James Hetfield Addresses 'And Justice For All' Mix: "Who Gives A S--t?"
By Andrew Magnotta @AndrewMagnotta
August 13, 2019
While it was already pretty clear that the members of Metallica do not really care about the lack of bass guitar on the band's 1988 album ...And Justice For All, they're still getting asked about it, even after reissuing the record for its 30-year anniversary.
Front man James Hetfield recently offered a new explanation as to why bassist Jason Newsted's parts were relegated on his first studio album with the band.
Hetfield explained to Metallica fan-zine So What! that the band was exhausted by the time album was finished, and engineer Steve Thompson just did what he was asked to do in the mix.
Hetfield pushed back (as he has many times before) against the notion that the mix of the album was part of the band's hazing of Newsted.
"We were burnt," Hetfield explained. "We were friggin' fried. Going back and forth. Playing a gig. No earplugs, nothing. You got back into the studio, your hearing is shot. If your ears can't hear any high end anymore, you're gonna turn it up. So we're turning the high end up more and more and more... all of a sudden, low end's gone. So I know that played a bigger part than any hazing or any ill feelings toward Jason, for sure. We were fried. We were burnt."
If Metallica had any real regrets about the bass on ...And Justice For All — which was the band's first top 10 album — the band would have done something about it on last year's 30th anniversary reissue. Hetfield has insisted many times before that he does not want to remix the album; he thinks it should be preserved as a moment in time, warts and all.
"All this is after the fact, and it's like, who gives a s--t, man, really? ...Why would you change history? Why would you all of a sudden put bass on it?" he added. "There is bass on it, but why would you remix an album? You can remaster it, yes, but why would you remix something and make it different? ...Not that I'm comparing us to the Mona Lisa, but it's like, 'Uh, can we make her smile a little better?'"
While the engineer, Thompson, implored the band to let him try and remix the album last year, he also explained that doing so would be difficult on account of all the drum edits on the original tape.
Thompson recalled that the album's lack of bass was mostly the direction of drummer Lars Ulrich, who was going for a specific kick drum sound that unfortunately came at the expense of Newsted's bass.
In another recollection that dovetails with Hetfield's new explanation, Thompson said that he and Ulrich talked about ...And Justice For All at Metallica's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2009. The drummer had no memory of Newsted recording bass on the album or of supervising the mix with Thompson.
The engineer said he nearly quit the project on account of the way Ulrich wanted him to mix the bass guitar. He's said his main regret about the album was that he didn't do an alternate mix for himself when he had the chance. He told the Talk Toomey podcast that "the world will be stunned" if it ever hears how good Newsted's playing was on the album.
Newsted, for his part, is in agreement with Hetfield that there's no point in trying to rewrite the band's history. Regardless of the mix on his first album with Metallica, the bassist says he's exceedingly proud of what the band accomplished with ...And Justice For All.
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