This year marks three Metallica albums hitting a significant age. Death Magnetic is ten years old, Garage Inc. is twenty years old, and the potent …And Justice For All reaches its thirtieth birthday. Many opinions are tossed around in regards to the band’s fourth output. While their more mature approach to songwriting was already beginning to take form on Master Of Puppets and even somewhat on Ride The Lightning, it was this beast that added maturity to the actual playing. It also holds the title as the final Metallica record to fit the thrash bill for a while, although personally I think there’s still a fair amount of thrash numbers on the following self-titled release. Either way, it was the last one with this solidified root, and for many, it was the final blow before they’d stop paying attention to this band. Critics and fans very much acclaimed this album, and it made for a lot of success.
Sticking with Elektra Records, this album hit the scene in 1988 alongside other iconic albums of its time, including Slayer’s South Of Heaven, Testament’s The New Order, and many other thrash classics. Justice would bring us the first music video by these Bay Area thrashers, that being “One,” featuring clips from the film Johnny Got His Gun. Many of the songs on here steered clear of the typical verse-chorus structure, which helped with that technical feel and made it stand out some more. Most importantly, it was the first full length record to not include bassist Cliff Burton, unless if you count the writing credits in “To Live Is To Die.”
Out with Burton, in with Newsted, and many refer to Justice as the one with no bass, sloppy production, or the most technically advanced. All stances check out, but none of them prevent this monster from being what it is, and there’s no denying the impact that it had on thrash metal records to come. Despite being very mature, I’ve always found this one to be their angriest. The way that it targeted corruption, rebellion, and insanity gave it a sharper edge and a harder energy. Combine this with the progressive time signatures and strum patterns and you’ve got a full package that gets the job done even without the assistance of solid bass work. “Frayed Ends Of Sanity” is one of my favorites, with the way the chord progressions in the riffs dance all over the place, while maintaining the furious notion. Of course, there’s also the world famous “One,” a softer number that utilizes suspense and lays down the guitar parts in layers. Rhythm and lead guitar teamwork is essential to this piece. Here, thirty years later, I fail to find many albums that were able to crack these tactics better, with a few exceptions of course (see Megadeth’s Rust In Peace or Overkill’s The Years Of Decay).
James Hetfield and co. wouldn’t really touch on this style too much in the years to come, but that’s something that makes Justice so unique. An important part of how an album is received is how it holds up, and in my eyes, this is just as essential in 2018 as it was back in 1988. It’s also my favorite Metallica release, and in my eyes a perfect record. The only sad part about this is that because of the amount of skill that went into it, the songs were harder to reproduce live. This resulted in incorporating medleys, with a pretty famous one being on their Live Shit: Binge And Purge album. “Dyers Eve” is also almost never played, because of the level of difficulty, and that happens to be another one of my favorite ones.
Lengthy songs have always been somewhat of a Metallica staple, but you’ve got to appreciate the sixty five minute run time, with almost every track exceeding five minutes, as well as a couple exceeding nine minutes. The kicker? None of them get boring at any point, and manage to keep the blood pumping through the whole thing.
The album cover is something that’s instantly recognizable to almost anybody, which just shows the impact that it has made in the metal community. There’s talk floating around of ….And Justice For All being remastered and bringing the bass out far more than the original cut. This album can be picked up at almost any retail CD marketplace, and many platforms online. The vinyl is a little bit harder to come across as there weren’t as many copies made, but to own that would be a gem in itself for sure! There are also accessible re-issues. If for some wild reason you haven’t heard Justice before, now is the time to spin this disc. Like I said, I think it’s their strongest one.