Retro review: Metallica - ...And Justice for All (1988)
Album: "...And Justice for All"
Style: Thrash/heavy metal
Release date: 1988-08-25
Origin: US of A
2. ...And Justice for All
3. Eye of the Beholder
5. The Shortest Straw
6. Harvester of Sorrow
7. The Frayed Ends of Sanity
8. To Live is to Die
9. Dyers Eve
The fourth full-length album from Metallica is more or less known for three things:
1. The first album without bass-maestro Cliff Burton and thus, the first album without the "classic" line-up.
2. The absence of bass and it's overall clinical sound.
3. The long, intricate and - by some considered - boring parts in the music.
Since #1 is something that by no means could've had a different outcome on Justice (well, one could argue that had the band decided to skip touring for "Master of Puppets", Cliff would've been alive today, but let's not go there shall we?), I shall look into #2 and #3 a bit further instead.
Regarding the sound, I think it's no secret that producer Flemming Rasmussen was asked by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich to "take the bass down so you can just hear it, and then once you’ve done that take it down a further 3dBs". The "blame" is to put solely on Metallica's dynamic duo as newcomer Jason Newsted obviously never had anything to say about anything and Kirk Hammett has always been Kirk - just playing what he's told and never questioned anything either. Now I wrote the word "blame" in quotes since I'm not sure whether someone actually should be blamed for it. In 1988, there weren't many albums (if any) that sounded like Justice at all and props should be given to the band for at least trying something different, even if their intentions with the sound was frustration from Burtons untimely demise - one can only guess. Nevertheless, the record sounds cold, bleak and sterile which in my opinion only enhances the negativity in the lyrical theme of injustice and even though I wish I could've heard the bass better, having heard this album so many times over the years, I cannot honestly say that a "warmer" sound more akin to it's predecessor would make it better today. But to be honest, I think that some songs could benefit from a warmer sound. Namely those tracks that are slower and focuses more on heaviness and less on speed - I am mainly talking about "Eye of the Beholder" and "Harvester of Sorrow". All-in-all, I think the sound on Justice doesn't hurt it too much in the end. I mean, it's what we got and in the end it has to do with what the songs mediate and how well they are crafted. Which brings us to the third point of the album.
I understand those saying that some of the songs drag on and on without any point or purpose but I don't necessarily agree. There are songs that have certain parts that drag and at times feels aimless, but those parts aren't very long and they're nowhere near the excess in songwriting that Metallica later would persist having on both "St. Anger" and "Death Magnetic" as well on "Hardwired...to Self-Destruct". Anyway, I will go further into these details as I go through the songs, one by one.
Things begin with "Blackened" - a fast-paced and aggressive opener that - as opposed to it's two predecessors - manages to flesh things out more than "Fight Fire With Fire" did and to be more interesting than "Battery". It is a monster of a song and even though it's gotten it's fair share of love during the years, I feel that it's vastly overlooked and I would even go as far as calling it one of my all-time Metallica-favourites and should respectfully be considered a "true classic" in the same vein as "Creeping Death" and "Master of Puppets". The title-track follows and it's 09:47 minutes is in all honesty a bit too long for it's own good, even though I like the song with it's - for Metallica - odd changes. 2-3 minutes peeled off would probably make the song a lot tighter. "Eye of the Beholder" is only 06:30 long but while the riffs are okay, they're just repeated endlessly which ultimately makes the entire song quite boring to listen to. It feels about 5 minutes too long and I sincerly wish those riffs (especially the verses) would've been saved for a more interesting song. This one could easily be skipped. "One" is without a doubt the most famous song off Justice and it's easy to understand why. It's dynamic shifts between soft and subtle and aggressive and in-your-face is a wonder to listen to. Then add some phenomenal lyrics and it feels like those 07:27 minutes just pass by under a minute. A Metallica-classic if there ever was one.
The second half (at least on vinyl) begins with "The Shortest Straw". It is another fast-paced song that shows no mercy. The chorus is stellar and I have nothing to complain about when it comes to the song-length. But then it comes, the atrocity that is "Harvester of Sorrow"... For some weird reason, this song is considered a semi-classic and many people seem to think that's it's one of the stand-out tracks on Justice. To me, it's 05:44 minutes of pure boredom and the album would definitely have been improved had this song been cut out altogether. It's pointless and tedious and this one definitely drags despite it's short playing time. "The Frayed Ends of Sanity" is 07:44 long and together with the title track, this one could benefit from some trimming. I like it for the mid-tempo oddity that it is, but maybe three verses is just one too much. Yeah, I think so. "To Live is to Die" is an (almost) instrumental track that runs for 09:49 and that is most definitely a running time that's overstayed. Still, I enjoy this one way more than I enjoy it's instrumental counterparts "The Call of Ktulu" and "Orion" from "Ride the Lightning" and "Master of Puppets" respectively. It's heavier and more interesting IMO. The conclusion of the album is called "Dyers Eve" and it's a thrash-fest extravaganza and also the shortest song present here. Nothing to complain about there.
So what can I say? Does the odd production-job harm the album? I cannot lie, I have to answer yes to this question. Mind you, the production is not awful as some people will have you think - it's just different and it does not suit the music 100% at all times. The album feels dark, depressive and angry, which it obviously should considering the death of Burton. Lyrically, I feel it's Metallica's best work ever, ranging from pollution, social injustice, madness, death and the ever-present topic of war. Granted, it is a bit too long for it's own good but don't let people fool you into thinking that it's the same or worse than "Death Magnetic" and/or "Hardwired...to Self-Destruct" - where no quality control regarding song-lengths was present. It may not be as good as "Ride the Lightning" and "Master of Puppets" but it's far more superior than the rest of the band's discography.