Metallica - ... and Justice For All - Review
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critics' view

After the devastating loss of Cliff Burton, Metallica's bass guitarist auditioning ended with the young and hopeful Flotsam and Jetsam leader, Jason Newsted, becoming the fourth horseman. Little did he know of the abuse his bandmates would subject him to, kick starting the bittersweet story of a talented musician that never got the appreciation he deserved, except that one coming from the band's fanbase, who were much warmer towards him than his bandmates. But after the 1986 tragic accident, James, Kirk and Lars were pissed off, spiteful and saddened, and all that emotional discharge no only affected their new bandmate, but was also manifested on their fourth LP. Despite its obvious complex arrangements and long, winding compositions, something that usually ends up being overlooked is that …and Justice for All is Metallica's darker album, its serious and poignant themes developed as a consequence of malcontent and trauma.

Justice… a word that should have a stronger meaning in our lives. Unfortunately, corruption is a common human component, and even in the leading First World countries, it shows its ugly face more often than one would like to admit. In Metallica's US of A, it's no different of course, proved by so many popular culture examples from that country about cases of injustice that should shock us, but instead are every day's meal. …and Justice for All contemplates and pinpoints this reality, especially in its towering nine-minute title-track, along with “Eye of the Beholder”, which also deals with censorship, and “Shortest Straw”, depicting the search for a scapegoat in staged judicial process. Other tracks focus on a more general degradation of the human morale, like the apocalyptic opener “Blackened”, or its pysche, like “The Frayed End of Sanity”. And the two shorter pieces, “Harvester of Sorrow” and “Dyers Eve” show more personal but equally mordant themes. As for the iconic “One”, it's simply one of the greatest war-themed rock songs of all time, with an epic video to match its musical scope.

James sounds at his angriest ever, with more mature lyrics spitted forth with vile and conviction. In their preceding three works, when nefarious epic themes like the Horsemen of Apocalypse, the Plagues of Egypt or Lovecraftian horrors were touched upon, it sounded cool and fun, but the down to earth social themes of …and Justice for All feel way grimmer and real. His rhythmic riff-work is almost unparalleled, powerful, memorable and downright pulverizing, as witnessed during the final crushing moments of “One” or most part of the proto-groove metal “Harvester of Sorrow”. On his part, a pre-wah-wah obsessed Kirk shows his dexterity in the soloing department, and while he's never been that impressive in comparison to the top metal lead guitarists (like Tipton or Mustaine), he compensated with great vibe and a great sense of harmony. As for Lars, he also shows his greater chops ever here, his solid and precise upper playing enhanced with some bewildering footwork going on all the time, flashy polyrhythms and machine-gun bursts of double bass.

The perceived 'flawed' production values and the absence of bass guitar are well-documented …and Justice for All characteristics, often criticized, both from a musical and a professional point of view. But if one checks out the …and Justice for Jason version of the album in YouTube or other bass-enhanced underground mixes out there, one realizes that James' assertion that the bass mostly follows the guitar lines is actually true. Jason sadly wasn't given much room to provide input, so leaving him outside completely doesn't really hurt the record's sound. And after tenths of spins, it's quite impossible for me to imagine this with a different production, because for all its shortcomings, designed or unintentional, it does have a sound of its own. The dry drumming sound, with its clear and clicking kick drums, actually became influential for many bands that tried to replicate that aesthetic in the 90s and beyond. I'm still curious how Metallica's official remaster will sound like, but the original flavor of …and Justice for All is fucking flawless to my ears.

In its massive 65 minutes, there's plenty to digest both thematically and musically. The band were extremely motivated to put up an even stronger, more complex album than Cliff's swansong, Master of Puppets, and to a degree, they succeeded, adding their visionary work to the class of '88, a year that saw many thrash metal bands reaching their most technical, progressive and ambitious heights yet, like Voivod, Deathrow and Coroner, as well as the advent of quality and similarly styled newcomers like Anacrusis, Blind Illusion, Realm or Pestilence (before they turned their attention to death metal 100%). The band's tribute to his fallen brother, “To Live Is to Die”, shows their instrumental gusto at its best, with some mellow and melancholic guitar lines that really touch the soul. The use of acoustic guitars is excellent as well, complementing the hard-hitting side of the band with a lightened side. This classy chiaroscuro approach also featured on “One” gives the record a more emotional impact, setting it apart from other tech thrash releases.

It's very easy to dismiss and criticize and album of this magnitude and musical ambition, given the stellar status of its creators, even back then, when they were still ascending through the upper echelons of metaldom and before their complete transformation into clichéd rock stars. But people tend to forget that Metallica were just a bunch of young musicians who had lived hell as a band, and after that fucked up turmoil they managed to come up strong and channel all that negativity into one of the undisputed highlights of 1988, and all-time thrash and technical metal masterpiece. Like everything Metallica did in the 80s, …and Justice for All's influence and impact was and remains huge, and no matter how many subpar releases or polemic choices they make nowadays, nothing will ever erase this fact.

Xyrth
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Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives (commonly known as Metal Archives per the URL or just MA) is a website which lists bands of predominantly heavy metal music. Encyclopaedia Metallum was described by Matt Sullivan of Nashville Scene as "the Internet's central database for all that is 'tr00' in the metal world." Terrorizer described the site as "a fully-exhaustive list of pretty much every metal band ever, with full discographies, an active forum and an interlinking members list that shows the ever-incestuous beauty of the metal scene".
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