Metallica are one of the big four bands in the thrash metal genre accredited with forming and popularizing the thrash metal sound (the other three being Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax). Metallica’s fourth record, “…And Justice for All” was a significant change of pace in terms of songwriting and sound. No doubt a lot of this had to do with the death of Cliff Burton, the band’s bassist, in 1986 and the inclusion (or lack thereof) of Jason Newsted in his place. The resulting record was a more brooding and complex album that still retained the thrash metal sound that the band had grown from their previous three records.
“Justice” is an epic album in length with over an hour of material and some of Metallica’s longest songs ever. Songs like “One”, “To Live is to Die”, and the title track take you on a trip to heavy metal land with multiple stages and guitar solos and despite their length they still manage to keep my interest to this day. There are quite a few clean or soft moments sprinkled across the album providing a nice contrast to the fierce aggression that is commonplace on the record. I really love these little touches that add some eerie beauty to Metallica’s sound, such as the electric guitar recorded backwards that opens up the album on the song “Blackened”. James Hetfield’s vocals are no longer the high pitched yelps from the band’s earlier records, instead growing gruff and deep. Along with a more mature voice, so too do the lyrics become more mature on this record addressing personal issues such as Hetfield’s childhood, as well as themes of war and, of course, injustice in the world.
Metallica’s performances on “Justice” are incredible, with some of Kirk Hammett’s most blazing and melodic solos as well as some impressive work on the drums by Lars Ulrich. The riffs are heavy and rhythmic and the band’s anger is palpable on every song. What’s bizarre with the sound of this record is the lack of low end! The bass playing by Jason Newsted is virtually nonexistent. In fact there is actually a bootleg of the album called “…And Justice for Jason” that remixes the entire album so you can actually hear the bass guitar. I would say it was a boneheaded move on the part of the band to mix the album in such a way, but at the same time the sound of “Justice” is such a key part of the album by now that it’s hard to imagine it any other way.
“…And Justice for All” is my favorite Metallica album, though it is a close race. I just think that on here, Metallica had a perfect blend of what made their earlier records so fantastic while also moving forward in an interesting way. In other words, this is an album with the best of both worlds, and I think beyond this point Metallica would become a very different band.