REVIEW: METALLICA – “…And Justice For All” [2018 Remastered]
Arguably the biggest metal band in the world, Metallica celebrated the 30th anniversary of their fourth studio album ‘…And Justice for All’ earlier this year. A landmark record which was for many reasons a tectonic shift in their career. An album that pronounced the ‘death of the American dream’ as dubbed in 1998’s Behind the Music is a portrayal of politically fueled thrash metal the band represented and a violent frenzy that makes James Hetfield one hell of a frontman. It is also an album that mourned the loss of legendary bass guitarist Cliff Burton and the debut of his successor Jason Newsted, who would go on to perform bass and backing vocal duties for over a decade.
While the album was and remains a favourite among heavy metal fans it had its share of critique, mainly around how non-existent the bass was in the mix and Lars Ulrich insisting on his drum tones. Irrespective, it went on to become one among Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest metal albums of all time. In September, the band announced a reissue in special remastered editions including a comprehensive deluxe box set. We later saw lead guitarist Kirk Hammet unboxing this deluxe set in a video on YouTube discussing the contents of the box comprising of the record itself in various formats, a bunch of photos, artwork and plenty of merchandise. That brings us to what this review is all about – ‘…And Justice For All (Remastered 2018).
I won’t be going into song-by-song analysis as almost everyone already knows what its like, but let’s talk about how it sounds. Firstly, if you’re seeking #justiceforJason then tough break. This is a remaster and not a remix, so the scope for enhancement lies within the boundaries of an already finished product and does not really allow for a rip-and-replace. The bass continues to be low in the mix however can be heard a little better in songs like ‘To live is to die’ and the already released ‘Dyers Eve’ thanks to an overall clean-up on sound. The third quarter of the title song ‘Justice for all’ and bits of ‘Eye of the beholder’ have parts where you can hear a deep ring in the background. I am not sure if this is due to improved compression, or just my mind playing tricks on me because my ears are yearning for audible bass lines, but for the most part it sounds like they have scooped out the guitar tone a little more to give the overall sound more bottom end which sometimes just ends up booming in the background rather than deliver a meaty bass rhythm. I was not a big fan of the tinny drum tone, then again neither was Flemming Rasmussen but at the end of the day as mentioned earlier – remaster and not remix. However, drums do not sound as flat and have a slightly rounder fuller tone. ‘One’ is virtually unaltered, and after comparing this to the original record on headphone, stereo speakers, and car audio, it’s safe to say lot of it remains unchanged.
However, this raised several questions in my mind. Like is there really a difference in sound and an increase in bass? or just a placebo effect because my mind wants it to be? In a recent podcast interview, it is known via their mix in charge Steve Thompson that the band claimed they did not want to remix the record, and that they wanted to leave it the way it is and also the challenges and limitations of remastering an already heavily edited master track which is completely understandable. But if you’re going to celebrate and rework an album as iconic as this one, then why not go the whole nine yards?
The end result is a double LP, a ‘One’ picture disc, three LPs featuring the band’s performance from Seattle in 1989, eleven CDs, four DVDs, a set of four patches, a tour laminate, lyric sheets, a download card for all material in the set, and a deluxe 120-page book with never-before-seen photos and never-before told stories of an album that sounds virtually indifferent to how it did three decades ago. Its available for purchase from 2nd November 2018 onward and should you have $200 to spare it is a nice loot crate for a die-hard fan. But at the time of this review I found no information on whether this set is a limited edition or not and considering that its not, this price tag is a sour deal in my opinion. And in the end if the record sounds the same as it did in 1988, then what’s the point? There are intermediate sound engineers out there who have mastered and released mixes of this album on Youtube delivering more bass and decent overall sound, then why couldn’t this edition deliver the same if not better? The list of questions goes on and on. Perhaps more could’ve been done, perhaps not, but in the end when I hear the finished product all I can say is – It sounds the same!
Despite the possibilities of cutting-edge & modern audio technology and practices, 2018’s remaster of ‘…And Justice For All’ utilizes and benefits only marginally from it. Apart from a big box of merchandise with a hefty price tag, the album in itself offers an almost indifferent experience audibly when compared to the original; often leaving you with more questions than answers behind its purpose.