Has it actually been 20 years?
To define a Metallica album pre-Black is to define a genre in itself, with rampaging drums, extensive guitar solos, and Cliff Burton doing what he does best by melting faces on his electric bass with signature tunes like “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)” up until 1988.
…And Justice For All was recorded after the time of Cliff Burton’s early death by tour bus in 1986. Unfortunately, that which brands this album a classic also makes it mournful since the style is of a much darker tone than anything before it in the Metallica catalog.
To commemorate it’s 20th anniversary and the release of Death Magnetic, I think it would be only appropriate to dust off this classic masterpiece.
I was exactly 4 years old when …And Justice For All became a thrasher centerpiece, and kindly my dad introduced me to Metallica by way of Metallica many years later. From that point forward I’ve listened for anything in relation to the band, and tried to research their history over time.
A tragic tour bus accident killed their original bassist Cliff Burton, and naturally it sent shock waves through his bandmates and fans alike. Upon releasing Justice, only one track featured Burton – a lengthy instrumental arrangement including his final riffs ever put on tape, and only a fraction of actual dialogue throughout it’s nearly 10 minute run time. To date, it is only one of two songs from this album never to be played live – the other being my personal favorite, “Frayed Ends Of Sanity”.
…And Justice For All was a massive success for the band, and much to the chagrin of loyal fans it produced Metallica’s first music video, “One”. The tone for the video was exactly as dark as it needed to be, featuring footage from an old film of a man in traction alluding to the song’s main character (presumably a war veteran) who is “tied to machines” and wishes to die.
The overall tone for …And Justice For All is relatively simplified on it’s cover, with cracked and worn Liberty hold a scale that has been tipped with money. Everything from politics to social issues were covered, including hatred, lies, government corruption, and the destruction of Earth itself. Unlike it’s predecessors, the lyrics were more direct than ever as can be seen in it’s title track:
Lady Justice Has Been Raped
Rolls of Red Tape Seal Your Lips
Now You’re Done in
Their Money Tips Her Scales Again
Make Your Deal
Just What Is Truth? I Cannot Tell
The Ultimate in Vanity
Exploiting Their Supremacy
I Can’t Believe the Things You Say
I Can’t Believe
I Can’t Believe the Price We Pay
Nothing Can Save Us
Justice Is Lost
Justice Is Raped
Justice Is Gone
Pulling Your Strings
Justice Is Done
Seeking No Truth
Winning Is All
Find it So Grim
The first-ever Grammy to a metal act was given to Metallica in 1990 for “One” – however controversy was spurred in the fact that …And Justice For All was nominated for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance and lost to Jethro Tull’s Crest of a Knave.
This is recognized as one of the biggest upsets in the award show’s history.
It should also be of note that when Jason Newstead was brought on as Burton’s successor, he was hazed repeatedly by the rest of the band and rumor has it that this included the lack of volume in Justice‘s bass chords. Another hint to this effect is in that Newstead was credited as songwriter in only one track, “Blackened”.
With a new bassist on board as it were, Metallica embarked on a tour to promote album while also stating that there were nights when the members would leave the stage and remark, “We’re never playing that fucking song again!” Critically hailed by various magazines, and reached #6 on the Billboard charts. Though I continually state that chart status does not define a classic, it is significant here in that in 1991 Metallica (also called The Black Album) was released and seemed to over-shadow Justice in terms of record sales and cleaner production.
The extensive length of the songs on Justice played a part in the shorter songs on later albums, beginning with Metallica and (most recently) ending by Death Magnetic. This album, again until Death Magnetic marked the end of their thrash metal days – examples being hard rock on Metallica, blues rock on Load and Reload, alternative on St. Anger, and collaborating with the late Michael Kamen and his orchestra on S&M.
As much a history lesson as a record, …And Justice For All is not just a second listen or even a third – it is timeless, and for that reason I urge all of you to dig out your copy or hit up local used CD stores.