Review Summary: The last 80s record that Metallica recorded, provides a somewhat more complex musical approach to the genre of thrash metal.
Metallica... these guys need no introduction. Everyone knows these guys them. Hate 'em or love 'em, they definitely had a big impact on music, especially on the heavy metal side of things, with many bands quoting them as one of their major influences, most notably Trivium and Dream Theater, but many others too. Metallica have also been covered by various artists, down to whole tribute albums. This stands as a worthy memory to their lasting legacy in metal.
Now, in recent years (read: post-black album) releases have been nothing short of craptastic. Many of them were criticised by the old fans, who clamoured for a return to their old thrash style of the 80s, and who ditched the band mostly over sellout comments. While I am by no means of the opinion that Metallica sold out, they definitely did put out things to wipe your backside with. The albums Load, ReLoad, and St. Anger were no good at all (S&M was excellent), and the Black Album remains a topic of controversy; I consider it a very mediocre album, definitely not ranking among their best.
However, this is ..and Justice for all. Hailed as their last great album, and thrash to the core, this album does stand the test of time as one of their best releases ever. Despite the departure of the late Cliff Burton, they found a worthy replacement in Jason Newsted (once quoted by Lars to be a "human ball of energy"), who however can sadly not be heard in the mix. The bass is nearly absent from this album, despite that production flaw, this is one of the best, if not the best record Metallica has ever put out. Don't get me wrong, I like Ride the Lightning very much, and Master of Puppets is an excellent disc; but between these three the differences are not very big. I cannot ever seem to pick a favourite; however, this is an excellent disc.
Now, the plus sides of Justice compared to those of the other two are, first and foremost, that Metallica display some form of musicianship on here, and think in a more progressive sense of the word. Their songs are longer, more complex, more difficult to play (see: To Live is To Die, title track), and musically well written. It is also no secret that in a live setting, Metallica has had trouble in the past to reproduce the creativity of this record. It was that complex, or is it because Metallica just suck? Either of those, I prefer the former explanation, the riffs are varied and difficult, albeit somewhat boring at times (Frayed ends of Sanity, anyone?). However, One is still a staple of the Metallica live shows, and for good reason; it is quite simply one of the best tracks these guys ever recorded, and a highlight of the Metallica catalogue.
However, the production is terrible (not that the production of MoP or RtL was great). It doesn't detract from the album, although the guitars sound slightly thin at times, as does the drum, it isn't subtracting from the album's listening quality for me; several listens through I'm still pleased to hear most of these tracks. Blackened is still a staple on my mp3 player. The production got better on Black Album: but we all know what that did for Metallica. Maybe it's just a quality of old school thrash that the sound isn't all that optimal; it just belongs to the nostalgia of this genre. They don't play thrash anymore like they used to! (well, they do, but they're more far and between. Can anyone tell me of a good thrash band recently that didn't start in the 80s?)
Highlight songs on this album are Blackened, with its unmistakable opening riff, One (most likely one of the best songs Metallica have ever done, with the exception of Fade to Black in my opinion), Harvester of Sorrow, where I love the riff and chorus, To Live is to Die (awesome instrumental tribute to Cliff Burton), and Dyers' Eve (that mother***ing tempo; Lars sucks for not playing it live until 2004). One also marks the first commercial video Metallica have ever shot, something they'd promised their fans never to do. Somehow we all bought into it, but this time Metallica are forgiven; this is a great track.
Downsides of this album are the fact that some songs are so long they start to drag and plod (the title track, despite a good chorus, is guilty of this), Frayed ends of Sanity is boring overall, The Shortest Straw and Eye of the Beholder have their moments, but again fall short on the catchiness and listenable factor, they just can't captivate all the way through. This is the only real complaint I have with this album though: the guitar work is excellent, and the drums fit the songs, and James doesn't sing like a total fag like he does on Kill 'em All. Maybe if they could have made some riffs fit better, and cut the nauseating end of the title track, the album would have been just that bit better overall, and lift it up above the other two I've already mentioned: because besides the gems, there's also some trash. Apparently Metallica can't do without filler.
Overall, the good outweighs the bad on this record, and lifts it up to a comfortable 4 out of 5 stars rating on the Sputnik scale, though if you want to get into Metallica, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets are better bets. I'm quite fond of this album, and several spins through I still like most of what's on here, but it's not a very consistent record. However, it's still Metallica on form, so if you're into it, this album is quite the worthy buy. It's still essential thrash metal, and it does contain some excellent songs. I don't think Metallica will ever come close to repeating an album of this stature again, even if it's not their best.