussion boards have been plagued for years with fans asking if the album will ever be remixed, thereby setting free the brilliance within and unlocking its great potential.
Singer and guitarist James Hetfield has already nixed this idea, but that hasn’t stopped the band’s followers (who buy Metallica’s records even though the band hasn’t made anything good since 1986), from hoping against hope that this sorry state of affairs will be made right. It never will, but you have to admire their refusal to accept reality.
Taken on its own, as is, and putting aside the issue of the mix, there is probably 20 minutes of good music on this album, although there is no single song that’s solid all the way through. Part of the problem it’s the album’s length. It features nine songs at 65 minutes, meaning the average song is about seven minutes long.
The length is due entirely to utterly unnecessary padding and an insistence that every riff be played sixteen times instead of twice. If the group had used a producer with a sharp knife and an ear for song craft, all the unnecessary stuff would have been tossed into the garbage can where it belongs. But the length-for-length’s-sake stuff made the final cut, so it’s there for better or worse.
It’s difficult to give a quick breakdown of the good and bad songs, since every song has some good ideas in it, but none can actually be listened to from start to finish without experiencing an overwhelming need to look at your watch a couple of times. The songs that fare the best are the first four, and the album becomes gradually less and less interesting after that.
You don’t so much finish listening to “…And Justice for All” as you end it like an unpleasant chore, like polishing all the silverware or cleaning toilets. The appropriate response to getting through it is probably to kick off your shoes, crack open a beer and listen to “Ride the Lightning.”
You don’t so much finish listening to “…And Justice for All” as you end it like an unpleasant chore, like polishing all the silverware or cleaning toilets.