Thursday, October 28, 2010

Metallica - ...And Justice For All (1988)

...And Justice For All is the fourth studio album from Metallica. It is largely considered to be the final album of the band's classic era, and it holds to the same formula that was present on the previous two records. In a strange twist, this L.P. features some of the band's most progressive and complicated songwriting, while also firmly establishing the more simplified and less thrash-oriented sound that the band would go on to follow.

Growing up, Metallica was one of my favourite bands. As mentioned before, they were significant in my early musical development, but very little of their work seems to have stood the test of time, for me. While Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning are still quite enjoyable, when I'm in the mood for them, I find Master of Puppets and ...And Justice For All to be rather boring. In fact, it's to such an extent that listening to them seems like a chore, more than anything else.

The album begins with "Blackened", which would give the listener hope that the band was still capable of writing intense riffs. Much like "Fight Fire With Fire" and "Battery", we have an intro, albeit non-acoustic, before launching into some of the fastest playing on the album. Unfortunately, by the time the first verse comes, a calmer riff takes over. The slower section of the song is a little boring, but some nice guitar harmonies follow, showing final signs of the NWOBHM influence that has been gradually fading. All in all, this is still one of the more listenable songs on the record.

Next up is, of course, the title track. It begins with an acoustic intro, before slowly building up. There's not much speed to be found, which is disappointing. It's a fairly mid-paced affair, with a decent solo, but a little repetitive for my taste. Again, this is an example of a song that could have been a couple minutes shorter and still made the same impact; perhaps, even more so. The overpowering urge to return for one final verse-chorus section sort of kills the feeling, and it is something that they failed to learn from the previous album.

The main riff of "Eye of the Beholder" is catchy and memorable, but overly simplistic and points to the direction that the band would follow, later on. There are some annoying effects on the vocals, as well. At this point, I must address the bass issue. For years and years, I've read about ...And Justice For All featuring almost no bass. Strangely, the overall sound of this record seems to have more bass in the mix than any of the previous ones. When I was younger, I could listen to Metallica albums at full volume with no problem, until I tossed this tape in. The speakers would rumble a lot more with this one, because of the higher bass frequencies. So, whether or not the actual bass lines are audible, the mixing of the album resulted in some kind of over-compensation which I've never heard anyone mention.

Side A ends with "One", the second attempt to recapture the feeling of "Fade to Black". For a second time (the first being "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"), they have failed to match their previous accomplishments and the repetitive song arrangement of their albums has become tiresome as well. The first half of the song is boring and uninspired, while the second half picks up the energy and features some decent riffs and solos. Unfortunately, they'd have been better utilized without the ballad section. This is the song that really helped the band break through and become the corporate entity that it is now, so I spit on it and everything that it stands for.

Side B begins, as usual, with a more energetic song. "The Shortest Straw" is better than the last few tracks, though it still gets boring fairly quick. The chorus section is what really does it, in my view. Come to think of it, the guitars seemed to be tuned lower than on the earlier records, which may be part of why the sound is off. It helps add a darker atmosphere to the album, but doesn't always suit the actual songwriting. Not a terrible song, but it would have been more pleasing had it been recorded for Kill 'Em All.

"Harvester of Sorrow" is one of the songs that actually does benefit from the guitar tone. It opens with a dark intro that seems to feature some kind of anguished moans in the background, with a very ghastly feeling attributed to this. And, oddly enough, this may be the first time that I've ever noticed that, over 20 years later. Again, the main riffs are mid-paced and catchy, seeming more accessible and it's no wonder that this is a crowd favourite. I will give them credit enough by saying that, despite the lack of speed and intensity, even the most lifeless songs on this album are superior to the garbage that they would go on to record a few years later.

The next song is "The Frayed Ends of Sanity". After the irritating intro, it actually picks up the pace and is one of the more enjoyable songs on ...And Justice For All. The middle of the song features some good riffs, solos and guitar harmonies. They could have built to a really epic ending but, of course, they had to return for one more verse and chorus. They seem to really get off on killing the potential of a lengthy song by sticking to conventional methods that only restrict their ability to create a truly epic atmosphere.

"To Live is To Die" keeps up the tradition, established by "The Call of Ktulu" and "Orion", of having an epic instrumental track near the end of the album. Without the limitations brought on by the vocal structure dictating the flow of the song, they're able to create something quite impressive. While still failing to match "The Call of Ktulu", it's at least on par with "Orion", with the exception of the brief spoken-word piece near the end. There are hints of real brilliance, just before this, but they abandon these ideas for more achievable goals. In the future, they'd not even dare to be so ambitious.

Flowing from the final notes of the previous song, "Dyers Eve" is this album's version of "Damage, Inc.", the requisite thrash song to end the record. It is, easily, the fastest and most straight-forward song on the album. Unfortunately, the vocals kind of kill it. Not so much the actual vocals, but the lyrics themselves. Hetfield comes off like a whining child, writing an angry letter to his parents. Also, the riffs that accompany the verses are boring and simplistic. For some reason, the band has lost the ability to sustain a series of thrash riffs for even five minutes.

...And Justice For All was a really sad way to end Metallica's classic era. It's but a pale shadow of what they once were and also served to open the gates to the mainstream, where they would completely destroy their legacy. While the song arrangements, here, may have been more complex and progressive, the actual riffs were overly simplistic and designed for mass consumption. Like anything else that achieves enough popularity to become an institution, the temptation to trade principles for the almighty dollar rose before them and they chose fame and money over artistic integrity.