AWESOME ALBUMS #3: Metallica – …And Justice for All (1988)

Who made it?: Metallica, Flemming Rasmussen (Producers); Elektra, Vertigo.

Who’s on it?: James Hetfield (Vocals/Rhythm Guitar); Lars Ulrich (Drums); Kirk Hammett (Lead Guitar): Jason Newsted (Bass Guitar).

Recorded at: One on One Studios, Los Angeles, California.

Release date: August 25, 1988.

  1. Blackened (6:40)
  2. …And Justice for All (9:44)
  3. Eye of the Beholder (6:25)
  4. One (7:24)
  5. The Shortest Straw (6:35)
  6. Harvester of Sorrow (5:42)
  7. The Frayed Ends of Sanity (7:49)
  8. To Live is to Die (9:48)
  9. Dyers Eve (5:12)

If there is a classic Metallica album, or any 80’s record for that matter, that could be considered contemporary with modern-day social issues, then it is …And Justice for All. The message behind this album is radical and an alternative view on liberty and freedom in the United States and Western democratic civilisation as a whole. The album cover depicts an eroding Lady Justice being pulled down by ropes, with her scales over-filled with American dollars and the words …And Justice for All “spray-painted” in the corner. The album title is of course the finishing line from the Declaration of Independence, but used here in a mocking tone.

Metallica is a band of extremes (the words of drummer Lars Ulrich), and if they just made this album to be controversial, they did an extraordinary job with the social commentary. However, despite the message behind ...And Justice for All,  it received mixed reaction from fans at the time. One reason is the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton in 1986. Many felt that Metallica wouldn’t be able to continue, but they did, hiring bassist and fan Jason Newsted as his replacement.

Newsted got his chance to record with his new band mates on the Garage Days Re-visited EP in 1987, but Justice was his first studio album with the band, although you can barely notice his contribution. The bass notes can be heard, but they’re not clear and rather muted, unlike the previous melodic and heavy bass notes on albums with Burton. Critics say that it was done on purpose, as James Hetfield and co. were still grieving, and they were not happy about a new bassist stealing the limelight. Realistically, I don’t think the band would sacrifice quality for that reason alone.

Justice was the follow-up to Master of Puppets, considered their best work by many fans, so perhaps it was always doomed to fail critically. Fans wanted more of the same, but Metallica “get bored easily” according to Ulrich, and they were never going to produce the same records again and again (*cough*Slayer*cough*). Originally, Justice was to be produced by Mike Clink, known at the time for his work with Guns N Roses and their iconic Appetite for Destruction. But things with Clink did not work out, so the band called in Flemming Rasmussen, who had produced their previous two albums.

According to Rasmussen, the band wanted to get the album done quickly, but found it hard, especially without Cliff. Burton’s influence on the band was huge, and although he kept a low-profile, his musical competence is what made the first three Metallica albums great. He also kept the other members down to earth. The band wanted something different with Justice, but after recording finished, they didn’t like it at all. Rasmussen defends it to this day, stating that the band got the sound and style they had asked for.

It’s the music that matters ultimately, and Justice kicks you right in the face, maintaining the momentum of Puppets. The first track, “Blackened”, with its opening crescendo followed by heavy snare and fast-paced guitar riffs, gets you head-banging instantly. The song, unlike their previous work, does not wait too long for the lyrics to kick-in either, with a powerful opening verse:

“Blackened is the end, winter it will send, throwing all you see, into obscurity…”

It certainly underlines the dark and morbid message set out on this album. Despite this, the song has a catchy chorus:

“Fire, to begin whipping the dance of the dead, blackened is the end, to begin whipping the dance of the dead, colour our world blackened”.

“Blackened” is a harsh look at the state of mother earth and starts the album off with aplomb. The following track is the eponymous “…And Justice for All”, which is nearly 10-minutes long and is a very ambitious and over-the-top attempt at making a masterpiece. Perhaps this is where they needed Burton’s direction the most, as the song sounds like four different tracks fused together. Despite the length of the song, which could be cut by half, it sums up the album theme: How the justice system in America is ruled by money, with truth going out the window. The riffs, the solos and the drums all sound great, yet also forced.

Fortunately, the album is saved by the brilliant “Eye of the Beholder”, with its steady drum beat and bouncy guitar riff and bass (yes, perhaps the only song where the bass guitar is coherent). It also has Hetfield screaming at the top of his lungs:

“Do you see what I see? Truth is an offence, you silence for your confidence…”

The song is a scorching message about the lack of freedom in a world of globalisation. It’s easy to forget that this album came out in the late 80’s, and the events of the last decade only make “Eye of the Beholder” seem more prescient. Kirk’s guitar solos hypnotize you until Hetfield’s vocals and Lar’s drums have you back on-point, rallying against the injustices of the world with ferocious abandon. The relatively catchy chorus saw it become the second single off the album.

The fourth track, “One”, is a true classic and arguably what transformed Metallica from a cult band into a heavy metal phenomenon. Released as the third single in February 1989, and before the start of the band’s first headline tour of America, they did the unthinkable and released a promotional video. Some fans were horrified and thought Metallica had finally sold out. Music videos were still relatively new in the 1980’s and usually kept for the MTV pop-culture, but Metallica had other ideas.

The song lyrics were influenced by the book Johnny Got His Gun, about a war veteran returning with no arms, no legs and loss of both sight and sound. It’s a dark concept, which the band were able to pull off with melancholic power, which still packs that Metallica punch in parts. The machine-gun fire double-bass kick by Ulrich is the highpoint, accompanied by ever-present riffs. The video, shot in black-and-white in a warehouse, sees the band performing like it’s a rehearsal, with close-ups of them playing instruments, something that was quite rare for music videos of the decade. Another rarity was the inclusion of the film adaptation of Johnny Got His Gun throughout, which rams home the dark message about being “One” consciousness without the ability to walk, talk or hear.

