...And Justice For All
Elektra Records, 1987
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/03/2009
The evolution of heavy metal during the ‘80s resembled a steep mountainside rather than a gradual incline. From the foundation laid down by English groups such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden spawned forth multiple delineations of metal: Thrash, Speed, Black, Death, Glam, etc. During the course of the decade, there were many records released that dramatically altered the heavy metal landscape from a wide range of artists. Yet by the end of the decade, the pinnacle of ‘80s metal had yet to be released. That changed with the arrival of this disc, the group’s fourth.
…And Justice remains their creative high point. Born from a decade of corporate greed, Reaganomics, and personal tragedy (the death of bassist Cliff Burton in 1986 left a gaping hole within the group that some argue will never be filled), Metallica sought to move beyond sci-fi epics and the relatively low-level ideas expressed on Kill ‘Em All. What took their place was a full-fledged attack on the system mixed with an apocalyptic vision of things to come.
Complexity was the creed of the day for Metallica during this time period; structurally speaking the songs recorded for …And Justice remain the most intricate and challenging compositions of their career. The tracks were longer, the jams were tighter, and lyrically James Hetfield was at his early peak before he descended into more personal offerings such as “Nothing Else Matters” or “Until It Sleeps.”
Many hold the first handful of songs off …And Justice as the finest material the band has put out. The impact of just how good the material is comes from the menacing notes that open “Blackened.” While arguably not as fast as openers such as “Fight Fire With Fire” and “Battery,” its cries of “Color our world blackened” provide for an incredibly intense experience that suitably portends what is to come. The epic title track follows, displaying just how much Metallica had progressed from their thrash roots. And of course, “One” has become a legendary track, whether your reasoning lies with the music or its brilliant concept adapted from the film Johnny Get Your Gun.
While the first half of the album has received much of the acclaim, the second half does not suffer a drop in quality by any stretch. One indicator of the complexity of these tracks would be the frequency with which the band performs the songs live: both “Frayed Ends Of Sanity” and “Dyer’s Eve” have rarely made their ways into the setlist. The latter stands in the rare position as being one of the group’s fastest numbers, a feat that is genuinely impressive considering their discography. “To Live To Die” represents Burton’s final contribution to the band and is dedicated to him; it utilizes a handful of riffs that had been unused prior to …And Justice.
More than anything else, there is a consistent feel that permeates this album. There is no storyline, narrative, or unified concept per se. If anything, the sense of loss and anger felt by the members of the group is the true foundation for the record: anger at Burton’s unintended departure, anger at apparent discrepancies in society, and anger at a supposed inability to change. Thrash metal had long been seen as a reaction against the constrictions of society; here Metallica fully explores that notion as well as what the future might hold.
Much ado has been made regarding the production of this album as opposed to earlier Metallica releases. Never a group to favor the bass heavy in the mix, the album continues that “pattern,” but it also approaches the other instruments in a different manner. There is less of the rounded, full sound that took place on Master. In i’s place is a decidedly more Spartan mix, which is initially disconcerting and off-putting. Those feelings of uneasiness lend themselves well to the aforementioned mood of the record, however.
Metal would move into the progressive rock genre as the years progressed, resulting in bands such as Dream Theater, Symphony X, or Tool. Those groups would expand the definitions of what was considered heavy metal, receiving both critical acclaim and scorn in the process. Thrash metal, however, reached its furthest progression with the release of …And Justice For All. There are no bloated attempts to wed a sustained narrative across the running length of the album. There are no compromises for radio play, no shortened jams, no concessions with the material. Metallica played it by feel and their gut. They were mad, damn it, and this is how they dealt with it.