Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Metallica - The Justice Demos

Until St. Anger arrived and took the heat off it, …And Justice For All was known as the Metallica album with the worst production: the guitars sounded flat, muted and sterile, the drums were precise to the point of sounding mechanical, and the bass – infamously, there is no bass presence whatsoever on that release. You’d have an easier time spotting the four-string on your average second-wave black metal record. The album doesn’t even have a conceptual excuse, either (I let off the sterile and uber-precise playing on The Faceless’s second album because it fits their lyrical concept).

So when I found this vinyl-only (as far as I know; it’s not official, so there isn’t much to check it against) release, my hopes leapt up that somebody, somewhere, had found the Justice tapes that presented these songs with a more organic production, or at the very least, some bass to fill out the album’s woefully vacant bottom-end.

So once I dropped the needle, during that period when static gives way to the first track, I was a bit apprehensive…yet when Blackened kicked in – holy hell! Hallelujah to the lords on high, we have bass!

Actually, you know what – this whole thing sounds better than the finalized record. Most noticeably, you have the bass, which rumbles along steadily, keeping pace and cementing the bottom-end that the finished work lacked so sorely. To compliment this, the guitar and drum tracks sound better than their finished counterparts: they’re rawer, more energetic, and a touch sloppier. Normally I wouldn’t give points for rawness alone, but when the alternative is playing so uncomfortably precise that it sounds less like a human and more like a Terminator, I’ll take it. These riffs and fills sound like the band – wait for it – is actually having fun, unlike the stone-faced sterility of the final record.

The vocals, as you’d probably expect, are a touch shakier, but it’s nothing that would be considered unacceptable for the fast-and-loose 80s thrash scenes. James has a higher pitch here, sounding more like his Master Of Puppets era than he does on the actual …AJFA album. Some of the lyrics are also different in their embryonic form, but it doesn’t impact the songs too much.

So the rumour that there exists, somewhere, an official version of …And Justice For All with bass remains but a rumour, though you can find at least one fan-made version of the album online with bass lines plugged back in. But this is the next best thing, if you can somehow get your hands on it.

Also some quick trivia, that tour poster by Pushead you see just above was also used as the cover art for this LP. So if you’re one of the legions of Metallica fans who would love to see Justice with a more organic feel and bass – now you know what to look for.

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