My series on Metallica goes on to their fourth studio release, …And Justice For All. They knew this was gonna be a tough one. They lost their insanely talented bass player Cliff Burton and they recruited touring musician Jason Newsted (who had a completely different style of playing to Burton). Regardless, they kept their chins up and made what is one of their best albums, tied with Master of Puppets.
…And Justice For All was released on August the 25th 1988. Newsted had previously played on Metallica’s covers EP The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Revisited and played their numerous tour dates, including 1987’s Monsters of Rock at Donington. That, for all you alternative/metalcore kids, is the old version of Download (which I shall be attending this year). The boys signed with Phonogram Records and AJFA was born.
The first track, Blackened, is one of the band’s better known songs. It has an atmospheric, fade in build up, played backwards (which harks back to Hendrix’s use of backward guitar tracks in Are You Experienced?) and Hetfield’s fast, thrashing riffage comes into play. Then, the drums come in. I forgot to mention, this album has no bass. Jason was basically the new boy in the band so they thought to make the bass tracks almost inaudible, filling the leftover tracks with James’ cold, icy guitar, which I think sounds cool but some may beg to differ. If the lack of bass bothers you, there are versions of the album online called …And Justice For Jason where the bass is added. Back to Blackened. The guitar and drums are playing, perfectly punctuating each other. Vocals come in with James’ voice he perfected in their previous album (only to blow it out 5 years later sadly) “Blackened is the end, winter it will send, throwing all you see, into obscurity… NEVER! Fire, to begin whipping dance of the dead, blackened is the end!”. The lyrics of this song deal with similar subjects to Fight Fire With Fire off RTL, the threat of a nuclear apocalypse and annihilation due to nuclear war (we were in the 80s remember). You are gonna see a lot of political and social themes in this album.
The second track, the title track, starts off with an acoustic intro that hypnotises the listener (just like Battery did off MOP) before unleashing an avalanche of metal goodness. The lyrics deal with injustice in America, after all, that is the title of the album. The cover has a picture of Lady Justice with some scales cracking and breaking as a reference to this. At their live shows, this number is a bona fide crowd pleaser, I saw them live at Sonisphere Knebworth last year and they did an audience poll (you had to text a vote of song, either Justice, The Four Horsemen or Wherever I May Roam). Justice won by a couple hundred votes. And from what I saw, it wasn’t hard to see why. Electrifying guitar riffs, Lars’ double bass, Kirk’s incredible solo and 9 minutes of it too. You might think this is the flagship tune off this album. Nah mate, you’re wrong.
We then move on to the next song that will bowl you over, One. You probably know this track, it won a Grammy in 1988 for Best Metal Performance, and won it again in 2013, this time with a piano accompaniment from renowned classical performer Lang Lang. Plus it’s music video is on every MTV ‘Best Rock Videos’ countdown, and Beavis and Butthead saw it in one of their sketches. It starts with a sample of a war scene, then 2 clean arpeggios come in, alternating for a few bars until Kirk plays a melodic slow solo over it, then the riff changes into the verse riff, James softly sings “I can’t remember anything, can’t tell if this is true or dream, deep down inside I feel the scream, this terrible silence stops me”. Then the hard chorus comes in (it’s soft-hard-soft-hard-HEAVY structure) and there is a melodic bridge then the verse returns. Then the chorus comes back and then it gets really heavy and James plays an extremely dark section then silence-Lars plays a bar of his famous double bass, then James comes in with a blisteringly fast heavy riff, where his vocals that fit over it sing “Darkness. Imprisoning me. All that I see. Absolute horror. I cannot live. I cannot die. Trapped in myself. Body my holding cell! The lyrics themselves deal with not only the physical effects of war, but the emotional scarring the images if war leave behind. This makes it a perfect response to Simon Armitage’s Manhunt poem. Or because One was written before Manhunt this makes it inspired by Metallica, that would have been awesome to say to my awesome English teacher who likes metal also. Back to the song, we haven’t even got to the best part yet, after this dark part Kirk comes in with not only the best Metallica solo, but one of the best solos in all of metal. Bam. Skin-shreddingly fast triplets followed by a complex bit that I won’t even try and put into layman’s terms. Then the dark riff returns, the end. You just listened (hopefully, otherwise these reviews would be a waste of time) to Metallica’s biggest feat in terms of not only songwriting but commercially as well. Now go and tell all your friends you now know one of the best metal songs in existence.
The next song worth telling you about is To Live Is To Die. Cliff having died in a tour bus crash in 1986, he had an unreleased song up his sleeve. That, in my opinion, is just as good as Orion and Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth). It’s an instrumental with an acoustic intro that is just beautiful to hear and it evolves into an awesomely put together power chord progression. It’s heavy but still has that melodic spark Cliff’s songwriting had. Kirk’s solos on this song were played with so much emotion. Look at other lead metal guitarists. The solos some of them shred out have no emotion to them, just speed. They are more like guitar playing machines. Kirk’s solo in this (and Fade To Black, One, Sanitarium) has so much emotion, to be fair that always has made them better than the other metal bands, emotion, but this really speaks to you like no other song has in your life. Just 10 minutes of your life, and you will walk away from your CD player knowing music is an actual language without the lyrics. I am writing this now with goosebumps and butterflies thinking about the sheer beauty and meaning this song has.
The album ending, Dyers Eve, is where Metallica show off their speediness. Damage Inc and My Apocalypse are prime examples of this. They wanted to go out with a bang, so they wrote Dyers Eve. Apart from it being the fastest Metallica song (either that or Fight Fire With Fire) it has lyrics about James’ religious upbringing. His parents were very strict Christian Scientists. The key belief is that God fixes everything. James’ mother died of cancer, refusing medical treatment because she thought God will fix it.
James addresses this in more songs post-Dyers Eve, but as we are at 1,220 words already I’m gonna have to say goodnight…