It’s time to do another week revolving around one artist. This will involve a post every day, it’ll include a (long) look at the band’s line-up changes, a few singles I have and cap off with an album ranking on Friday.
I’m leading off with the band’s fourth album, one recorded and released after great tragedy. Despite a few curious choices in sound, the album would be a huge success and propel the group forward to a state of total world domination a few years later.
Metallica – …And Justice For All
Released September 7, 1988 via Elektra Records
My Favorite Tracks – Harvester Of Sorrow, One, Blackened
Metallica had made great strides in heavy metal and music in general, achieving commercial success without the benefit of radio or MTV play. Things would change with this album, and Metallica would start to become not just a successful metal band, but one of the world’s most popular acts.
The group were enjoying a fantastic touring cycle for Master Of Puppets when an icy bus crash in Sweden claimed the life of bassist Cliff Burton. Burton’s death was a massive loss and one that still reverberates today. The band decided to press on after the accident, hiring Jason Newsted away from Flotsam And Jetsam.
…And Justice For All features 9 songs at a massive run time of 65 minutes. The album cover is a fantastic image and possibly the band’s best ever. Singles released from the album include Harvester Of Sorrow, Eye Of The Beholder and One, the latter marking the band’s first MTV video.
It’s impossible to discuss the album without bringing up the curious production choices. The album sounds dry and tinny, with the high end very emphasized. The drum sound is odd, but the missing bass is the typical talking point. The band have blamed “hearing loss” for the bass omission, though a lot of people speculate that it wasn’t an inadvertent decision. The album succeeded even with the odd mix, though it is still a huge topic of discussion all these decades later.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the songs. There is a lot to go over, even with an average number of tracks.
The album opens with a super heavy track that firmly suggests Metallica are out to snap necks again. This is a pummeling song that details the nuclear end of the world, a topic prevalent in thrash and also Metallica’s own back catalog. While much of the album drifts away from “pure thrash,” Blackened is one of the more outright thrashy songs.
Blackened is also Jason Newsted’s sole writing credit on the album – he had the main riff “laying around” and played it for James Hetfield, who immediately set about crafting the song.
…And Justice For All
This very extended play at nearly 10 minutes is a direct attack on the hypocrisy and ineffectiveness of the justice system. It is a song that is sadly still very relevant, if not more so, today than in 1988. While the base of the song is pure thrash, there are several interludes and guitar passages that keep things from getting monotonous.
Eye Of The Beholder
The tempo slows a bit for this crunchy track that concerns itself with the idea that expression is not free and is instead bought and controlled by those in power. It’s an interesting topic that could sadly go down too many dark roads these days. The song is one of the more straightforward ones from the album, keeping its pace and general rhythm throughout.
The most recognized track from the record and certainly one of Metallica’s most known songs, this single marked the first music video release from the group. The video features movie footage from Johnny Got His Gun, a dark story similar to what is told in One. Both feature a World War I casualty who was blown apart by artillery but is still alive, though unable to do anything but think.
One begins slowly, with a very haunting guitar passage while the lyrics outline the victim’s plight. The song picks up steam as it goes along, eventually entering total thrash-out territory around 4 minutes in. The song’s extended remainder is a solo fest.
One was a triumphant single and video for Metallica and it marked the beginning of what would be a long ride on MTV for the group. Metallica wound up purchasing the movie rights to Johnny Got His Gun so they wouldn’t have to pay royalties to the prior rights holders. The song is a staple of live sets and is also often brought up when people are asking the age-old question “You know that one song?”
The Shortest Straw
Metallica return to the political theater here, offering a song that derides political witch hunts such as the Red Scare of the 1950’s. The song is another of the “thrashier” tunes from the album. Some fans speculate that the title has to do with how Cliff Burton wound up in his fatal section of tour bus the night of the crash, but honestly that seems like a reach to me and I doubt it’s the case.
Harvester Of Sorrow
An extremely dark and twisted song about a victim of childhood abuse that grows up to be traumatized by the abuse and, after going insane, murders his family. Harvester is a slower yet still heavy song that lends the right kind of dark atmosphere to its terrible story. While Metallica did plenty outside the thrash realm on this album, Harvester is a true highlight of how they could turn down the speed yet still offer a compelling song.
Frayed Ends Of Sanity
Very easy song to peg here, it’s a thrash tune about going insane. It slots very well on this album that’s all about the dark side of things. The song has a bit of trivia with it, as Metallica didn’t play the song live until it was voted in to the set via fan request in 2014. They would often tease the intro before going into a different tune.
To Live Is To Die
This is a mostly instrumental passage that serves as tribute to Cliff Burton. You can’t hear the bass, but if you could, you would hear Jason Newsted playing parts that Burton had previously written. There is a brief spoken passage around the 7:30 mark – the first two lines were from poet Paul Gerhardt and the last two were Cliff Burton’s. The lines and the bass parts mark Burton’s final contributions to Metallica’s music.
The closing track brings back the thrash in a big way. The lyrics reference someone criticizing their parents for sheltering their child and damaging their development through childhood. The lyrics were born of James Hetfield’s childhood, who had to deal with his father’s abandonment and his mother’s death, as well as growing up in a twisted belief system that would be responsible for his mother’s end.
…And Justice For All was a massive success for Metallica. The album went platinum just a bit after release and charted well in many parts of the world. The album would go on to sell over 8 million copies in the US, some of that of course coming after the band ascended to practical godhood with the Black Album.
Metallica ran into a practical issue while touring behind …Justice – the songs were too damn long. One was a constant fixture and the shorter Harvester Of Sorrow got plenty of stage time, but many other tracks were left alone due to time constraints. Eventually every song made it on to a set list, but highlighting the album live is a very tall task.
Metallica’s course was well on track for future success after this record. The form that took was something beyond which anyone could have realistically predicted, but of course all of that is a story for another time. …And Justice For All was a fitting bookend to the group’s thrash career and a fantastic effort born of the grief over the death of Cliff Burton.