By any standard of measure, ...And Justice for All was a huge album for Metallica. On a musical level, it remains their most complex, progressive and epic offering. On a thematic level, it stands as one of their most outraged, political and multi-layered statements. On a commercial level, it was a huge breakthrough, marking their best-selling album at the time, their first Grammy Award and their first-ever music video, for the all-time classic song "One." And on a personal level, it represented a huge comeback after the devastating death of bassist Cliff Burton.
Yet, the album continues to be controversial. Is it the band's last great full-length? Or is it a bloated self-indulgence that necessitated the stripped-down move that followed with the "Black Album"? And what happened to Jason Newsted's bass? Decades later, these questions linger, but what is certain is that ...And Justice for All is a verified classic and one of metal's most critical and influential offerings.
In continued appreciation of its nuances and innovation, here are 10 things you likely didn't know about Metallica's fourth studio album.
1. ...And Justice for All was mostly written in the "Garage Days" garage of Lars Ulrich's house in El Cerrito
Metallica were booked to start writing the follow-up to Master of Puppets in the spring of 1987, as well as to play Saturday Night Live, when James Hetfield broke his arm in a skateboarding accident. They canceled SNL and their studio time, and once Hetfield recovered, they got back into shape by banging out the Garage Days Re-Revisited covers EP. It was also in that same garage that most of Justice came together. "[James and I] sat down with our usual riff tapes and spent the fall of '87 holed up out at my rental house on Carlson Boulevard in El Cerrito," Ulrich recalled to Decibel in 2008. "I think 'Blackened' came early, 'Harvester [of Sorrow]' came early, 'One' came early. ... the writing was pretty much me and James in the sweaty, shitty garage there on Carlson Boulevard."
2. The concept behind "One" dates back to the writing of Master of Puppets
It's common knowledge that "One" was inspired by the book and movie Johnny Got His Gun, about a WWI soldier who wakes up to discover that he has become a prisoner in his own body after losing his arms, legs and entirely face to an artillery shell, and used clips from it for the song's music video. What's surprising is that the initial concept for the song predated the Metallica members' awareness that the book and movie even existed, and even predated the Justice sessions entirely. It was back when Metallica were working on Master of Puppets that Hetfield was first struck with the theme that would grow into the song. "James was talking to me about the idea of what it would be like if you were in this situation where you were basically like a living consciousness, like a basket case kind of situation, where you couldn't reach out and communicate to anyone around you," Ulrich said in a filmed interview around the time of the album's release. "You had no arms, no legs, couldn't obviously see, hear, or speak or anything like that. And it was just an idea we had back then, but never really gotten any further on."
When the band started working on Master's follow-up, Ulrich mentioned the concept to the band's manager Cliff Burnstein, who was reminded of the 1939 anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun. He sent it to the band and Hetfield wrote his lyrics inspired by it. Metallica's other manager, Peter Mensch, eventually tracked down a copy of the 1971 film adaptation and screened it for the group, which led to them using scenes from it for their first-ever music video.
3. The opening of "One" was inspired by the proto–black-metal band Venom
Metallica set the stage brilliantly for "One," leading into the cut with an extended ambient intro full of the sounds of war. It's an approach that takes on particularly vivid life in a live setting, where the band throw in smoke and lights to create a virtual battlefield on the stage. "The idea for the opening came from a Venom song called 'Buried Alive,'" he revealed in an interview with Guitar World, referencing the third track on the British extremists' seminal 1982 album Black Metal, a cut that, like "One," begins with a slow-burning, atmospheric prelude before the heavy riffage kicks in.
4. Kirk Hammett recorded the middle guitar solo to "One" between tour dates while the album was being mixed
"I lost a lot of sleep over that set of guitar solos!" Hammett told Guitar World. In particular, the song's middle solo presented lots of problems and wasn't laid down in its final form until the 11th hour. "I must have recorded and rerecorded it about 15 million times," the guitarist recalled. "I wanted a middle ground between the really melodic solo at the beginning and the fiery solo at the end. I wanted that to sit very confidently within the song, but it sounded very unconfident, and I was never happy with it." Hammett was still unhappy with the solo even as the album was being mixed, and the band was out on the road with the Monsters of Rock tour. "One night, I flew from Philadelphia to New York City, and while everyone else was on their way to Washington, D.C., I went to the Hit Factory and rerecorded the solo again," he recalled. "I brought my guitar, I had one of my main amps sent to the studio, and I redid the solo there and finally nailed it. I was very, very happy about that! The next day, we played a show in Washington, D.C. It got panned by the critics, because we'd all only had about three hours of sleep and were exhausted. But I got a good solo the night before, so it was worth it!"
5. The opening riff to "Frayed Ends of Sanity" was inspired by a football marching band
It was James Hetfield who thought to use the chant from Wizard of Oz to open the song "Frayed Ends of Sanity" — which Ulrich has described as the sound of "angry fucks marching in your head" — but maybe even more improbable was the source of inspiration behind the lurching riff that followed that chant. "James told me he got [it] from watching a marching band during a football game," Kirk Hammett revealed to Decibel. "Isn't that the craziest thing?"
