Engineer On Metallica’s “…And Justice For All” Explains Odd Mix To Album

Engineer On Metallica’s “…And Justice For All” Explains Odd Mix To Album
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Metallica’s 1988 classic “…And Justice For All” is a polarizing album for even the band’s most ardent fans. Steve Thompson, a veteran music producer recently talked about the mixing sessions for the record and how it came to be that bassist Jason Newsted’s parts are inaudible. Thompson said in an interview with Dean Cramer, “We did the project up at Bearsville, New York. And (drummer) Lars (Ulrich) originally came in with a whole EQ setup chart of how he wanted his drums to sound. So Michael Barbiero, my partner, says, ‘Why don’t you work with Lars and get the drums (tuned in), and then once you do that, I’ll take care of the rest.’ So he does that. And I listened to the sounds, and I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I think this sounds like a**.’ So anyway, I kind of re-EQed all the drums a little bit just to make ’em a little more palpable — it’s in the ear of the beholder. Then I brought the bass up, which I thought the bass was a great part because… You know what was great about (Newsted’s) bass? It was a great marriage with (James) Hetfield’s guitars; it was, like, they needed to work together. It was perfectly played.”

“Lars (Ulrich) originally came in with a whole EQ setup chart of how he wanted his drums to sound. So Michael Barbiero, my partner, says, ‘Why don’t you work with Lars and get the drums (tuned in), and then once you do that, I’ll take care of the rest.’ So he does that. And I listened to the sounds, and I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I think this sounds like a**.'”

“…And Justice For All” mixer Steve Thompson

Thompson went on to explain how Ulrich was disappointed with the adjustments he made to his drum sound. “So I got the whole rhythm section together, vocals and everything like that, and then I felt, ‘Okay, now’s the time,'” he continued. “Hetfield was in there, (giving) thumbs up and everything like that. Then I brought Lars in. First of all, Lars hears it for about five to ten seconds, and he goes, ‘All right, stop right there.’ He goes, ‘What happened to my drum sound?’ I basically probably said something like, ‘You were serious?’ (Laughs) So I had to rearrange the drum sound to get it to where he wanted it again. He goes, ‘Okay, see the bass?’ I go, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Drop it down in the mix.’ I said, ‘Why? It’s great.’ ‘Drop it down in the mix.’ ‘Okay.’ So I did it as a joke. (I) dropped it all the way down. He goes, ‘Drop it down another five or six dB’ from there, which could hardly hear it — you couldn’t hear it. I said, ‘Seriously?’ And I think I turned around to Hetfield, and he just went like this (raises both hands). And then I remember having a conversation with Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch who were managing them. And I basically had a conversation, I said, ‘Listen, I love these guys. I think this band is fucking amazing. I don’t agree with what they want me to do with this. And I understand, it’s their record. They should get whatever they want. We were hired to get them what they want. But I just can’t see doing this.’ And we wound up giving ’em what they want. Again, it’s not my record — it’s their record — and you have to respect their opinion. I hated it personally, because I’m a bass guy. I love bass. When we’re recording, we record the fattest basses in the world.”

Newsted previously told Metal Hammer that he was “f*cking livid” when he head the album for the first time. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “I was ready for throats, man! No, I was out of my head, because I really thought I did well. And I thought I played how I was supposed to play.”

Hetfield has downplayed calls to remix the album. “All this is after the fact, and it’s, like, who gives a shit, man, really?” Hetfield said. “And why would you change that? Why would you change history? Why would you all of a sudden put bass on it? 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? It’d be like… I don’t know. Not that I’m comparing us to the Mona Lisa, but it’s, like, ‘Uh, can we make her smile a little better?!’ You know?! Why?”

There are numerous YouTube videos where fans have added bass guitar to the mix of the entire album. 

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