1988 and a band called Metallica were on the verge of breaking out of the niche “thrash” genre and becoming stupidly big. The album before their self-titled behemoth was …And Justice For All and it did act as a bridge between their earlier material and the so-called “Black” album. It’s just been re-released with up to eleven (!) CDs (and 4 DVDs, a set of four patches, a Pushead print, a tour laminate, lyric sheets, a download card for all material in the set, and a deluxe 120-page book…), depending on which package you decide to pick up.
The core disc is a remastered edition of the classic, my first Metallica album. While the overall production seems a little beefier than my original CD (perhaps an attempt to inject the mythical missing bass?), it’s otherwise as released back in the day – and there’s nothing wrong with that. While I confess that my love for Metallica ended around the Load period, Justice is up there alongside Master of Puppets for me in terms of overall goodness. There isn’t a track on either album that I would skip, and a couple of my favourite tracks from the band’s collection are on them.
In the case of Justice, “Blackened” and “Dyer’s Eve” will always be songs I’ll jump to. And “One”. This must rank as one of the best metal songs of all time, certainly in my humble opinion. Grafting emotive, clean guitars to some blasting riffs later on alongside haunting lyrics… it is a definite classic.
OK, so pretty much anyone reading this will have heard the album anyway. So what about all the extra stuff? First up there’s their iconic performance from Seattle in 1989 remixed by Greg Fidelman. Containing a prime setlist plucked from their albums to that point, it’s a great listen. Rough and perfect for the era, but the production is the star. Crowd noise is loud enough to be atmospheric, and you really get a feel for the “old” (or rather, “young”) Metallica. An absolute powerhouse of classic thrash.
Then there’s a ton of demos from “James’s Riff Tapes” which are what you’d expect. Twenty-eight partially-completed songs from Justice n very low quality. I’m talking “tape recorder in the studio” here… though you can actually hear the bass on many of them so some may actually prefer them to the released version…
Next, in a natural progression, is a set of complete track demos from 1987 and 1988. Again, all very lo-fi and perhaps really of interest only to completists. This is followed by another CD, this one full of “Work in Progress, Rough Mix”es of the album tracks. More complete and a step further down the production track they’d almost pass for release quality for a band on a budget. They’re nice to hear but with the full album in the package, why have gold when you can have silk (or however that old advertising campaign went)?
Another three discs are packed with live shows: West Hollywood, 1988; Dallas, 1989; Hammersmith, 1988; and Long Beach Arena, 1988. The recording quality varies for each, with some being a little more rough around the edges than others. Given the tight timeframe, the setlists aren’t hugely dissimilar, but at least they’re warts and all. There’s a bit of a cockup towards the end of “Battery” on the West Hollywood CD but the band haven’t hidden it in post!
There is a lot of repetition of tracks across the many, many discs available in various versions but they are collector’s editions and collectors are going to lap that stuff up. For us bog standard fans, the fact that the album is being pushed back out again can’t be a bad thing. It is, after all, a genuine classic.