The Importance of Being Metal: Metallica-...And Justice For All

Metallica-...And Justice For All
1988; Elektra; One On One Studios, Los Angeles

1. Is It Any Good?

I often compare Metallica's "holy trinity" of albums-Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets and ...And Justice For All-to the original Star Wars trilogy, both in terms of influence on their respective genres and in terms of overall popularity, as well as both being enjoyed and debated by dorks. I think of ...And Justice For All as the Return of the Jedi of the trinity, for the reasons that it is a)the last entry in the series and b)generally the most under appreciated of the originals. If you want proof of this, just look at the list that inspired this whole project at metalrules.com-Master of Puppets holds the #1 place and Ride The Lightning comes close behind at #3, while Justice trails at a comparatively meager #72. It holds the cumbersome distinction of being what many consider to be the last "real" Metallica album as well as being considered the worst of the "real" Metallica albums. This is not to say that it is out-and-out disliked, just that very few would place it as the best of the trinity. I generally don't think this album gets enough credit for the risks it takes and the boundaries it pushes.

...And Justice For All is Metallica's most ambitious album, and in many ways it's also their most impenetrable. It's a lengthy piece of work at 65 minutes, and they're not a particularly inviting 65 minutes, at that. In an interview, Kirk Hammet best described the feeling from the fans about the album's music expressed during live preformances:

"Touring behind it, we realized the general consensus were that these songs were too fucking long. Everyone would have these long faces, and I would think 'Goddamn, they're not enjoying it as much as we are'. If it wasn't for the big bang at the end of the song...I can remember going offstage one night during 'Justice' and one of us saying 'Fuck, that's the last time we ever play that fucking song!'"

The song he's reffering to is the title track, which comes in at 9:46. With an ominous drum line, downturned, repetititive riffs, and lines like "Justice is lost, justice is raped, justice is gone", the song becomes a slog, an excersize in endurance more than anything else. It's not the exception to the rule, either-most songs on the album are between 6 and 9 minutes, and the shortest song, "Dyers Eve", is a five-minute rail against the narrator's parents. If none of this sounds especially pleasant to listen to, that's because it isn't. This does not, however, make the album bad, and in many ways makes it one of the most fascinating entries in Metallica's entire discography.

This album came out right on the heals of the death of Cliff Burton, the band's former bassist and friends of everyone else in the band since childhood. There was some debate between members of the band as to whether or not Metallica should even stay together with one of their founding members dead. It's also interesting to note that the bass guitar has been almost entirely mixed out of the album in post production-I'll let you make of that what you will.

Likewise, James Hetfeild's mother had just died, and it's my belief that these two things together represented, for the band, a lack of justice or purpose going forward with both life and their careers at large-hence the title, and the album art showing Lady Justice bound, beaten and exposed.

There had been no shortage of dark subject matter on albums before-war, death and misery were common themes on the preceding albums and they certainly didn't disappear here. Whereas one could headbang to "Disposable Heroes" or throw up the horns for "Fade To Black", however, Justice presented music that was very hard to move to. The only adjective I can think of to describe this album is "thick". This is music that must be waded through-while maybe not technically as heavy as a lot of albums coming out around the same time, I know of very few other albums that have been able to create such a distinct, striking expression of pain. It's a captivating look at sincere despair almost injected into the instruments themselves. Metallica hadn't made an album like this before and chances are slim to none that they ever will again.

Every song is a weight that the listener must carry, and if you can hold the weight, you will find ...And Justice For All to be a very rewarding experience.

2. Is It "Important"?

As one of the "trinity" of Metallica albums, it holds with it a certain degree of importance simply by existing. If this album inspired any kids to play the guitar, however, it was probably only due to "One" being featured on Guitar Hero III. Even with the status of technically being their breakout hit, this album remains comparatively forgotten and isn't used as the same sort of blueprint for metal quality that Lightning and Master are.

3. Is It A Good Entry Point For Beginners?

Inasmuch as the fact that every Metallica album is a good entry point for beginners, this one qualifies. The new listener should be warned, however, that this is not really Metallica as they know them from the radio or from previous records-headbanging material is few and far between and while dark subject matter is nothing unique to Metallica, the depressive lyrics combined with the spartan production and bludgening musicianship may threaten to overwhelm anyone who doesn't have a clear idea of what they're getting into. Come in expecting more songs like "One" and the album could quite easily scare away the uninitiated. Somebody who is prepared for the density contained within, however, will find the payoff to be quite extraordinary.

Well...maybe after the second listen. Or third.


Touring behind it, we realized that the general consensus was that songs were too fucking lo
Touring behind it, we realized that the general consensus was that songs were too fucking long,'

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