6. Jason Newsted recorded his bass parts in one day, with no other band members present and before the album even had a producer
Before they decided to work again with Danish producer Flemming Rasmussen (who had manned the boards for Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets), Metallica considered enlisting Mike Clink, who was a hot name after helming Gun N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction. It was during this liminal period, when the band had yet to select a producer, that Metallica's new bassist entered the studio to record his parts, joined only by engineer Toby Wright, who would go on to record with Alice in Chains, Slayer, Korn and others, but at the time was, according to Newsted, "more like the guy who got coffee the guy we'd burn doobs with and stuff." Newsted laid down his parts in one day, and none of the other Metallica members were present. "For Justice, my situation was very ... awkward," he recalled to Decibel. "I had nothing to o with any of the other guys in the band when they recorded their parts and they had nothing to do with me on the actual day — notice I said, 'day,' singular — that I went into the studio to record my bass parts."
7. Ulrich and Hammett claim that turning down Newsted's bass in the mix was not part of his hazing
Some fans stand by the belief that the bass on Justice was consciously turned down in the mix as part of the band's infamous hazing of Newsted — spoonfuls of wasabi and all — when he joined Metallica after Burton's death. In 2017 interview, producer Fleming Rasmussen even questioned whether this could be the case. "[Ulrich and Hetfield] heard the mix and they went, 'Alright, take the bass down, change this this this and this, and then take the bass down,'" he recalled. "So you can barely hear it. And then once they've done that they said, 'Take it another 3dB down.' Why they did that – I have no idea! It could be that they were still grieving about Cliff."
According to Ulrich and Hammett, however, Justice's "missing" bass has more to do with the other band members wanting to draw attention to their own parts, rather than them trying to keep Newsted in his place. "It wasn't, 'Fuck this guy — let's turn down his ass down," Ulrich told Decibel. "It was more like, 'We're mixing, so let's pat ourselves on the back and turn the rhythms and the drums up.' But we basically kept turning everything else up until the bass disappeared." Hammett, meanwhile, pointed to the overlapping frequencies of Newsted's bass and Hetfield's guitar. "The bass frequncies in Jason's tone kinda interfered with the tone that James was trying to shoot for with his rhythm guitar sound, and every time the two blended togther, it just wasn't happening," he explained. "So the only thing left to do was turn the bass down in the mix."
8. The main riff to "To Live Is to Die" was written by Cliff Burton, as were half of its lyrics
Justice was, of course, Metallica's first full-length since the shocking death of longtime member Cliff Burton, and the bassist's shadow loomed large, particularly on the (mostly) instrumental cut "To Live Is to Die." The song took its name from one of his favorite phrases and its main riff was his. "That was when we were writing Master of Puppets — that was one of his extra riffs we didn't have room for," Hetfield recalled. "It's heavy as fuck, man. Then the buildup, that's his, too."
As for the spoken-word lyrics to the song, those are attributed to Burton in the album's liner notes, but he only actually penned half of them. The first couplet — "When a man lies, he murders some part of the world/These are the pale deaths which men miscall their lives" — was written by German poet Paul Gerhardt, while the second — "All this I cannot bear to witness any longer/Cannot the kingdom of salvation take me home?" — was Burton's. Indeed, the last line even appears on his gravestone.
9. ...And Justice for All takes its title from an Al Pacino movie
In much the same way that Metallica had the core concept for "One" and then later discovered Johnny Got His Gun, which inspired them in how they fleshed out the initial idea, the band came to name their fourth album after the 1979 courtroom drama ...And Justice for All. The movie stars Al Pacino as an idealistic attorney wrangling with a corrupt and hypocritical judicial system, a plot that dovetails nicely with the themes of the album and particularly its title track. "We'd come up with the titles and the ideas of the song abd then we'd reference other material," Ulrich explained to Decibel. "So it wasn't like we'd watched ...And Justice for All and went, 'That'd be a great thing to write a song about.' Ir was more like we thought ...And Justice for All was a great title and a great subject, went looking for inspiration afterwards, and then checked out the movie."
10. James Hetfield came to hate the album
"To me, the …And Justice For All album sounds horrible, awful, can't fucking stand it," James Hetfield told Uncut bluntly in 2007. "That was our fancy stage, showing off too much. We knew we had to move on and the Black Album was the opposite. So when me and Lars got back together after a short break, I said, 'We gotta really try and write some shorter, to-the-point songs.'"
Hetfield wasn't alone in feeling like Metallica had gone too fall off the proggy deep end with Justice. "We realized that the general consensus was that songs were too fucking long," Kirk Hammett revealed to Rolling Stone in 1991. "Everyone [in the crowd] would have these long faces, and I'd think, 'Goddamn, they're not enjoying it as much as we are ... I remember getting offstage one night after playing 'Justice' and one of us saying, 'Fuck, that's the last time we ever play that fucking song!'"
The band's increasingly alienation from Justice's proggy, technical epics cemented their desire to write shorter, simpler songs for the album's follow-up. And they would do just that, with no small amount of success, with a little record known as the "Black Album."