Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of Metallica’s And Justice For All (August 25th for some lucky folks in Europe). It was technically amazing, featured great songwriting, and immediately divided the fans. Sure every Metallica album has been an intentional departure from the last (see also David Bowie, Madonna, Deftones), but this album definitely jarred the fanbase when it first dropped. Sure we’ve heard over and over about the lack of bass or the inaudible bass, the “let’s see you play this!” long songs of over the top technicality, and the rushed solos Kirk Hammett recorded. Still, it’s an incredible, mostly heavy document of the band in one sense at a peak they have yet to return to creatively. Let’s take a quick look back at And Justice For All…
When the band started to create AJFA, they were still dealing with the tragic loss of Cliff Burton and the addition of Jason Newsted. For the bands’ third album recorded with Flemming Rasmussen, they surely felt the pressure to top Master of Puppets from just a few years prior. They had already seen the entire scene of thrash metal, grow and spread over the globe and pretty much copy the band paint by numbers style for three straight releases. So the fact that for the most part, AJFA is a radical departure sonically and in songcraft, really shouldn’t have been a shock. Longer progressive metal songs, few melodic solos as they had don’t in the past, and James Hetfield’s biting, the vicious lyrical improvement, and better signing inspire of fewer melodies overall we hail as hallmarks of the album. Say what you will about Lars Ulrich now, but in 1988 he was a top ten drummer in the world, based on this album. AJFA set a new bar for thrash drumming and rhythm guitar playing and writing as well as recording for drums and guitars. They certainly worked their asses off making this album, so note that much of the criticism now is all in retrospect. At the time of its release it was argued about and dissected, but also hailed by many fans and critics alike.
Sure, ‘One’ is among the greatest songs in metal history, the album is full of bangers. ‘Blackened’ is among the few purely thrash songs on the album. The title track is a mind bender of prog metal, insane riffs. Along with Slayer, Metallica helped perfect the mid-tempo power-groove metal riffs that would later be perfected by Pantera on songs like ‘Eye Of The Beholder’, ‘Harvester of Sorrow’, and ‘The Frayed Ends of Sanity’. ‘Shortest Straw’ is another thrasher, along with the punky closer ‘Dyers Eve’. Aside from the title track and ‘One’, the centerpiece of the album is ‘To Live Is To Die’, co-written by Burton and included as a tribute to him. It’s a pretty flawless album under a certain light compared to the relatively weak competition at the time. On the downside, you can’t hear Jason’s bass, as we now know and have discussed ad infinitum. Hopefully, the just announced remaster takes care of that. Kirk Hammett has gone on record as saying this was his least favorite Metallica album, and certainly was the end of his shred guitar writing and antics.
And Justice For All still holds up and holds its place in the hearts of most of the old-school “first four albums” crowd” chatter about it. Why else would they have played seven of these nine tracks live on and off for three decades? Sure this was the start of some fans and press picking on the band, a foretelling of later drama. However, you really can’t argue against how heavy and impressive this album still sounds after all this time.