RIDDLED: Where Is the Bass on Metallica’s ‘…And Justice For All’!?

METALLICA – …And Justice For All
[Vertigo Records // 1988]

We’re going to try and get to the bottom of a missing person case that has bewildered metalheads for over 30 years now – Where is Jason Newsted on Metallica’s seminal 1988 album …And Justice For All!?

First off, to clear things up – Jason Newsted’s bass parts ARE on the album, they are just next to inaudible. As time has gone on, the questions raised as to why this is the case have only become louder and more frequent. The 1988 album has been re-issued many times on all formats over the years, culminating in a super expensive deluxe boxset edition for the record’s 30th anniversary in 2018… Which still had those inaudible bass mixes intact to the annoyance of many fans who have begged the band to remix the album and restore Newsted’s bass parts.

The whole mystery has become something of a meme amongst devoted metal fans, and has even inspired music producers to have a go at remixing the album themselves with the aim of rescuing the inaudible bass parts – such as the YouTube hit …And Justice For Jason – which has had over 3-million views at the time of writing – restoring Newsted’s bass parts in the mix rather nicely – And the album still sounds great!

There seem to be three consistent theories as to why the bass is inaudible on the album…

1. Jason Newsted played along to James Hetfield’s rhythm guitar as well as matching his tone.

There seems to be some truth to this theory. To understand the context further, it is important to establish that former bassist Cliff Burton – who played bass on the first three Metallica albums before tragically passing away when the band’s tour bus crashed on an icy road. – had a unique bass playing style and is easily distinguished by the listener on the first three albums. Two fantastic examples of Cliff Burton’s amazing bass playing that stand out are his sinister intro to ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and his bass solo spotlight ‘(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth’. Records show that merely one week after Burton’s passing, Metallica and their label had already officially started holding auditions for a replacement bass player. “If we slowed down, we were afraid we were going to disappear into nothingness,” drummer Lars Ulrich stated in a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone.

Jason Newsted joined Metallica very quickly after Burton’s passing, so it is fairly likely that he didn’t have enough time to make his stamp by writing his own bass parts, making following along to the guitar parts the more convenient way forward. Writing for the album had already started whilst Burton was still alive, as he is credited on ‘To Live Is To Die’, with Newsted himself receiving one writing credit on ‘Blackened’. In a 2008 interview with Guitar World, guitarist James Hetfield claimed “Jason tended to double my rhythm guitar parts, so it was hard to tell where my guitar started and his bass left off. My guitar sound ate up all the lower frequencies. Jason and I were always battling for the same space in the mix.”

When listening to …And Justice For All there are really no spots on the album where it feels like a missing gap of sound is left where a bass guitar part should be, which could not be said of the albums either side of Justice if their bass parts had been turned down. Listening to …And Justice For Jason only confirms this. The basslines aren’t a carbon copy of Hetfield’s guitar parts, but there are rarely any spots across the album where the bass speaks for itself. Therefore it is very likely that Newsted’s bass parts are naturally left muddied and blurred in the mix from following the lead of the rhythm guitar parts.

2. Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield commanded producer Flemming Rasmussen to turn down Newsted’s bass parts.

This theory seems to be pretty clear cut and has been confirmed to be true by Ulrich, Hetfield and Rasmussen respectively over the years. Speaking to Kerrang! Magazine in 2019, Hetfield said, “no earplugs, no nothing. You go back into the studio, your hearing is shot. If your ears can’t hear any high end anymore, you’re gonna turn it up. So we’re turning the high end up more and more and more and all of a sudden, low end’s gone. So I know that played a bigger part than any hazing or any ill feelings towards Jason, for sure.” Rasmussen also has gone on record to say that he felt puzzled by Ulrich and Hetfield’s insistence on turning down Newsted’s bass parts.

3. The rest of the band wanted to remove Newsted’s bass parts out of spite.

For the more cynical people, this theory seems to crop up a lot, but the evidence seems to suggest that the other band members weren’t intentionally trying to hurt Newsted’s feelings by lowering his bass parts in the mix, and it was done purely as an aesthetic production choice. Though imagine how it must have felt for Newsted, joining one of the most popular and exciting metal bands of the time and recording with them only to receive the final masters and not be able to hear his own parts!

Except, Justice wasn’t actually the first Metallica release that Newsted recorded bass on. Newsted’s recording debut with Metallica was on the Garage Days Re-Revisited covers EP released in 1987, in which he performs (audible) bass and backing vocals, as well as appearing prominently on the cover. Newsted also had a strong role on Justice’s follow up self-titled 1991 album, with his awesome bass riff on ‘My Friend of Misery’ being that songs defining feature. Newsted also performed bass on the live performances of the Justice songs, and has always been considered a bonafide band member and not just a hired session musician. Sure, there has been talk that the other band members gave Newsted a hard time – perhaps from recruiting him so fast after the loss of former bassist Burton that they may not have had adequate time to grieve his loss – but to say they intentionally tried to spite Newsted seems too inconsistent.

To wrap up this non-mystery, the reason why Jason Newsted’s bass parts remain inaudible on …And Justice For All is certainly no accident, but also likely to be a lapse of judgement and an oversight that has since become one of the albums most unwanted talking points. It looks like we will probably never see the day where Metallica officially issue a remixed version of Justice that restores those missing bass parts, but at least those who are curious have the excllent …And Justice For Jason as an alternative. In a 2019 interview with Guitar World, Hetfield stated, “These records are a product of a certain time in life; they’re snapshots of history and they’re part of our story … And Justice for All could use a little more low end and St. Anger could use a little less tin snare drum, but those things are what make those records part of our history.”

The lack of bass on Justice will always be a talking point amongst metalheads, but really it is a moot point. And it’s not as if Justice‘s lack of bass is something unique to this album as there are plenty other metal albums that experience a similar lack of bass in the mix. In fact after this it became a rather common aesthetic choice with bands in the thrash, death and black metal subgenres, and even extending as far as garage rock bands like The White Stripes and Black Keys who would omit the use of a bass player entirely. With …And Justice For All being such a celebrated classic in its original form already, it doesn’t really matter if we can’t hear the bass, because it is still awesome regardless.

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