DB HOF NO. 46
The making of Metallica’s “… And Justice for All”
released: August 25, 1988
Many will cry sacrilege, but we’re gonna say it anyway: …And Justice for All is Metallica’s finest hour. Before the bitching and moaning begins, here’s a quick look at Justice by the numbers: nine songs, 65 ½ minutes, a bazillion parts per song, and No Fucking Bass. Released on August 25, 1988 (a date immortalized in song by Dillinger Escape Plan’s “8.25.88”), …And Justice for All was Metallica’s first full-length with bassist Jason Newsted, who had stepped in for the dearly departed Cliff Burton in 1986. All kinds of people will make all kinds of arguments for 1983’s Kill ’Em All, 1984’s Ride the Lightning and 1986’s Master of Puppets—especially Master of Puppets—but many of those arguments are based upon the faulty assumptions that Justice a) would have had audible bass lines if Burton had played them, and b) could have somehow been a better album if he were alive. But the fact is that Burton couldn’t have played on …And Justice for All no matter how much anyone—including Metallica vocalist/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett—may have wanted him to. In a way, Burton’s absence confirms Justice’s supremacy in Metallica’s canon: Because Newsted’s tracks were all but nonexistent on the album, Metallica essentially proved that they didn’t actually need a bass player.
Whatever the case, Justice remains Metallica’s most complex and progressive album to date, a monolithic mid-range juggernaut that produced the band’s first single (“One”) and, arguably, their fastest song, like, ever (“Dyers Eve”). Lyrically, Hetfield was on top of his game, writing viciously efficient and prescient lyrics about the failings of the legal system (the title track), the loss of freedom and civil liberties (“Eye of the Beholder”) and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Combined with the album’s savagely precise riffery and bottomless power grooves, the overall effect is like a battery of machine guns spitting serrated razor blades through the listener’s face. Metallica began the Justice sessions at One on One studios in Los Angeles with Mike Clink, who was enjoying nascent superstardom as the producer of Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. After recording a pair of covers with Clink, the band ended up calling in Flemming Rasmussen, the Danish producer who had worked on Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. What happened immediately before, during and after is henceforth committed to Decibel’s Hall of Fame.
—J. Bennett (with additional reporting by David Fricke)
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