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




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3.94 | 617 ratings

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4 stars As you undoubtedly know, Cliff Burton died in a bus accident after the release of Puppets. Needless to say, the impact of this was enormous - not only had the band lost a major talent at the bass position, it had also lost (arguably) its only true musical genius and, really, the heart and soul of the band (and I stand by that; the others may have done just as much work in writing the riffs, but the relative lack of "finishing touches" on this album as compared to before can't just be a coincidence). The bass functions would technically be filled by Jason Newsted (though he's virtually inaudible, thanks to a last minute decision to minimize the bass as much as possible, probably in tribute to Cliff), but the latter could not be so easily replaced.

The thing is, many people view this album as a culmination of Metallica's career - the songs are lengthier and more complex than ever, with acres and acres of solid metal riffs. As far as song structures and melodies go, this could easily be considered Metallica's "progressive peak." So isn't that enough to give this album consideration as Metallica's best? Well ... to be quite honest with you, no, it isn't. Ultimately, the fact is that this is primarily a transitional album (heck, even the members' appearances are in transition - doesn't James' picture look like a perfect splicing of his faces from the Lightning and Load eras?) and like any transitional album, it's got its problems.

To better explain myself, I'd like to propose the following idea - this album can be considered the Metallica equivalent of Genesis' A Trick of the Tail. Short version: Peter Gabriel left the band after what many considered the band's best album yet (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway), and the remaining members did everything they could to convince the world that the band could put out a good Genesis-style album even without its main creative force. So it is with Metallica on this album - the band members obviously realized that the factor that seemingly made the band most effective was the epic, multi-part structure of many of their songs, and so the band went out of its way to make the songs on Justice as long and as complex as they possibly could.

I know it may seem obnoxious to have heaped such praise upon Metallica's more "progressive" tracks in the last couple of albums and then condemn them for their "progressive to the max" approach on this album, but you have to understand the following: I don't like music solely because it's complex and multi-part. The individual parts not only have to be fairly interesting on their own, but they HAVE to fit in well with each other. On this album, too often the multitude of riffs simply do NOT mesh well and flow well into one another. The title track is the greatest offender - the riffs are mostly very good, but the manner in which they are mixed together make the song seem horrifically overlong. And the same can be said, to a lesser extent, about most of the other tracks - most of them are overlong by as much as a third, and the ending result is a 65 minute album when we should have at most a 45 minute or so one. It's a very, very good 65 minute album, don't get me wrong; it's just that that's the result of having an amazing 45 minute one smothered in excess.

But again, I'm not knocking this album that badly (this is still a very, very high rating). The lyrics are bitter and pissed with life to an extent never before seen in this band (though maybe a little more banal than some of the metaphorical bliss of the last two albums), and James actually sounds fully grown up on this album (though my guess is that a lot of the maturity in the voice is a product of a ton of drinking after Cliff's death). And some of the songs are just fabulous - "Blackened," while essentially a rewrite of "Battery" (which, in turn, was a rewrite of "Fight Fire with Fire"), still has an ominous intro and a great main riff (and a cool midsection with Hetfield doing a call-and-response with his own vocals). Meanwhile, "Eye of the Beholder" is one of the tracks that does a good job of being lengthy while still feeling compact and not rambling, as the fabulous riffs flow in and out of each seamlessly. Same goes for "Harvester of Sorrow," the closing "Dyers Eve" and, of course, the instrumental "To Live is to Die," with a spoken word tribute to Cliff (and some of the most interesting Hammett work on the album). The rest of the songs, though, are mostly weaker versions of the others (even "Frayed Ends of Sanity," which mostly wastes its fabulous intro). Also, you'll notice that I'm not going into elaborate descriptions of these tracks like I did on most of the last two albums; there comes a point where you just run out of ways to say "great guitar interplay, good riffs, where in the hell's the bass."

But really, who cares about all those songs? This album has "One" on it, and that's all that really matters, isn't it? Any Metallica fans who think it's a crappy song because it produced their first music video can pucker up, because there's some mistle-toe in the small of my back just for you. All of the songs on this album have some flaw, but not this one, no sirree. It's PERFECT, and one of the (if not THE) absolute greatest metal songs ever written (at least, that I've heard). The construction is flawless, from the forboding, ringing opening riff through the introductory section, through the SICK switch to a major key before entering the genius vocal melody, and as the intensity of the song gradually builds, the track demonstrates that James and co. still had a solid dose of inspiration of their own in the wake of Cliff's absence. Plus, the intense, rigid drum and guitar lines that come before the final vocal coda out-Knife "The Knife," while the guitar-interplay that comes afterwards is just beyond anything they'd done to that point, and that says an awful lot. And the lyrics - I'm sure you know them already, no need to say anything about them except that they are absolute genius in their ability to inflict terror on a listener.

So yeah, when you add it all up, it's a very, very good album. That said, it does demonstrate one thing to me; the "progressive" version of Metallica had used up virtually all of its creativity, and while fans may cringe at this, I say that it was actually a good thing that they switched into more of a pop mode. But that's for another review.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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