When Metallica released …And Justice for All in 1988 the band was at the height of its powers and on their way from the metal underground to becoming one of the biggest rock bands in the world. The record featured long, complex songs that saw the band pushing themselves to new heights, was beloved by fans and critics alike, and garnered the band its first Grammy on the way going platinum eight times.
So how come the record sounds like shit? Not the songs, mind you, they’re some of Metallica’s best. But the production is so bad it’s confounding, especially considering legendary producer Flemming Rasmussen was manning the boards. The bottom end is so weak it’s almost non-existent throughout much of the record, and their has been a great deal of head-scratching and hand-wringing over the years about how such a glaring error came to be on such an important record. Back in 2015 album mixer Steve Thompson laid the blame at Lars Ulrich’s feet, and now Rasmussen provided his own theory.
In a recent interview with the Metallica-themed podcast Alphabetallica, Rasmussen attempted to shed some light on how Jason Newsted’s—who was playing on his first album after original bassist Cliff Burton’s sudden death—bass was lowered to near disappearance. Interestingly, Rasmussen proposes that the band might have been subconsciously honoring the fallen Burton by continually lowering Newsted’s bass parts, which Rasmussen says were excellent.
(Read: The Highs and Lows of Metallica)
“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.”
Rasmussen went deep into his role with the band during the 50-minute conversation, and even took the time to throw a bit of shade at the band’s later catalogue by saying, “Most people refer to me as the producer of the three good Metallica albums.” Ouch. You can listen to the entire conversation below. And speaking of the gone-too-soon Cliff Burton, check out his 92-year-old father Ray still going strong and rocking out at Metallica shows.