Metallica Mixer: Lars Ulrichs’s Drums on …And Justice for All Sounded “Like Ass”
In a new interview, Steve Thompson, one of two credited mixers on Metallica’s 1988 album …And Justice for All, says that Lars Ulrich’s drums for that record sounded “like ass.”
Thompson, whose other credits include Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction and Korn’s Follow the Leader, tells Dean Cramer:
“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.”
Thompson went on to reaffirm many fans’ long-held belief that the notorious absence of Jason Newsted’s bass from Justice is, in fact, Ulrich’s doing:
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.’ 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.”
You can watch the entire interview with Thompson below. His assertion echoes statements he first made in 2015.
In 2017, Justice producer Flemming Rasmussen blamed the band more generally (i.e., without naming Ulrich) for the lack of bass:
“What happened was [mixing engineers Steve Thompson and Mike Barbiero] did a mix that they thought sounded really, really good, which had lots of bass in it.
“And the bass – let me just point out – the bass tracks on ‘…And Justice for All’ are actually fantastic. Jason plays really well. He probably tried to prove that he was worth, that he was up there with Cliff, which in my opinion he is.
“It’s a different style, but he is as good of bass player as Cliff, just in a different way. And I’ve heard the bass tracks and they were actually amazing. They sound good, he plays well. But, they heard the mix and they went, ‘Alright, take the bass down, change this this this and this, and then take the bass down.’ So you can barely hear it. And then once they’ve done that they said, ‘Take it another 3dB down.’
That same year, James Hetfield claimed that the band will never add the bass back onto a remixed edition of Justice.
As for Newsted, he has said he was “fucking livid” the first time he heard the album and realized his bass tracks were missing.