In 1988, Metallica released their fourth album, the perplexing, tinny, fantastic …And Justice for All. Although many remain sore over the album’s less-than-thick production sound and feel that the songs are more complicated than they need to be, we remain firmly of the belief that Justice is a masterpiece. Decibel‘s J. Bennett inducted the album into our Hall of Fame back in our December 2008 issue (which, if you don’t have it, you’re out of luck, as it’s sold out); for no good reason other than it’s always time for some Justice, we decided to spend a bit more time with the album and go through it track by track, from the worst song to the best.
9. The Frayed Ends of Sanity
You know why this is here at the bottom of this list? Because of that stupid The Wizard of Oz chant at the beginning. Hated it then, hate it now. It does provide a bit of much-needed levity to a very serious album, I suppose, but it’s still super embarrassing whenever it comes on. That aside, I enjoy the maze-like song structure, the cool lyrics and vocal delivery, and the go-go-go! attitude that comes across in the playing. Not to mention this song, like so many others here, has a truly great chorus; I just think the chant is lame. So, back to the back for this one.
8. The Shortest Straw
It’s not easy to put any song from Justice down low on any list, but because something’s gotta be here, it’s “The Shortest Straw,” which still totally rules, and talk about a catchy chorus; man, this one’s been stuck in all our heads for decades now. There’s maybe a slight tinge of wanting something more when this cool thrasher ends, so, sure, number 8 it is. But that’s a hell of a number 8.
7. To Live Is to Die
This is a great song, and, for obvious reasons, is an emotional listen for Metallica fans. Sometimes, this song sneaks a bit higher up on the list, but it’s difficult for an almost-10-minute almost-instrumental to compete with some of the other songs here. Still, tons of kudos to the band for holding an audience’s interest through a very intense, very advanced listen, Metallica fully up to the task, paying tribute to fallen brother Cliff Burton along the way.
6. Dyers Eve
This album ends off with this fantastic thrasher, featuring the album’s most intense lyrical and vocal delivery, the song a definite spiritual brother to “Battery” and “Damage, Inc.” A great, refreshingly simple, way to close off this most not-simple of records. Plus, it’s really awesome when Hetfield swears.
5. Harvester of Sorrow
This song should really be higher up than number 5, because it’s absolutely amazing. However, look at the songs in the first four positions here; pretty hard to slide in there among the classics that make up the first half of this album. So, here we have it, “Harvester of Sorrow” sitting at a very solid number 4, the song standing out a bit on this album because of its simple, plodding delivery, and that’s a good thing: it provides some breathing room in a very intense, difficult album. It’s a hell of a chorus, a hell of a riff-fest, and a hell of a well-composed song (I’m going to say this a few times: this album does not get the credit it deserves for its songwriting, which is actually pretty great).
4. Eye of the Beholder
Admit it: when that first snare hit comes in at 0:33, it still makes you feel like a giddy, pre-pubescent boy every single time, right? (Uh, right?) Because you know what’s about to happen: those riffs, the kinda-goofy-but-kinda-fuck-yeah lyrics, and a fun, gotta-admit-he-nailed-it drum performance from Ulrich. And for all of the complaints that there’s no damn songs on this album, I say, no, not true: “Eye of the Beholder” is a song, and it’s damn well-written song at that, the various parts of it building and creating a mood, not just running in circles.
There’s no way around it: “One” is an incredibly written song, the band utilizing more or less the same framework as their other popular/not-popular ballads from their previous two albums with much success. And the double bass part, the part that none of us can separate from being gunfire thanks to the incredibly depressing music video that the band released for this song, still rules, on its own and because it’s bringing the song up, up, up to a place that is nowhere near ballad, and is instead suddenly Slayer. Man, “One” rules.
2. …And Justice for All
For all of this album’s—and this song’s—issues with getting lost in the labyrinth of itself, there’s no denying that it still rules. And the title track is perhaps the best example of what Metallica were doing here: exploring the limits of what they were capable of as players and songwriters. It’s a beast, but at every twist and turn is an awesome riff, and one of Hetfield’s best vocal performances, too. The “1, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4” part is pushing it, but, damn, we’ll let it slide; this song is just utterly massive, feels totally important, and is a ton of fun to listen to, always.
An absolute classic of an album opener, “Blackened” races past with an alarming amount of bite. With just a bit of the album’s imposing technicality and a whole lot of Puppets-era dark thrash attack, the song is a true Metallica classic, the lyrics grim, the band frantic and red hot. In a sense, it lacks some of the dynamics of other songs on this album’s first half, but it makes up for it with sheer energy, force, and confidence. This is the sound of a band very, very comfortable with what they’re doing, which just happens to be kicking off one of the greatest thrash metal albums of all time.