Jason Newsted – ‘I Was F***ing Livid’ Over Metallica ‘And Justice for All’ Bass Mix
The lack of bass sound on Metallica's ...And Justice for All album is a topic that's been oft-discussed over the years, and it came as much of a shock to the band's bassist Jason Newsted as it did to fans upon their first listen. In fact, in a new interview with Metal Hammer, the bassist recalls his reaction at the time being one of fury.
“I was fucking livid!,” Newsted reveals while guesting on the Metal Hammer podcast. “Are you kidding me? I was ready [to go] for throats, man!" He later added, “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."
Newsted had joined the band for the album after the death of Cliff Burton. He says he really thought nothing of recording his bass lines for the album with none of the other band members present. But when the mix from Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero came back, his parts were often buried and it didn't sit well.
“Lars and James were the original garage band duo, as far as that goes,” he says. They always made the records that way, from No Life ’Til Leather, it was Lars and James, guitar and drums," says Newsted. "On the original No Life ’Til Leather cassette - if you happen to ever see a real copy or a photo of a real copy - in Lars’ handwriting, in ink pen, on the label of the cassette, [it reads] ‘Turn bass down on stereo' on No Life ’Til Leather!”
Reflecting now, he adds, “They mixed it how it was supposed to be mixed: there’s the bass and there’s the guitar from all the way back. But Lars didn’t want [that] because it messed with his drums somehow, so when he sends the demo out to fucking Combat Records and wherever, [his instruction is] ‘Turn the bass down before you even listen to this.’ Before you even get it going, just turn the bass down. Right from the get go. Before you even start. That’s where he’s been his whole goddamn life, so why would it be any different when it came to […And Justice For All]? They made Kill ’Em All that way, they made Ride [the Lightning] that way, they made Master [of Puppets] that way, all of them. Those two guys in a room [mimics drum beats and playing], that’s the way it always happened. [For] the most successful metal band of all time. So you argue with this shit? I’m not really sure.”
For his part, Steve Thompson, who had mixed the effort, told Loudwire in 2017 that he was not exactly happy with the mix on the record. He revealed that the bass mix came as a directive from Lars Ulrich. "The thing about Jason [Newsted]'s parts, they were in perfect rhythm with James’ guitars. It was a great marriage that worked out great," recalled Thompson, but after a first pass with the mix, he stated that Ulrich found issue with the drum sound.
"Lars has a specific way in which he wanted his drums to sound. He would actually send me pictures of an EQ setup," recalled Thompson, who revealed he was initially surprised by the specifications. After hearing Thompson and Barbiero's original mix, Thompson recalled of Ulirch, "He says, ‘Stop tape. I’ve got a problem. What happened to my drum sound?’ And I basically said, ‘You were serious?" After a discussion, the mix was adjusted to Ulrich's drum sound request with Newsted's bass also being dropped to barely audible.
In a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, producer Flemming Rasmussen recalled of Newsted, "Jason is one hell of a bass player. I'm probably one of the only people in the world, including Jason and Toby Wright, the assistant engineer, who heard the bass tracks on …And Justice for All, and they are fucking brilliant."
In our own chat from 2013 with Newsted about ...And Justice for All, the bassist reflected, "Historically, it stands up over time. Maybe not the mix, but the songs do." At the time, the band was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the album, with Newsted adding, "Twenty-five years and I still feel the same. I found my fountain of youth in heavy metal music. Justice was great ... We took the music to all the corners of the places that it was allowed."