‘…And Justice For All’ Sound Mixer Thought Lars Ulrich’s Drums Sounded “Like Ass”

Lars Ulrich by Kreepin Deth, via Wikipedia.

1988’s …And Justice For All is in many ways Metallica‘s most complicated album. Not only was the record a troubled product of  the emotional trauma from losing bassist Cliff Burton to a bus accident, but its production has also been historically maligned by listeners and musicians alike. Now, Steve Thompson, the album’s sound mixer, has done a new interview in which he says that upon first hearing drummer Lars Ulrich’s planned drum sound, he was, well, not impressed.

“We did the project up at Bearsville, New York — we worked on an SSL [console] up at Bearsville studios,” Thompson told Dean Cramer on the latter’s YouTube channel, as transcribed by Blabbermouth. “And Lars originally came in with a whole EQ setup chart of how he wanted his drums to sound. So Michael Barbiero, my partner, says, ‘Why don’t you work with Lars and get the drums [sounding the way he wants them to sound], and then once you do that, I’ll take care of the rest.’ So he does that. And I listened to the sounds, and I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I think this sounds like ass.’

“So anyway, I kind of re-EQed all the drums a little bit just to make ’em a little more palpable — it’s in the ear of the beholder,” he continued. “Then I brought the bass up, which I thought the bass was a great part because… You know what was great about [Newsted’s] bass? It was a great marriage with [James] Hetfield’s guitars; it was, like, they needed to work together. It was perfectly played.

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“So I got the whole rhythm section together, vocals and everything like that, and then I felt, ‘Okay, now’s the time,'” he said. “Hetfield was in there, [giving] thumbs up and everything like that. Then I brought Lars in. First of all, Lars hears it for about five to ten seconds, and he goes, ‘All right, stop right there.’ He goes, ‘What happened to my drum sound?’ I basically probably said something like, ‘You were serious?’ [Laughs] So I had to rearrange the drum sound to get it to where he wanted it again.

“He goes, ‘Okay, see the bass?’ I go, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Drop it down in the mix.’ I said, ‘Why? It’s great.’ ‘Drop it down in the mix.’ ‘Okay.’ So I did it as a joke. [I] dropped it all the way down. He goes, ‘Drop it down another five or six dB’ from there, which could hardly hear it — you couldn’t hear it. I said, ‘Seriously?’ And I think I turned around to Hetfield, and he just went like this [raises both hands]. And then I remember having a conversation with Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch who were managing them. And I basically had a conversation, I said, ‘Listen, I love these guys. I think this band is fucking amazing. I don’t agree with what they want me to do with this. And I understand, it’s their record. They should get whatever they want. We were hired to get them what they want. But I just can’t see doing this.’ And we wound up giving ’em what they want. Again, it’s not my record — it’s their record — and you have to respect their opinion. I hated it personally, because I’m a bass guy. I love bass. When we’re recording, we record the fattest basses in the world.”

Check out the full interview here. And to read more about Metallica and other metal mayhem, make sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. The Pit is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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Words by Chris Krovatin