Review Summary: The band takes things up a notch
Following the 1986 release of Master Of Puppets, Metallica really had done everything. They had become the most famous thrash metal band out there, put the genre on the public radar, and released three albums that were considered classics of the genre. They had also just lost their bassist, Clifford Burton, in a bus accident in Sweden, and the bands future looked on the ropes. And then they recruited Jason Newstead, and And Justice For All was born.
And Justice For All is the final album Metallica would release under the thrash banner until the release of Death Magnetic in the late 2000's, but this was thrash in a much different vein. This was the album where Metallica shifted to an all-out progressive nature in their song writing. The title track of Master Of Puppets had flirted with that territory, but this was the first time a full album of songs was done in this way. At the time, the album was given mixed reviews, due to lacklustre production and overly long song lengths, but within months, this was hailed another thrash classic.
Kicking things off in spectacular fashion, we have Blackened, a Metallica hit. This shows off Metallica's new experimentation with different song structures perfectly, kicking off with yet another clean intro, this then heads straight into a fantastic riff, with some great drumming from Lars. It then slows down a little for the first verse, before speeding back up again, and then slowing down again. Then, towards the middle of the song, the songs slows down hugely, in a Holy Wars fashion, before speeding back up. This song is indicative of the styling of much of the entire album, and also manages to be one of the finest songs on the album, with some great lyrics depicting the worlds end due to humanitys failures, and some incredible barks from James Hetfield.
The title track begins acoustically, with some beautifully written guitar lines, and then becomes near enough non stop thrash with time signature changes all over the place. This song is very long, being 14 seconds shy of 10 minutes, but remains a monster of a thrash song, that never fails to get the listeners head moving. The lyrics are utterly incredibly, speaking about the failure of the economy.
Skip down past Eye Of The Beholder, and we have the most famous song from the album, One. This song caused a fair amount of controversy at the time it was written, due to the fact the band went back on their image of disregard for MTV, by creating a video for One. The song is one of the best on the album, beginning with a long clean section and some awesome lyrics about a man blown apart by a landmine who is unable to die. Then, suddenly, distortion kicks in for the chorus, before calming down again. Then, the last three minutes take your breath away once more, being ricidulously heavy and fast, with the legendary machine gun drumming and the angry yells of James, before the crazy solo from Kirk. This song remains a set staple to date, and it is not hard to see why.
Harvester Of Sorrow and The Frayed Ends Of Sanity are often overlooked by Metallica fans from this album, in favour of Blackened and One and another yet to be mentioned track, which i feel is criminal. The former is a much slower song than much of the rest of the album, being something of a much heavier Sad But True, but remaining a fantastic song. The Frayed Ends Of Sanity is one of my personal favourite Metallica songs, being equal parts heavy and incredible, with some lovely progressive touches and amazing lyrics from James dealing with schizophrenia.
The final two tracks are interesting. To Live Is To Die is the instrumental of this album, something that all four of their first albums had (if you include Anasthesia, a bass-only song from KIll Em All), and is the last song writing credit of Clifford Burton. It is the weakest of their instrumentals, but remains a credit to Cliff, and is one of the most beautiful compositions the band has ever written. Dyers Eve closes the album off with an ass-kicking dose of raw thrash metal, being one of the hardest songs the band ever wrote to play on guitar, with some bone crunching riffs, and angst-filled yells of James Hetfield.
This album is often overlooked out of the bands first four albums. Whilst it maintains a classic status, it is often considered inferior when compared to Ride The Lightning, Master Of Puppets or Kill Em All, and this is something i never understood. Ride The Lightning excluded, this album tops the prior albums. Master Of Puppets felt overly long in a bad way, and Kill Em All was too primitive. Ride The Lightning is the only one that even holds a candle to this, but is often considered far better.
The main reasons highlighted about this album are fair arguments. The production is extremely sub-par, with the guitars all feeling flat and one dimensional, and the drums sounding too weak, albeit not in a St Anger way. The song lengths are also sometimes too much, but they are not drawn out to the point of boredom as Disposable Heroes or The Thing That Should Not Be were, and make use of their time for intelligent transitions.
The musicianship here is stellar. James and Kirk were on top form here, churning out riff after riff that are equal parts technical and sound great, despite the liquid production. The drumming is Lars's best performance to date, with some great drumming found throughout, with Dyers Eve standing out in particular. The vocals are done in the same style as the previous album, but the lyrics are better thought out, and James delivers them with real venom.
This album is, in my opinion, the band's crowning achievement. They took the foundations of Master Of Puppets and created a progressive, technical album that has stood the test of time and holds up far better than that album did. Some would take Puppets, Lightning or Kill over this album, but i am standing by my opinion that this is the closest thing to perfection the band ever put out, even if it does have two flaws. 4.5/5