Kirk Hammett: Why Metallica’s ‘…And Justice for All’ Is So Insanely Technical
The year of 1988 was a massive one for Metallica. They were set to release their second major label album, ...And Justice for All, with support from MTV as plans for their first-ever video were hatched. Somewhat surprisingly at the time, the album was overtly technical and progressive and, in a new episode of Gibson's "Icons" video series, Kirk Hammett explained what pushed the band in this bold new direction.
"In the late '80s, the music culture kind of steered itself towards musical proficiency, and how proficient you were with your instrument, and how virtuosic you can be with your technique," Hammett said (transcription via Metal Injection), recollecting the general atmosphere pervading heavy music at the time, also noting a wealth of instrumental albums released by hotshot guitarists.
The Metallica guitarist attributed the "showy bit of being in a band" to both the rise and influence of MTV as well as the growing need to be a proficient player. "I think that had a bit of an influence on us in terms of wanting to show people what we could do and how progressive we can be," offered Hammett.
He went on to state how Master of Puppets, in the eyes of the band, was "as technical as it gets," at least at that point in their career, though they'd soon expand their songwriting horizons even further, which was a deliberate decision.
In support of 1986's groundbreaking Master of Puppets, Metallica spent time on the road supporting Ozzy Osbourne as well as headlining runs of their own. "We had started taking advantage of the fact that when you're on tour, the level of your playing ability is really high – playing at 100 percent, and all of a sudden, all these riffs are coming out," continued Hammett, who also noted that this was "pretty much the first time" they began writing while out on the road.
"It's just what happens after a while," Hammett said of those road-created riffs. "And so, a lot of the riffs that ended up on …And Justice for All were written on [the] Master of Puppets [tour], and the technicality of what we were doing on Master of Puppets, wanting to take that further, influenced how those riffs were written."
When the band regrouped after the tour to plot their next record, they sorted through the "bevy of riffs that were just that much more thought-out and developed, and more progressive, because we had the ability to be more progressive, so we just took that and ran with it."
The music video for "One" also proved to be another breakthrough for Metallica, who were quickly rising to the top tier of heavy metal. Until then, the band had been reluctant to cut a music video.
"We knew because we had a relationship with MTV when they were planning on playing the video," said the 58-year-old legend. "They said, 'Yeah, we'll play it twice an hour, so six o'clock we're gonna play it twice an hour, eight o'clock we're gonna play twice, blah, blah, blah.' So we actually knew in advance what was going to come on."
Hammett knew Metallica had a potentially big video on their hands after an MTV VJ commented, "Oh man, that was depressing... okay, now on to better things."
"Instantly I thought, 'We have something.' If that was the reaction of the VJ, and there are no videos like that on MTV at that point that was like the 'One' video with dialogue," the axeman beamed.
"I always knew the song was great," he admitted, "but you can think a song is great but the audience will for some reason or another think otherwise. But I just knew from the reaction that VJ that we had something that was actually hitting people on an emotional level."
Watch the full "Icons" episode below.
...And Justice for All is among Metallica's most commercially successful records and was most recently certified eight times platinum by the RIAA back in 2003. At that time of certification, Master of Puppets also received its six times platinum honor. Considering Metallica hit over one billion streams on Spotify alone last year, those figures may be overdue for an update.
Metallica's Kirk Hammett on Gibson's "Icons" Series
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