With Metallica planning a reissue of its 1986 thrash metal masterpiece Master of Puppets this November, a former engineer for the band says he would "love to remix" the band's controversial 1988 follow-up, ...And Justice for All.
...And Justice for All is Metallica's first album with bassist Jason Newsted in the band following the tragic death of Cliff Burton. And yet Newsted's bass guitar is so imperceptible in the album's final mix, some fans have openly wondered if he recorded at all.
"I'd like to remix it and I'll show you exactly what was laid down on tape and then the world will be stunned, I think," Toby Wright tells the Talk Toomey podcast in a new interview. "Keep in mind I would love to remix it. Lars [Ulrich], if you're hearing me, I'd love to remix it."
The album's lack of bass has been a point of debate for years. Some fans have complained that classic songs are almost unlistenable because of the lack of low-end, others have interpreted it as a tribute to Burton—a thrash moment-of-silence of sorts—for a band still in mourning.
"Here's the real story," Wright says. "The bass was recorded by me and Jason Newsted, in all of its glory. At the time, the theology in the room between Lars and James [Hetfield] was that if you can hear the bass, it's 2 [decibels] too loud. So when it moved over to Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero mixing it, they brought that same theology with them. No matter how hard Steve and Michael tried to fight them on 'That's not right, that's not right,' they still insisted that's what they wanted so that's what the world got."
Wright isn't alone. Thompson told Loudwire in August that he thought Ulrich and Hetfield were joking with their directives about how little bass they wanted to hear. Ulrich was uncompromising with how he wanted his drums to sound, and Thompson says he even considered quitting the project over how bad the mixes sounded.
"At the time, Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch, who were managing the band, they talked us into staying with it, and everything like that," he said. "I wasn't around with Newsted when he was getting tormented, I guess...I didn't understand the politics of that until later.
"I was unhappy...I wish I spent a week or two after that just to mix it the way I heard it—at least have that."
Thompson says Newsted's lack of impact on the album certainly wasn't for lack of ability.
"What was cool about Jason's parts was that they were a perfect marriage with Hetfield's rhythm guitars."
Wright adds that a remixed ...And Justice for All with more bass would "be a bit more powerful. Fill out some of that tonality that's missing from it. If you listen to the Black record which was done a year and half—two years later under Bob Rock, that's a full band right there...And it turned out and 20 million records later. There was some success there."
What's more, Thompson recalls a moment at Metallica's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2009 when Ulrich asked him, "'We did have bass on the record, didn't we?' I said, 'You're kidding me, you're absolutely kidding me!' I just wished I could have mixed it the way I heard it."
...And Justice for All's 30th anniversary is coming up next August.
Hetfield told Guitar World in February, that he doesn't feel strongly about fixing the bass on the album, calling it "a product of a certain time in life; they’re snapshots of history and they’re part of our story."
Newsted, to his credit, doesn't seem to harbor any ill-will.
"Historically, it stands up over time. Maybe not the mix, but the songs do. And the impact that it made, the mark that it made. The mathematical part of it; how far we went with an eight-minute song with 17 time signature [changes]. Who's idea was that?
He says fans have given him their own remixes of the album with more present bass. While he appreciates the support, Newsted says he's comfortable with the way things turned out.
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