Metallica have taken a lot of crap from a lot of people over the years over the way their records sound. Not for the actual music within — though bring up St. Anger to a metal head and watch the disdain wash over their face — but for the quality of the recordings. They took a beating around 2008 for their album Death Magnetic because of the way the record was mixed to maximize the volume levels, but even beloved works from their earlier career haven’t escaped this kind of criticism.
In a recent interview with the podcast Alphabetallica, Flemming Rasmussen, the producer of some of the band’s most beloved work like Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets finally explained why there’s almost no low end whatsoever on their 1988 release …And Justice For All. As it turns out, grief played a major role in the band’s decision to turn down the bass on that record.
You see, …And Justice For All was the first record that Metallica produced with Jason Newstead in the band following the tragic death of original member Cliff Burton. From Rasmussen’s point of view, the band just weren’t ready to accept Newstead into the fold, and turned down his contributions during the mixing process. From a portion of the interview transcribed by Metal Injection.
What happened was [mixing engineers Steve Thompson and Mike Barbiero] did a mix that they thought sounded really, really good, which had lots of bass in it. And the bass — let me just point out — the bass tracks on …And Justice for All are actually fantastic. Jason plays really well. He probably tried to prove that he was worth, that he was up there with Cliff, which in my opinion he is. It’s a different style, but he is as good of bass player as Cliff, just in a different way. And I’ve heard the bass tracks and they’re absolutely amazing. They sound good, he plays well.
But, they heard the mix and they went, ‘Alright, take the bass down, change this this this and this, and then take the bass down.’ 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. I have no idea. But imagine my surprise when I heard the album. I was like, ‘What the… What?!’ It got really criticized when it came out, and people got more or less blown away because of the dryness of the sound. It just goes BANG, right in your face.
…And Justice for All was probably the single album in the last 30 years which has been the most influential in terms of sound for the whole generation of the hardcore metal bands. They all wanted to sound like …And Justice for All. That really clicky, high-endy bass drum, all that stuff…’ Every time I hear the bass drum like that, I go ‘I’m really sorry about that. That’s my mistake.’ Well, I didn’t mix it!’
Even with a buried bass, I think we can all still agree that “One” totally rules. You can watch Rasmussen’s entire interview below.