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Metallica - ... And Justice For All CD (album) cover




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3.94 | 607 ratings

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3 stars 'And Justice for All' was Metallica's fourth studio album so they were no longer the new kids on the block but a proven band that was steadily building up a huge, loyal fan base that the music industry couldn't afford to ignore. By pure stubbornness and grit they'd stayed true to themselves despite the popularity of the New Wave, Glam and subsequent Big Hair movements that were supported and nurtured by MTV during the 80s. Their dogged determination alone garnered them a lot of respect among free-thinking musicians whether they liked metal or not. While the fat cat executives didn't necessarily understand Metallica's broad appeal they certainly recognized a golden egg-laying goose when they saw one and were, accordingly, putting more money into advertising, promotion and tour support for the group to maximize their investment. I also guess that the band's success made their label decide to leave well enough alone so the boys were pretty much left to their own devices as far as producing their music was concerned and that freedom had an up and a down side to it. The positive was that they were unhindered in what they wrote and arranged. The negative was that they weren't being guided by an experienced, seasoned producer who could capture what they created with an ear bent towards fidelity and finesse. The result is another darn good record that should've sounded a whole lot better.

They open with 'Blackened,' where a slow fade-in leads to a fierce riff that grabs the listener like a steel claw. Right off the bat, though, the glaring fault line running through the studio control room is the lack of a bass guitar. I have no doubt that it's in there somewhere but it shouldn't be something you have to search for. Lars Ulrich's drums are up front where they should be but they sound naked and somewhat thin without a rhythm section companion to establish a killer groove with. That dearth aside, Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield's guitar work is intricate and the overall arrangement is engaging as they take you through various tempos and feels. 'And Justice for All' is proof positive that they belong on this web site. It begins with a quieter guitar intro that's interspersed with flashes of hot metal. I applaud their willingness to take risks and challenge their followers by delivering a host of unorthodox twists and turns involving tricky mixtures of odd time signatures. This cut is what I hear in my head when I think of prog metal. 'Eye of the Beholder' is another courageous track. After they fade in from nowhere they adopt a military-styled beat to build upon and I'm very impressed by the remarkable tightness they retain while moving from one distinct passage to another. Hetfield's gruff vocal approach grows old but that's what he sounded like and at least it's not overly distracting. 'One' is next and it was the first song I ever heard from these guys via the arresting MTV video that accompanied it. While it didn't exactly knock me out I could tell that there was some imagination and forethought going on in their craft, not just mindless head-banging. This tune has held up rather well over the decades, too. It's dark but very effective.

'The Shortest Straw' marks a turning away from their prog leanings as they go in a more straightforward direction from here on out. They dispense with the clever detours and go for the jugular by pounding the listener's ears with jackhammer blunt force. No doubt this number was a bonafide crowd-pleaser in concert but, other than Kirk's hot guitar solo, it only gives me a headache. 'Harvester of Sorrow' sports the closest they come to laying down a groove but a growling bass line would've solidified it in an instant. Maybe it's there and we just can't hear it. Hetfield and Hammett throw in some intriguing harmony guitar melodies but unfortunately the song fails to evolve into anything spectacular. I love the start of 'The Frayed Ends of Sanity.' Any band that pays homage to the Wicked Witch of the West's security detail's droning anthem without apology is cool in my book. Alas, they immediately return to their comfort zone by grinding out more unadorned heavy wrecking ball rock that most likely thrilled their congregation to death but leaves me in the cold. The instrumental, 'To Live is to Die' is a slight move in a proggier direction, though. The onset is more subdued than what's come before but it doesn't last long before another skull-crushing attack ensues. Yet rather than taking the easy way out they offer up a myriad of different sequences and musical ideas that restored my faith in them. I'd like to think that they were trying to stretch themselves and avoid resting on their laurels. They close with 'Dyers Eve.' Their full tilt metal onslaught is staggering only because of its sheer intensity, blinding speed and unending ferocity. It makes me tired just listening to it. I know what you're saying. 'Hey, you old fart; if you don't like hard core metal then stay away from it! Don't rain on my parade.' I gotcha. But if they're going to be considered prog then I feel obligated to tell it like it is, at least from my point of view. These guys are immensely talented musicians but, like any group, when they get predictable their music can get monotonous and that's what happens a few times in the course going through this album. I don't mind loud but I do mind tedium.

Released on August 25, 1988 this record furthered the legendary rise of Metallica by topping out at the #6 spot on the LP charts. The genre of metal was beginning to crossover into the mainstream and there wasn't a downside to that trend. Somebody had to shake the music biz up and these fellas were more than willing to take on that task. If there was a low end presence on 'And Justice for All' I'd like it a lot more but I figure they had their reasons for keeping new bassist Jason Newsted buried in the mix. I read on Wikipedia that it was part of the group's harsh 'hazing' regimen designed to keep him humble but I seriously doubt that they'd intentionally degrade the quality of the final product to punish the rookie. You never know, though. I get the feeling they had a crazy streak to beat the band. Nonetheless, Metallica was getting better with each release and, at least in my mind, the best was yet to come. 3.4 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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