Review Summary: How you view Metallica or not, this was their last truly great album.
There's a certain type of power, decency, and fondness found in the 90's music that seems to have gotten entangled in the pop, hip hop, and rap culture today, and lost somewhere trying to get back. From the 70's to the 90's, metal was amazing. Black Sabbath became one of the single biggest, if not the biggest, metal bands of all time, and inspired several other second to none artists. And unless you've been living in a cave your whole life, you've obliviously heard of Metallica. They're a listening experience like none other, where they actually helped keep metal interesting through the 80's and 90's, when MTV took over, makes it just as cohesive. Their first four albums made the band absolute juggernauts. Kill 'Em All gave the band a sucker punch of high underground reputation. Ride the Lightning improved media and fanbase attention. Master of Puppets would garner worldwide popularity. And even when fans screeched at the cataclysmic success of their self-titled album, when it became one of the fastest-selling albums of all time, followed by Load and ReLoad, which were the final gunshots on Metallica's wounded torso, they still have the old albums to look back to. One of which is the breathtaking ...And Justice For All.
You'd think that after three albums and a plethora of material, popularity, and good reputation, they'd die down just like that. But, no, Metallica was still going strong. In fact, the success of Master of Puppets energized them for the next album, one TOTALLY different from anything they did before: lyrically, it was different. It sung about political injustice and dark themes about war. Instrumentally, it was different. It wasn't the same breakneck speed that possessed Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning, and, to a lesser extent, Master of Puppets. It changed to a different melody of being a progressive album, almost, completely experimental.
But, for some reason, it works. ...And Justice For All is a brilliant album.
However, I'll start with the oblivious disadvantages to Justice For All. For starters, after the horrific death of Burton in Sweden, they needed a new replacement. Jason Newsted was taken under their wing. Unfortunately, Newsted's potential gets lost and never comes back. The bass is virtually nonexistent. While on one hand where Burton chugged along at a deep pace, even getting his own solo, Newsted is probably just that guy in the back, just whipping away at his four strings.
That could be due to the heavy production flaws on the album. Production never was a high note on the first five, and it shows here. The guitars come across as laughably thin and neutral. James's extraordinary voice feels steeled together and just mixed in at the last minute at times here. At times, Hetfield clashes onward, howling as good as before. At other times, the mastering flaws put a stranglehold on the vocals.
And to the core, ...And Justice For All is way too ***ing long. Clocking in at one hour and ten minutes with only nine tracks, the album drags on far too long for its own good. To Live Is To Die, although an excellent instrumental at times, is nearly ten goddamn minutes long, and it's next to impossible to stand the length of it all. The shortest song on here, Dyers Eve, containing a good riff and vocals, is five minutes. Annoyingly, The Frayed Ends of Sanity is highly guilty of this.
Ultimately, ...And Justice For All is an awesome album. It's the band at their greatest, and at the point in their career when they were the metal gods. One, although only slightly overrated, is a masterpiece. Following a hauntingly peaceful riff over calming drums, with James wailing into the microphone, and a perspective of a soldier with all his limbs lost. With three instrumental sections, each one of the tempos getting more and more heavier, until it finally all explodes in a medley of thrashing drum beats and a grinding guitar solo. The title track, though it goes on far too long, is also noteworthy. With a crushing intro and a memorable guitar tempo, then shifting into James snarling "Justice is Lost, Justice is Raped, Justice Is GONE!" Had it been much shorter, the title track would of been amazing. Other honorable highlights include "Blackened", which, after a haunting intro with another brilliant riff and James screeching, "Blackened is the eeeeeenddd!", and Harvester of Sorrow's thumping, slightly slower melody over tapping drum echoes over eerie lyrics of pain and suffering.
...And Justice For All. Is it Metallica's last truly great album? Yes and no. The production would indefinitely need some tune-ups: the melodies, riffs, and tempos need some serious editing, and vocal edits are harshly needed. It's far too long, and at times boring. But, those are the only two major flaws in an otherwise amazing piece of metal. For those annoyed by the drum snares in St. Anger, the stupid inflections in the vocals in Death Magnetic, or just damn tired of hearing 'Enter Sandman' on the radio a hundred times, ...And Justice For All can, although not flawlessly, serve you. Highly recommended.