I have a love-hate relationship with Metallica. They were my favorite band growing up, but it’s hard to ignore all the bullshit they’ve put their fans through. It got so bad that they wouldn’t even publicly acknowledge the clipping on their 2008 Death Magnetic, which was quietly remastered and re-released digitally on the band’s website. The biggest shock is that this wasn’t the first controversy with their audio. In fact, it was the fourth (read about them all here). However, the biggest fuck-up is on their 1988 masterpiece …And Justice For All, the first album to feature Jason Newsted on bass (replacing the great Cliff Burton, who passed away in a bus accident years prior). His parts are barely distinguishable on the final product, which has led to many rumors. While Lars claims the guitars are covering the bass, Steve Thompson, who mixed the album, opened up and explained everything that happened to lead to the absence of bass on that album. In an interview with Ultimate-Guitar, Thompson explains exactly what happened:
We had to get the drum sound up the way he had it. I wasn’t a fan of it. So now [Lars Ulrich] 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?”
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 [James] Hetfield and said, “He’s serious?” It just blew me away.
Digressing, Metallica has been re-releasing their entire catalog in various editions. While we’ve already been fucked out of a No Life ‘Til Leather deluxe collection (thanks to Lars Ulrich allegedly wanting credit for songs he didn’t write), we’re also not going to get that …And Justice For All remaster we’ve been salivating for since the album was released 30 years ago.
The aforementioned Steve Thompson, who originally mixed the album alongside Michael Barbiero, has stated that he recently contributed some material to the upcoming deluxe edition and got the impression that the band won’t be re-mixing the effort. Here’s what The PRP was able to dig up…
Appearing on the Talk Toomey Podcast, Thompson spoke about the initial mixing sessions and how the bass came to be buried. Regarding that, he stated:
“The first day Lars would come in with pictures of an EQ setup [of] how he wanted his drums to sound, every drum. So I said to Barbiero, ‘Michael, why don’t you work with Lars and get the drums sounding the way he wants them and once you got that let me know.’
So he gets the sound that Lars wanted and I listened to ’em myself and said ‘Man, this sounds like shit.’ …And so I chased everybody out of the room, I started putting everything up, re-EQing drums, bringing the guitars up, bringing the bass up, because the bass was a great part because it was a perfect marriage with Hetfield‘s rhythm guitars, it just was great. And I’m blowing up the band and everything like that and Hetfield comes in and [he] thumbs up, everybody, he’s happy.
So when I was ready for playback, Lars comes walking in, listens to about 15 seconds and he says ‘turn it off.’ And he goes to me ‘Uhh, what happens to my drum sound?’ So I think I just probably said ‘You were serious?”
So I had to get the drum sound back to where Lars was happy and I wasn’t… And then he said ‘See the bass?’ I said ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘I want you to bring it down about 5 or 6db. I said ‘Why,’ [he said] ‘Just bring it down.’ So I brought it down where you barely audibly could hear it. And he goes now ‘drop it down a little more’.
And I remember I think I turned around to James and James just put his hands up and I said ‘Really, why would you do that?’”
Speaking of the upcoming deluxe edition of the album, he offered:
“I just contributed to the anniversary album of …And Justice [For All]. I just sent them a bunch of pictures and some outtakes, but they have no desire to re-mix the record. They want to keep it the way it is.
“They might remaster it or something like that, but there is only so much mastering you can do. And I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t even know if those original multitracks could be saved. Because there are like 5 million edits in them from Lars‘ drums alone. So if you have the box and open it up there probably be about 50 million pieces of tape all over the place.”
He later stated:
“They’ve lived with it this long. I’ve lived with most of the criticism, ’cause everybody assumes it’s my fault. And I guess I have to take blame cause it says my name says mixed by me and Barbiero.
But I remember when Metallica got elected to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, they flew us in there to be a part of it—which I thought was great—and I remember hanging out with Lars and Lars basically came up to me and said ‘Steve, what happened to the bass on the record?’ He actually asked me that and I just said ‘Ok, I give up, I give up’ [laughing.]”
I’m so filled with piss and vinegar right now that all I can think to do is go and listen to Megadeth…