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Mixer For METALLICA’s ‘…And Justice For All’ Album: “I Hated It Personally, Because I’m A Bass Guy”

The mixer for Metallica's '...And Justice For All' pins the lack of bass on drummer Lars Ulrich.

You may or may not have heard of Steve Thompson, but you’ve certainly heard his work on iconic albums such as GUNS N’ ROSES’ “Appetite For Destruction” and KORN’s “Follow The Leader”). He was also the mixer for METALLICA’s eponymous 1988 release “…And Justice For All” and still manages to catch flack from fans for the effort’s nearly inaudible bass tracks.

“…And Justice For All” has been widely panned, despite it’s status as a METALLICA classic, due to the seemingly complete lack of any bass guitar on the record with Jason Newsted’s playing buried dep within the mix. Numerous METALLICA fans have blamed drummer Lars Ulrich for the album’s hollow sound, and it appears, so does Thompson.

Thompson says in a new interview with Dean Cramer (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “We did the project up at Bearsville, New York — we worked on an SSL [console] up at Bearsville studios. And Lars originally came in with a whole EQ setup chart of how he wanted his drums to sound. So Michael Barbiero, my partner, says, ‘Why don’t you work with Lars and get the drums [sounding the way he wants them to sound], and then once you do that, I’ll take care of the rest.’ So he does that. And I listened to the sounds, and I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I think this sounds like ass.’ So anyway, I kind of re-EQed all the drums a little bit just to make ’em a little more palpable — it’s in the ear of the beholder. Then I brought the bass up, which I thought the bass was a great part because… You know what was great about [Newsted’s] bass? It was a great marriage with [James] Hetfield’s guitars; it was, like, they needed to work together. It was perfectly played.

“So I got the whole rhythm section together, vocals and everything like that, and then I felt, ‘Okay, now’s the time,'” he continued. “Hetfield was in there, [giving] thumbs up and everything like that. Then I brought Lars in. First of all, Lars hears it for about five to ten seconds, and he goes, ‘All right, stop right there.’ He goes, ‘What happened to my drum sound?’ I basically probably said something like, ‘You were serious?’ [Laughs] So I had to rearrange the drum sound to get it to where he wanted it again. He goes, ‘Okay, see the bass?’ I go, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Drop it down in the mix.’ I said, ‘Why? It’s great.’ ‘Drop it down in the mix.’ ‘Okay.’ So I did it as a joke. [I] dropped it all the way down. He goes, ‘Drop it down another five or six dB’ from there, which could hardly hear it — you couldn’t hear it. I said, ‘Seriously?’ And I think I turned around to Hetfield, and he just went like this [raises both hands]. And then I remember having a conversation with Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch who were managing them. And I basically had a conversation, I said, ‘Listen, I love these guys. I think this band is fucking amazing. I don’t agree with what they want me to do with this. And I understand, it’s their record. They should get whatever they want. We were hired to get them what they want. But I just can’t see doing this.’ And we wound up giving ’em what they want. Again, it’s not my record — it’s their record — and you have to respect their opinion. I hated it personally, because I’m a bass guy. I love bass. When we’re recording, we record the fattest basses in the world.”

Jason Newsted told Metal Hammer last year that he was “fucking livid” when he heard “…And Justice For All” for the first time. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “I was ready [to go] for throats, man! No, I was out of my head, because I really thought I did well. And I thought I played how I was supposed to play.”

You can listen to the full interview below.