Metallica's ...And Justice For All has been marred with controversy since its release in 1988. While I wouldn’t experience the album until I became captivated by Metallica, following their self-titled (black album) and Load-era releases, I found an instant liking for the raw production of …And Justice For All.
Yes, there are those who dislike the album, often due to the minuscule bass element with the new bassist, at the time, Jason Newsted following Cliff Burton's death. However, while I acknowledge the bass is lacking, I look at the album from a different perspective whereby one could suggest the lack of bass emphasis was a fitting tribute to Burton. Subsequently, I don't subscribe to the ...And Justice For Jason memes. While anything is possible, and the release of a super deluxe edition box set may yet reveal the lost bass tracking, I’ll also be content if it is never released. In some way, I feel it wouldn't be the same album. There is an undeniable sonic signature to the album, similar to the rawness of St. Anger, that I admire. Change the mix and you risk changing the magic that is ...And Justice For All.
For this review, I have been listening to the 2014 Blackened Recordings Reissue (BLCKND007-1).
As you would expect, Stephen Gorman's artwork is exquisite on the larger canvas. Although, the green lettering hasn't aged well in my opinion. It always reminds me of Mötley Crüe’s Dr Feelgood cover art as the green tonality is so similar.
While I’d love to say the artwork has been faithfully reproduced, the liner notes in this pressing are available as an extra slip-in sheet, versus being used as vinyl inner sleeves. Instead, we get the most god-awful rice paper sleeves that scuff the vinyl. Seriously, I know these sleeves are cheap to produce, but if you release a premium product, commanding a premium price, you would be best advised to invest a little more in the manufacturing. Perhaps most disappointing is that this is released on the artists' own record label. Metallica has full control over Blackened Recordings, so this cheapness amazes me and is an insult to fans.
Another change that defies explanation is the removal of the album artwork from the centre of the records. We now get a black background with green text. While it doesn't look bad, it doesn't look nearly as good as early pressings in my opinion. Nevertheless, it is all about the music, so let’s check it out.
Blackened in symphonic metal heaven, as much of Metallica's music is. It’s heavy, raw, and distorted to hell and back, but turn that volume to 11 as it’s really the best way to enjoy this exceptional album starter.
...And Justice For All has a gorgeous acoustic introduction before the metal elements take control. Such a wonderful composition. Despite its length, l’ve never felt the song is self-indulgent and every note is thoroughly appreciated. Plus, that Hammett guitar solo is what air guitar dreams are made of.
Eye Of The Beholder has a slow burn to begin with but once the volume hits its peak, and that riff kicks in, it's fantastic. Well, that is until Hetfield starts singing. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the vocal presentation on this song and its overly processed nature. That said, the rhythmic chorus is thoroughly addictive and it’s the perfect attitude-fuelled song to listen to when you're pissed off!
One is exceptional!
The Shortest Straw is the perfect song, with the perfect tempo, to follow on from One. It’s head-banging gold. You have to love that chorus, one of Hetfield’s best in my opinion.
Harvester Of Sorrow has a killer rhythm, but I have always felt the introduction for the song is just too long. As the first single off the album, it was an interesting choice, especially considering the intro wasn't edited. While I love this song, it simply isn’t single material in my opinion.
The Frayed Ends Of Sanity is demonic. I love it!
To Live Is To Die, again, has that gorgeous acoustic element to it. Part of me just wants it to continue every time I listen to the song, but as a fan of Metallica's epic instrumental tracks, I know only too well that they must come to an end. If it wasn’t vinyl, I’d probably put it on repeat. Of course, that isn’t what the artist had in mind when compiling the album.
Dyers Eve is my song. I live for it. It identifies me. It may not be the strongest song on the album, but just as it is a homage to Hetfield's parents, so too is it to mine. There is literally no other song, by any artist, in any genre, that I identify with more. Dyers Eve is textbook thrash metal and while I may have a biased viewpoint, I think it’s fair to declare this as one of Metallica’s best songs and one of their last true thrash masterpieces.
Overall, there isn't a bad song to be found on ...And Justice For All. If you can get past the bass controversy, you're going to find an album that is arguably more riff-driven than any other in history.
Sonically, I would class the vinyl record as adequate. I actually prefer the mastering of the album found on TIDAL Hi-Fi. That doesn't happen often, but despite having a solid soundstage and excellent uncompressed dynamic range, it just isn't as powerful as the digital master. Perhaps my liking for the digital master is due to originally owning the album on CD. Or, perhaps, this vinyl release is just a poor pressing. Regardless, the viewpoint of which edition or format is better is truly subjective. That said, I am looking forward to an upcoming remaster.
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