Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:15 April 2022
One of the most popular and successful metal bands of all time, Metallica had a decidedly mixed year in 1986. On the plus side, their third album—Master Of Puppets—was a huge commercial success, spending over seventy weeks on the US charts despite limited radio airplay. The subsequent tour was received extremely well, but led to the worst possible setback, the death of a band member.
Bass player Cliff Burton died in a tour bus crash in Sweden, leaving the surviving band members traumatised and Metallica’s future uncertain. Much reflection followed, including conversations with Burton’s family. The band decided to continue and extensive auditions were conducted to find a replacement; the gig eventually went to Jason Newsted.
The band’s first studio album after this tragic forced change was entitled …And Justice For All, the final line of the US Pledge of Allegiance. Recording took place in the first half of 1988 with the finished album being released in September of that year. The irony of this back story is that the mix of Metallica’s fourth studio album is almost totally lacking bottom end, so the new bassist’s work is not at all easy to appreciate.
Passionate discussions about the sound of …And Justice For All started on its release and have continued ever since. Not surprisingly, the new bass player was disappointed that he was, to all intents and purposes, inaudible on his debut recording with the band. Nor was the person who mixed the album, Steve Thompson, a fan of the final sound. But Metallica’s core duo of James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich insist it was an unintended outcome. Hetfield blames bouncing from the aural assault of live performance into the studio:
"We were frigging fried… You go back into the studio, your hearing is shot. If your ears can’t hear any high end any more, you’re gonna turn it up. So we’re turning the high end up more and more and more and all of a sudden, low end’s gone."*
However the mix is viewed, whether impacted by damaged ears or unconscious grieving, the album was a triumph for Metallica. The music showed a complexity and variety of arrangement that brought new sophistication to their thrash metal sound and fitted very neatly into the emerging sub-genre of progressive metal. There are extended compositions—just two out of nine tracks are under six minutes—with shifting time signatures and tempo changes abounding.
Lyrically, the songs draw on the metal staples of conflict and war ("Blackened"), but also passionate outbursts against censorship and the importance of freedom of speech ("Eye of the beholder"). The cover, showing Justice being torn apart by rampant capitalism, meshes effectively with the song content and creates a memorable visual introduction to the record.
…And Justice For All is ambitious, complex, and is, many believe, one of the pinnacles of Metallica’s creativity. It sold pretty well too, being their first Billboard Top10 album (reaching #6) and being certified platinum just nine weeks after release. Powerful and edgy, this is a classic metal album that rewards repeated listens.
*Kerrang! August 12, 2019 Retrieved 5 April 2022.
© Bruce Jenkins 2022