James Hetfield Takes Blame for the Mix of ‘…And Justice for All’

James WikiMedia Commons Justice For All Flickr
Published on:

During Metallica’s classic run of albums during the ‘80s, …And Justice For All always seems a little bit off compared to the rest of them.

Sure, there are absolute classics all over the damn thing like “One” and “Harvester of Sorrow,” but the guitar sound is also some of the strangest in metal history and Jason Newsted’s bass parts are notoriously virtually nonexistent. Decades after its release, though, James Hetfield fully owns it.

Hetfield explains that part of the over-emphasis on the high end for the record was due to Metallica being ‘burnt, fried’ and having hearing damage. In his own words:

“I will say, it was not all about, ‘Fuck him, Let’s turn him (Newsted) down.’ We wanted the best-sounding record we could make. That was our goal.” He continued: “We were burnt. We were friggin’ fried. Going back and forth. Playing a gig. No earplugs, nothing.

You got back into the studio, your hearing is shot. If your ears can’t hear any high-end anymore, you’re gonna turn it up. So we’re turning the high end up more and more and more… all of a sudden, low end’s gone. So I know that played a bigger part than any hazing or any ill feelings towards Jason, for sure. We were fried. We were burnt.”

Does he regret the decision all these years later? Nope:

“All this is after the fact, and it’s like, who gives a shit, man, really? … Why would you change history? Why would you all of a sudden put bass on it? There is bass on it, but why would you remix an album? You can remaster it, yes, but why would you remix something and make it different?

Given all the sonic flak the record has gotten for decades, it’d be pretty easy for Metallica to lay the blame on engineer Steve Thompson, who himself has gone on record saying that he didn’t agree with the sonic decision at the time, saying:

“{Lars Ulrich} said ‘the bass,’ I said ‘yeah, it’s a great part,’ and he goes ‘I want you to turn the bass down so you barely audibly can hear it. I thought it was a joke. I looked at Hetfield like ‘is this guy serious?’ and he nodded. I was so pissed off I called my managers and said ‘I love this band but they’re going in a direction I’m not going to be happy with.’”

When the band got together to discuss the making of The Black Album, James actually talked about how different it sounded compared to Justice saying “I’m not knocking it. It was at the right time and it felt good. But you can tell by listening to it who was mixing the thing. The drums are really loud and the guitars are really loud, so that would be me and Lars.”

Hetfield also went on to “vindicate” Thompson altogether, saying:

“We wanted it fucking tight. That’s what we wanted. We kinda know what we want to sound like. Can we sit behind a desk and make it happen? No. We ask people to do it, and they do it. So [Thompson] did his job. He’s got nothing to apologize for or point fingers at.

No one’s to blame for ‘something.’ It is a piece of art. It happened and it ended up the way it is for a reason. … We were burnt. We’re traveling, we’re playing a gig, our ears were fried. We were not sleeping. He doesn’t need to defend himself. He was a part of an awesome album in history, so I think he should maybe be a little easier on himself.”

That sentiment aside, even Kirk Hammett talked about feeling a little sorry for Jason not showing up on the record, saying “I think Jason tried to balance things out by really being prominent on those songs when they were played live. You could tell he was giving it his all and maybe that was trying to make up for not being heard on the record.”

It’s not like Jason wasn’t aware of the production hazing either, saying that he was grateful that Bob Rock was brought in saying “The Justice album didn’t feel very good for me because you couldn’t hear the bass…when Bob Rock came into the picture, bass frequencies also came into the picture.”

That doesn’t take away from the raw feeling behind the songs though, which might be the closest to progressive rock that the band would ever get, with songs that stretched out into longer exercises. And let’s face it…there’s no reason to trash-talk an album like this when something like St. Anger exists.