Although Metallica’s 1988 album … And Justice For All was mostly well-received by critics, it has one flaw that’s been cited time and time again by longtime fans: the lack of bass guitar. While many listeners were quick to blame LP mixer Steve Thompson for the inaudible bass, it turns out the real culprit is none other than the band’s own drummer Lars Ulrich.
In a new interview, Thompson details the studio sessions for …And Justice For All, recalling how he and Ulrich frequently had differing opinions on how the album would sound. “Well, what I wanted to do and what Lars wanted to do was totally different, which kind of upset me a little bit,” he said. “I loved Metallica and was very familiar with them. I said, ‘These guys are cool.'”
According to Thompson, Ulrich had a very clear vision for what he wanted and was determined to bring it to fruition no matter the consequences. “Lars knew exactly the sound and the parameters of everything he wanted on his drums. So he would actually bring his photos of a Klark Teknik’s EQ [parametric equalizer] setup because he had a certain way he wanted the drums to sound.” However, for Thompson, whose other credits include Guns N’ Roses’ album Appetite for Destruction and Wu-Tang Clan’s greatest hits album, the mixes just didn’t sound right.
(Read: Metallica’s Top 10 Songs)
“I said to myself, ‘These sound like a-s. Terrible sounding,'” Thompson recounted. He then, “chased everybody out of the room and redesigned the drum sound and brought the guitars up. Jason [Newsted] killed it on bass. Perfect marriage with [James] Hetfield’s guitars.” Thompson said Hetfield was pleased with the changes, but that “Lars comes walking in a couple minutes later and listens to about a minute of it and goes, ‘Turn that off’ and I said, ‘What’s the problem?’ He said, ‘What happened to my drum sound?'”
In order to finally get the drums up to Ulrich’s standards, Thompson was forced to sacrifice the bass. “We had to get the drum sound up the way he had it. I wasn’t a fan of it. So now he goes, ‘See the bass guitar?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, great part, man. He killed it.’ He said, I want you to bring down the bass where you can barely, audibly hear it in the mix. I said, ‘You’re kidding. Right?'” Thompson added, “He said, ‘No. Bring it down.’ I bring it down to that level and he says, ‘Now drop it down another 5 dB.’ I turned around and looked at Hetfield and said, ‘He’s serious?’ It just blew me away.”
Weirdly enough, years later when he and Ulrich crossed paths again, Ulrich had the actual audacity to ask about the album’s “barely audible bass.” “He goes, “Hey, what happened to the bass in “… Justice?” He actually asked me that. I wanted to cold cock him right there. It was a shame because I’m the one getting the sh-t for the lack of bass.”
Below, revisit a few …Justice tracks.