...And Justice for All is Metallica's best album. It's not as influential as Ride the Lightning or as grand as Master of Puppets (Black Album? what Black Album?) but it represents the band operating at their most ambitious and mostly succeeding with nihilistic yet impassioned socio-political commentary. "One" is obviously a classic, but slam "Blackened" or "Eye of the Beholder" today and get spooked by their relevance after almost 30 years. Of course, the music is so good that it defies the album's famously botched production: no bass, thin guitars, and a drum tone that AllMusic writer Steve Huey once perfectly described as a "click." To summarize, ...And Justice for All sounds like wet dog shit, but it still rips.
The story behind precisely why it sounds like wet dog shit isn't a terribly complicated one, but it is one worth telling, especially if the album's producer Flemming Rasmussen is the source. Rasmussen very recently sat down with Metallica podcast Alphabetallica to discuss his time recording, in his words, "the three good Metallica albums" and explained that the treble-heavy mix is totally not his fault.
What happened was [mixing engineers Steve Thompson and Mike Barbiero] did a mix that they thought sounded really, really good, which had lots of bass in it. ... But, [the rest of the band] heard the mix and they went, 'Alright, take the bass down, change this this this and this, and then take the bass down.' So you can barely hear it. And then once they've done that they said, 'Take it another 3dB down.' Why they did that—I have no idea! It could be that they were still grieving about Cliff. I have no idea. But imagine my surprise when I heard the album.
This seems to jibe with testimonies by Thompson, who told Ultimate Guitar in 2015 (partially archived here) that Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was adamant about turning down the bass in his drums and in the overall mix. What's incredible is that, according to Thompson, Ulrich asked him about the mix when the two of them were flying out to Metallica's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
"They flew us out and I'm sitting with Lars," explained Thompson. "He goes, 'Hey, what happened to the bass in …Justice?' He actually asked me that. I wanted to cold cock him right there. It was a shame because I'm the one getting the shit for the lack of bass."
Funnily enough, then-bassist Jason Newsted isn't extremely vexed about what essentially amounted to a hazing from Ulrich and Metallica singer/guitarist James Hetfield, as he's still proud of the music he contributed to. He told Loudwire in 2013 that a fan gave him a fan-edited, bass-heavy version of the album called "...And Justice for Jason," which he thought was neat. The moral of the story is to never let musicians take over in mixing, unless they have experience. Also, the mixing process is the furthest thing from a game. You can listen to "...And Justice for Jason" below because metal bassists deserve props, goddammit.
Phil is a fan of all uniquely flawed works. He's on Twitter.