Thursday, November 24, 2005

With a pretty open afternoon here at the high school, I have taken it upon myself to listen to Metallica’s …And Justice For All album and give it some kind of critical appraisal.

I first listened to it back in 1994 during the summer holidays from school. It was a time of being 14, idolising Metallica with almost unwavering devotion and due to that, playing the guitar every day with vigour. Widely regarded as a lesser album than the albums that immediately preceded and followed it (Master of Puppets and The Black Album respectively), …And Justice For All has a number of things going against it – most notably the fact that all the songs are really long and intricate, and that the questionable mixing of the album totally negates any bass and reverb.

Nonetheless, I’ve always thought that Justice has some of the band’s finest material, and without further ado, let’s set things in motion with the first track…


The intro of this song has always affected me physically… it’s follows a Classical Music progression and is aching somehow, which perfectly fits the topic of the song – that we humans are killing the earth with our pollution, our progress and our decadence. As soon as I hear the harmonious fade in, I get what my fiancé would call “chicken skin”. The body of the song is vintage Metallica, with tight riffs and fast, melodic passages from Kirk Hammett. For me, this kind of song shows Metallica approaching their best – monster guitar riffs with an important message in the lyrics. However, the production greatly hampers the overall impact.

…And Justice For All

The title track continues the Classical theme introduced in the previous song with a very 18th Century opening, utilising both Hetfield’s sense of harmony and Hammett’s ear for a counter melody. Again, as is the case with Blackened, …And Justice For All has an important message to convey – that capitalism and greed and money are destroying the truly important things in life; justice, honour, truth and temperance. Ulrich’s drums patterns that eventually introduce the first verse are memorable and quite different from anything else Metallica did prior to this album. It’s not all good though – Hammett’s solo is formulaic and lacks the kind of spark and depth that would come on The Black Album, and at 9’45” it’s far too long.

Eye of the Beholder

From the age of 14 to 15 and a half, this song was always known to my friends and I as “the song before One”. However, towards the end of 1995 we started to see this song for what it was: a musical force that had all the hallmarks of a great Metallica track – a heavy, iconic intro, great tempo changes and simple but monster riffs. There is also the continuation of the Classical theme with Hammett’s pre-solo and the passage leading up to it. Despite its robustness, Eye of the Beholder always suffered by being the track before One, though like The God That Failed on The Black Album it’s something of a sleeping giant.


The most famous song on the album, and arguably any of the other albums. The lyrics really mean something, and paint a very grim, realistic picture of a casualty of war that wakes up to finds he is limbless, and lacking all of his senses. Hetfield and Hammett expertly manage to make their guitars stark and heavy, and yet at the same time exquisitely sonorous and tender. Ulrich’s drum breaks compliment the music without being intrusive and along with Enter Sandman, it’s the Metallica song that has to be played at their concerts.

The Shortest Straw

Perhaps the reason why I liked this song so much is that it’s quite straightforward to play the main licks on the guitar and sound like Hetfield. That and the unusual, broken-sounding intro, as well as the fact that the main riffs move up and down the guitar neck. Again, the Classical theme is suggested in the run up to Hammett’s solo (which is, again, technically impressive but a seems a bit like he is going through the motions). The lyrics have meaning, but this is really a music song, not a word song.

Harvester of Sorrow

My favourite song on the album, then and now, for a number of reasons. Great intro, heavy, different-sounding riffs, Lars Ulrich doing stuff on the drums that I’d never heard before, well-fitting lyrics, an unobtrusive solo, nice hooks and an overall sense of dark energy that really set Metallica apart from all the other metal bands of the time. Such a lot happens in this song, but it’s tied together with Ulrich’s precursors and responses to Hetfield’s guitar. One of those truly great Metallica songs where great lyrics and great music combine to create a superb song.

The Frayed Ends of Sanity

Again, a different sounding intro which leads into one of the heavier and more memorable riffs on the album. Some great interplay between Hetfield and Hammett with close harmonies and complimentary passages, but again, the main solo is really nondescript and I always got the feeling that it was put in at the last minute with time running out. This is one of those songs that sounds better if you can play Metallica riffs on the guitar. Some great parts in it, but overall it can’t come close to the true greats of the album (One, Harvester of Sorrow).

To Live is to Die

This song was always skipped through when we were at school (it seemed too long and too slow at the time). Now, with a further decade under my belt, To Live is to Die strikes me as a real “studio” song… lots of cutting and pasting and experimentation. It feels like it was a big glob of all the parts that they had to choose from, and that at some point they would pare it down to a manageable song and knock it into shape, but they ran out of time.

Dyers Eve

As is the case with The Frayed Ends of Sanity, this is a bit of an album filler. With songs like One and Harvester of Sorrow, it sounds like a lot of effort was put in. With Dyers Eve, it really sounds like Metallica found themselves a song short and quickly threw together something that was kicking around on a demo tape. Great riffs, pretty mundane solo. Quite symbolic for the album as a whole really.

Well, there we have it… and what have I learned on this little journey back to the age of 15? Nothing I didn’t already know actually. It’s true that some of the songs on …And Justice For All are amongst the band’s best, but the frankly awful production and mixing makes them sound more like a 6th form band than the greatest metal group of all time, especially when you consider the superb job done on Master of Puppets and The Black Album.
At the time we were listening to the album at high school, my friends and I all wished that Metallica would re release the album exactly as it was but with the same production as on Puppets or The Black Album. Now, I wish they would trim the songs as well.


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