Review Summary: "a classic Thrash Metal album showing the aggressiveness and technical/progressive prowess of Metallica but also maturity"
Through out their early years Metallica were all about power, rage, speed and aggressiveness and their music expressed it very clearly this album is no different if anything its even more. Up to this point they released 3 highly influential and critically acclaimed albums "Kill 'Em All", "Ride The Lightning" and "Master Of Puppets" the latter being regarded to this day as one of the best Metal/Thrash Metal greatest and most influential albums. After such an achievement it would be very hard to produce a follow up album to match or suppress it, especially after their long time bassist and dear friend Cliff Burton past away after a horrible bus crash the band was involved in, but I believe they succeeded in creating one of their best, or even the best album of their career. The band soldiered on and recruited a new bassist Jason Newsted whose bass was very low in the mix due to James desire to make a loud and gritty sounding guitar tone for the album resulting in him and the rest of the band deciding to sacrifice the low end of the mix (bass) and also from the abuse and non caring attitude towards Jason and his contributions to the album from the still grieving band members.
The grieving band pulled out all the stops channeling that anger and grief into this project making it their most aggressive, technical and progressive album to date. Like "Ride The Lightning" and "Master Of Puppets" before it, the writing was mostly done by James Hetfield (Vocalist, Rhythm Guitarist) and Lars Ulrich (Drummer) with Kirk Hammett (Lead Guitarist) providing a few ideas and Solos. While Jason Newsted was only credited for the first song for its intro, and also deceased bassist Cliff Burton getting credit for the main riff and spoken word by James at the end of their 9:49 minute long instrumental "To Live Is To Die". Most tracks on this album are very long averaging at around 7 minutes; they all have many stops and changes ranging from fast and heavy to melodic and soft making it a very technical yet progressive Thrash Metal offering.
While the album was an instant classic some complained about its length and production claiming the bass guitar is nearly inaudible and the drums "click" more than "thud", but most fans (including myself) had no problems with it. On the contrary I personally love the "Drier" production and the long and intricate songs I believe it to be the bands musical peak. But later even the band themselves wanted a more simplified sound and clear production, resulting in their next offering "Metallica" aka The Black Album. James’ guitar tone is dry and gritty which makes the whole album sound darker as a result, Lars’ drums sit perfectly in the mix and Kirk’s solos are clear and pop right at you, only Jason’s bass is weak and mostly sits on the low end providing only rhythmic support. James vocals are at their best (rivaling his most famous vocals on 1991 "Metallica" and his best vocal range and technique on 1996 “Load”), still containing his earlier fury but sounding like a grown man while also being a little more flexible vocally than the previous albums improving his range as a singer.
The albums kicks off with "Blackened" which starts with a slow build up slowly fading in a distant guitar (which was the only thing credited to Jason cause originally it was a loud guitar fading out) than exploding into one of the most memorable and craziest riffs in Metallica's catalog. The guitars really shine building off the main riff into the slow middle section, exploding into a flurry of solos than into a breakdown coming back into the main riff until the song’s climax. The song is about the earth dying from human pollution and corruption, very powerful and assertive lyrics convey the message well right to the end when James growls BLACKENED! Probably one of Metallica's best.
The next song is the title track, "...And Justice For All" which is the second longest track clocking in at 9:47 minutes. The song starts slowly with a clean acoustic guitar intro but soon becomes very heavy and menacing, the constant contrast between soft and heavy guitars really makes the song stand out well into the end. The lyrics are about the fall of liberty and the corruption of the justice system, like the chorus proclaiming...
"Justice is lost
Justice is raped
Justice is gone
Pulling your strings
Justice is done
Seeking no truth
Winning is all
Find it so grim, so true, so real"
Really makes you think about our government especially now in our day and age. The solo is one of my favorites really showing a lot of emotion, one of the longest most technical and intricate Metallica songs.
The next song "Eye of the Beholder" follows the same lyrical vein as the latter but has the most poetic lyrics on this LP providing a very good insight into James mind and values while keeping you interested with the driving beat and intricate guitar playing. Interesting song once you get into it and pay attention to the lyrics.
The 4th and probably one of the most famous songs by Metallica is "One" a 7:30 minute epic about the book/movie "Johnny Got His Gun" an anti war novel/film about a war veteran who loses is limbs, sight and speaking during war but modern science is keeping him alive. The song (and music video that followed) expressed the horror and depression that is caused by war, putting you in the prospective of the bed ridden victim struggling to communicate with the outside world. The songs starts off slowly until it explodes into a flurry of furious riffs while James spitting out probably is darkest lyrics really making you think about this song and it's message, than the songs jumps into a fury of chugging riffs and various guitar solos and ends with a strong and very memorable climax. The music video was also a triumph using bits from the feature film to deliver the message of the song even better, making "One" one the most well known and best Heavy Metal/Thrash Metal songs influencing many to follow.
Next "The Shortest Straw" starts off strong chugging away on a speedy riff, this song also deals with the injustice of people and the government. The song might seem lack luster compared to the previous one but it's a very strong offering on it's own providing excellent drum work from Lars and one of Kirk's most technical and challenging guitar solos, the chorus is very catchy as well.
"Harvester Of Sorrow" is a fan favorite that is often played live, this song provides a "slow" tempo compared to the rest of the album and it sets a good contrast to the fast songs. The slow tempo exudes doom from every direction creating a very intense song. Although I'm not sure of the exact meaning of the song because the lyrics are not as direct and are more metaphoric than the other songs, I believe it deals with a farmer who goes mad cause his life was stolen from him do to his love and devotion of farming. Great song to head bang too (won't hurt your neck too much)
"The Frayed Ends Of Sanity" is a fast number starting with a vocal bit redone from the "Wizard of Oz" movie, it deals with our unstable mind conditions and going crazy from old age or by other means, becoming schizophrenic and thinking every one is out to get you when its actually your own doing. The lyrics like "One" really makes you think and tries to get the listener in the character portrayed shoes, the intricate and technical guitars really drive the song forward, soloing is top notch as well creating a great climax (to bad it was never played fully live).
"To Live Is To Die" the instrumental I’ve spoken about earlier is a tribute to the deceased bassist Cliff Burton containing one of his riffs and also the spoken word poem at the end which he wrote. This is my favorite Metallica instrumental because I really feel the emotion in this song more than any other, creating a dark and sad but yet hopeful atmosphere which ends with an ever ongoing guitar that really makes this song's message clear, you may be sad but it will all work out and will pass, yet never forgetting the sadness that you felt. Very good song to listen to while your sad or depressed, it’s just a beautiful song (Cliff Burton Rest in Peace).
The finale ends with a bang! "Dyers Eve" is one of the fastest Metallica songs to date and is also one of the hardest to play, Lars really pulls out all the stops and really pounds at his drum kit and Kirk provides a fast yet very emotional solo. But the real star is James chugging away with a furious riff while spitting out probably one of his most heartfelt and personal lyrics about the issues he had growing up, the way his parents raised him and his mother’s untimely death, definitely a great way to end the album.
All in all, this is a true classic Thrash Metal album which I believe to be the bands best musical offering showing the aggressiveness and technical/progressive prowess of Metallica but also maturity in song writing and lyrics. I wholeheartedly recommend every track on this album and the music video of "One" for all. And also live recordings from their 1989 "Damaged Justice" tour that followed (which can be found on “Live Sh*t: Binge & Purge – Seattle”). A true masterpiece and should be a staple for any Metal fan.