In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we focus on Metallica‘s ‘…And Justice For All,’ the album that introduced them to radio, MTV and arena headlining status. The record turns 25 this week.
You could hear the complaining about 35 seconds in. Metallica’s feverishly-anticipated follow-up to their breakthrough 1985 album Master Of Puppets started out pretty well, with James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett’s guitars swirling over each other, recorded normally, then reversed and played backwards on the album.
And then: enter the drums. Of all the things that angered fans about this album (They did a nine-minute ballad! They made a video! They’re touring arenas! They’re using a non-metal band — The Cult — as their opener! And didn’t they get a new bass player? Why can’t we hear him?), one thing that seemed to rankle them most was the sound of Lars Ulrich’s drums.
On the band’s first three albums, Ulrich pounded the drums like Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward or Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham had done years before. But on Justice, the drums sounded thin and clicky even though it was high up in the mix — like he was borrowing an electronic kit from a defunct new wave band. Producer Flemming Rasmussen, who had produced Master of Puppets and Metallica’s 1984 album Ride The Lightning, also helmed …Justice, but he wasn’t the original producer. Due to schedule conflicts, he wasn’t available when the band wanted to start, so they used Mike Clink, who had impressed the band with his work on a little album called Appetite For Destruction. But after a few weeks, it became apparent that Clink wasn’t the right guy for Metallica and Rasmussen returned to the fold.
As Mr. Rasmussen told Radio.com, “I was booked all through January and February of 1988, and the band wanted to start January 3. On January 21, Lars called me and simply asked: ‘When can You come?’ So I pushed all my [previously booked] sessions together and left for Los Angeles on February 14.
“When I got there, they had only recorded one song, which was one of the B-sides, and I was not too pleased with that. So, we started from scratch.”
And while he produced the album, he didn’t mix it; the band had already hired Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero (who mixed Appetite For Destruction) for those duties. Rasmussen maintains that Ulrich’s drums were well recorded.
“I was very surprised when I heard the mix, but assumed it was what the band (i.e. Lars and James) wanted,” he said. “It didn’t sound like that when I left the session.”
— Brian Ives, Radio.com