If you’re a musician, rock/metal fan or just have an average awareness of pop culture, chances are that you’ve heard of Metallica or can hum the tune of “Enter Sandman.” Lost underneath the band’s old-school marketable thrash metal image and catchy songs comes its members’ ability to showcase daring rawness and emotional clarity in some. These themes are especially illustrated in the 1988 release, “...And Justice for All.”
Although not as technically impressive as it was 28 years ago, the use of polyrhythms, time signature chances and strange chordal progressions throughout the album provide a subtle, but definite blueprint for prog bands of the future. For example, though he may not have the ability to play it well live any more, drummer Lars Ulrich delivers his finest performances through the use of his double bass on songs like “One” and “Dyers’ Eve.”
Moreover, all of the tracks have unique qualities that make them enjoyable. Compare the orchestral qualities of “To Live is to Die” and the epic feeling of the album’s title track to the more standard song structure of “The Shortest Straw” (my personal favorite) and “Blackened.” One thing for sure: this was also back when singer/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett were at their finest in terms of songwriting and ability to make a song “heavy,” for lack of a better term.
That’s not to say the album doesn’t have songs connected with each other. The repetitive use of the base “E” chord throughout “And Justice” actually provides a simple, but effective level of synchronization as each song stops, before moving into the next one.
Of course there’s only one real flaw with the album - and that’s how Metallica neutered the impact of bassist Jason Newsted by reducing the sound of the bass guitar in each song to barely hearable levels. Some might say this detracts from the quality of “And Justice.”
Yet consider the context, as “And Justice” came out two years after former bassist Cliff Burton died in a tragic car accident. The band, still struggling over the death of one of its most beloved members, chose to decrease the bass sound on the album out of respect for Burton’s impact - and not to diminish Newsted’s capability as a musician. The lack of bass is not an unintentional error, but a means to illustrate loss.
Although the angry diatribes against the effects of war on a soldier, censorship and environmental destruction comes a real sense of trauma and hollowness. Even if the lyrics are easily digestible for teenagers, the topics discussed and the presentation are most certainly for adults.
That’s the beauty of “And Justice.” It’s not just immature anger and anti-establishment metal music: it’s a well-woven and surprisingly technical masterpiece for its time that still has a clear impact on all subgenres of rock and metal.
How incredible - that nearly 28 years after its initial release and almost a decade after I first heard and loved its “metal” qualities, that its political messages and personal sense of grief are still relevant and important as ever?
Anokh Palakurthi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @DC_Anokh.