The next song, “The Shortest Straw”, is a miss but still good in parts. Lyrically, it’s about the paranoia of 1950’s America, but musically it is missing that certain something that makes it a classic Metallica anthem. Although some fans may strongly disagree. It never delivers a good enough riff to leave an impact. “Harvester of Sorrow” shows some improvement, with a different sound: Fast in some parts, slow in others, but never fully coming together. For whatever reason it was chosen as the first single, and unsurprisingly it didn’t get anywhere. The groovy riffs and catchy chorus allows the band to offer something unique, but without the gut-punch that the album started with.

“‘Frayed Ends of Sanity” sees the band re-capture said punch. With an almost psychedelic intro, this song has the fast-paced drums and guitar riffs that typifies Metallica’s style, whilst also offering a great deal of atmosphere. In terms of songwriting, it’s what it says on the box, discussing insanity in the most direct way possible. It’s probably not a song you’d want to listen to every day, but it emerges as one of the best songs on the album, with its intricate musical rhythms and grooves keeping your foot  tapping along; especially in the bridge building up to that amazing guitar solo.

One of my favourite tracks, that isn’t to everyone’s liking, is “To Live is to Die” – the obligatory instrumental (although Hetfield delivers a quote towards the end). It’s not typical Metallica, and compared to their previous instrumentals it isn’t as structured, but it  still captures the raw joy of a band having a jam. That’s why I like it, plus it’s rather atmospheric in places. It is composed from bass parts that Burton had written before his death, which might be what persuaded the band to include it on the album. I just wish they had re-tuned Newsted’s bass guitar so it actually sounds like a bass. “To Live is to Die” is, in my opinion, a fitting tribute to Burton and I imagine it’s a song that the band hold close to their hearts.

Last but not least is “Dyers Eve”, which is totally out-of-place on this album, but one of their most underrated songs due to poor production and sound quality. It has Hetfield expressing his repressed childhood with the lyrics, which are about a kid rebelling against his parents for not exposing him to the real world. Loud and proud, “Dyers Eve” is aggressive and in your face, closing the album the way it started. The super fast guitar chords leave you head-banging until you go blind, shouting along with Hetfield’s angst-ridden vocals, especially the line “I’ve outgrown that fucking lullaby”. It’s a big middle-finger that sums the song up completely, although never matching Justice‘s theme.

Ultimately, …And Justice for All is not Master of Puppets, and it isn’t as polished as the Black album. But it is so radical, raw and uncanny in parts that it has to be admired. Personally, it remains one of my favorite Metallica albums, if not the favourite. Give it another spin.

Useless Trivia

  • “Lady Justice”, or “Doris”/”Edna” depending on what source you read, was the name of the theatrical statue replica from the cover, that was displayed on stage during the band’s tour. It was brought to the ground at the climax of the title track.
  • Despite its critics, the album reached number #4 in the US and UK album charts upon release.
  • The video to “One” won the band a Grammy award.
  • Due to the length of the songs on this album, they were rarely played live after the promotional tour (until recently, that is).
  • “Dyers Eve” was played live in California in 2004, the first time the band had played the song completely since it was recorded in 1988. Also, the self-titled track (just under 10-minutes) was played fully on the World Magnetic Tour from 2008-2010, despite the band stating they would never play it live again after 1989.
  • “The Frayed Ends of Sanity” and “To Live is to Die” have never been played in their entirety by the band live.

From the album booklet:

“IF WE HAD TO THANK ALL THE FUCKERS WHO HAVE BEEN COOL TO US IN THE 2 YEARS SINCE ‘PUPPETS’:

A)     THE LIST WOULD BE PRINTED SO SMALL YOU COULDN’T READ IT.
B)      THERE WOULDN’T BE ROOM FOR LYRICS, PICTURES AND OTHER SHIT.
C)      WE WOULD HAVE A 36 PAGE BOOKLET
D)     LONG LISTS ARE FUCKING BORING
E)      ALL OF THE ABOVE
F)      NONE OF THE ABOVE
G)     DO YOU REALLY GIVE A SHIT ANYWAY?

SO HERE IS A ‘FUCK YEAH’ TO OUR FRIENDS, FAMILIES, DRINKING PARTNERS AND BANDS WE’VE TOURED WITH.
YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.”

PREVIOUSLY:

Black Sabbath – Sabotage (1975)

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About Matt G-Freebody

A writer from London.
This entry was posted in Awesome Albums, Music and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to AWESOME ALBUMS #3: Metallica – …And Justice for All (1988)

  1. Thanks for your reply Mac.
    You are spot on with your comments, I agree wholeheartedly.

  2. MacTingz says:

    …And Justice is an album I seriously consider as my favourite Metallica piece. Though that’s subject to regular change. The sheer aggression and speed of the album is something, for me, that band has missed ever since. Perhaps the anger stems from the death of Burton. Either way, it led to a magnificent album, both musically and lyrically.

    I am, or was a bassist myself, so one would assume the lack of definition pertaining to the production of the bass would irk me. I’m not sure whether it does. Though I would like to hear the album with altered production, I think an increase in bass may deter from the sound of the guitar and drums, which I love. The dry, sterile nature of the sounds reinforces the apocalyptically bleak nature of the album. The whole thing is beautifully desolate.

    I think Blackened probably remains my favourite song of the album, with, Eye of the Beholder, Frayed Ends… and Dyer’s Eve possibly just trailing behind. But again, it alters all the time. Great to see an old[ish] album getting some love anyway.

    Mac.

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