Metallica’s fourth album, …And Justice For All, was released in the UK on September 5, 1988. Introduced by hulking single Harvester Of Sorrow, it’s a complex, challenging listen, heavy and progressive, intense and tightly-knotted. With the benefit of hindsight, one could make a case for it as Metallica’s single most important album, an uncompromising collection which nonetheless transported its creators from cult hero status to the heart of the mainstream music industry, laying the foundations for the phenomenal success of 1991’s ‘Black Album’.
But in September 1988, almost everyone listening to …AJFA had just one question: “Where’s the bass?’
Famously, Jason ‘Newkid’ Newsted endured a tough, verging on cruel, initiation into the Metallica family. Still in their mid-twenties, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich had yet to develop meaningful coping systems to help them process the grief, anger and, to some extent, guilt which descended in the weeks and months which followed the tragic passing of their friend and bandmate Cliff Burton in 1986. The mild-mannered Newsted therefore became something of a group punching bag.
When it came time for the bassist to track his parts on his first full-length Metallica recording, the famously fastidious Hetfield and Ulrich didn’t even bother to show up at LA’s One On One studio to offer encouragement or support: remarkably, it was decided that producer Flemming Rasmussen wouldn’t be required in the studio that day either. Nevertheless, working with engineer Toby Wright, Newsted nailed his highly technical bass lines for the album in a single day.
Not that his professionalism ultimately counted for much: when …And Justice For All hit turntables world-wide, his bass, so up-front on the $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited, had been mixed down to the point of being practically inaudible. Flemming Rasmussen was horrified, laying the blame at the doorstep of mixing duo Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, who in turn pointed the finger squarely at Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield. For his part, the drummer still maintains that this metaphorical kick in the balls for Newsted was neither deliberate nor malicious.
“It wasn’t [a case of], ‘Fuck this guy – let’s turn his bass down,’” he insisted. “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.”
“It was me and James running everything with an iron fist.”
In the years that have passed since 1988, outraged Metallica fans - and here, truthfully, we mean, outraged bass-playing Metallica fans - have sought to right the wrongs visited upon Jason Newsted here, most famously with 2007’s …And Justice For Jason project, which saw newly-recorded bass lines given proper prominence atop the sterile Hetfield/Ulrich co-production.
Below is another variation on the theme. Truthfully, there’s not too much visual excitement to be garnered from watching some gent in an over-washed Metallica T-shirt playing bass for an hour, but if your eyes are nonplussed, your ears will definitely thank you.