...perhaps in hindsight this is one effort best left to the completists.
Eamonn Stack 2007
And Justice For All was released in 1988, after what was an extremely difficult time in the personal lives of the members of Metallica. While touring their previous release, Master Of Puppets, their tour bus was involved in an accident that killed their bass player Cliff Burton.
This album sounds different to every other Metallica record, vocally gruffer but with thinner orchestration. Drums tick and pop, rather than bang, the guitars sound dryer and thinner, and there’s little in the way of bass. The guitars even occasionally resemble electric violins or cellos - particularly on the closing track "Dyers Eve".
The songs are longer too. And as the sound has become thinner and tauter the songs have grown grander and more epic. These are musicians becoming more ambitious craftsmen and experimenting as a result.
Part of this experimentation sees the group explore their progressive streak, but thankfully the speed with which they dispense time changes, new ideas and new phrases that prevent this going on for too long.
As a record it's complicated, aggressive and hugely technically ambitious (so much so that the majority of these songs have only rarely been reproduced in their entirety live), and contains snatches of some of Metallica's finest work – “Blackened” and “Frayed Ends Of Sanity” stand out in particular, both full of ideas, crackling with aggression and neck-snapping hooks.
However, it’s a shame that the rigor applied to recording ideas wasn’t applied to making the album sound better, the thin production gives the whole record a monochrome, slightly one-dimensional feel.
It's as if such was their confidence as a group that they were determined to pursue and express every idea as it occurred in every song, and there are lots of them so they get bigger and grander, but sometimes needlessly so, this lack of economy can leave you feeling like a spectator.
As a result this is a less inclusive, more introverted and frankly quite gloomy record. Although it’s mightily impressive, perhaps in hindsight this is one effort best left to the completists.