Review Summary: Seeking no truth, winning is all, find it so grim, so true, so real...
If I had to choose one word with which to describe Metallica's fourth offering, it would have to be "overwrought". I don't know whether it was because the band lost the compositional insight that Cliff Burton possessed, or because they were at a "How do we progress from here?" type of quandary after the beastly Master of Puppets
, but the fact remains that, musically, ...And Justice for All
has some glaring shortcomings.
Most importantly, for an album that tries to be metal, it simply doesn't rock
. While Master of Puppets
and Ride the Lightning
were suffused with rich melodies and grooves, Justice
is somehow more monolithic, more one-dimensional. The songs, or should I say "compositions", have sacrificed most of their straightforwardness and catchiness in favor of (over)complexity and lengthiness. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, the album occasionally makes the listener wish for more orthodoxy: briefer and more to-the-point numbers, with a better sing-along factor.
Another issue is the album's production -- it is a bit dry, losing that mid-range reverbed twang that gave attitude to Metallica's previous releases. There is no bass, but that is a perfectly condonable fact.
Still, despite these oddities, the band has to be congratulated on their effort and ambition to push the boundaries and take metal to a new level, even if their formula isn't that successful.
Among the collection of complicated arrangements, one song does stand out -- Harvester of Sorrow
is the most concise effort on here, as its utilisation of simple, yet incredibly evil riff and vocal lines, combined with a shorter duration, make it more concentrated, more hard-hitting, more effective than the rest of the songs. Blackened
also delivers, cleverly shifting gears between several distinct motifs, thus avoiding falling in the trap of repetitiveness like other songs on here. The title track
could use some trimming, but I still regard it as one of the record's high points, thanks to its great riff and smart lyrics, as well as narrative construction with well-defined exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action. And I do think that To Live is to Die
is Metallica's finest instrumental, being classes above Orion
, with its brilliant amalgamation of acoustic passages and heavy plodding motifs, plus that short spoken poetry providing for an excellent musing on life and death.
As far as lyrics are concerned, the band is at its finest here. Take a look at some of the lyrics of the title track:
Lady Justice Has Been Raped
Rolls of Red Tape Seal Your Lips
Now You're Done in
Their Money Tips Her Scales Again
Make Your Deal
Just What Is Truth I Cannot Tell
And some from Eye of the Beholder
Do You Need What I Need?
Look Inside to Each His Own
Do You Trust What I Trust?
Me, Myself and I
Penetrate the Smoke Screen I See Through the Selfish Lie
Lyrically, the band excellently describes a society on the verge of collapse due to environmental factors, limitation of personal freedoms, loss of faith in public institutions, and the hypercontrol and paranoia imposed by modern technology. There is certainly a very strong thematic center to this album, and it is underlined even more by the awesome cover art, depicting Lady Justice being deposed. Brilliant.
The intro to Blackened is actually a reversed recording. If you want to hear the (pretty cool) original recording, see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKqTPDMHeoE