Metallica’s classic 1986 album …And Justice For All has long been criticized for having a thin subpar bass sound, and now mixer Steve Thompson is pointing the finger at drummer Lars Ulrich. According to the engineer, Ulrich has very specific plans for how he wanted his drums to sound in the mix, and he didn’t care if other instruments suffered. In fact, he brought in a photograph of a mixing board set up to his standards!
“We had to get the drum sound up the way he had it,” Thompson tells Ultimate Classic Rock. “I wasn’t a fan of it. So now he goes, ‘See the bass guitar?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, great part, man. He killed it.’ He said, ‘I want you to bring down the bass where you can barely, audibly hear it in the mix.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding. Right?’ He said, ‘No. Bring it down.’ I bring it down to that level and he says, ‘Now drop it down another 5 dB.’ I turned around and looked at [Metallica guitarist James] Hetfield and said, ‘He’s serious?’ It just blew me away.”
For Thompson, the biggest tragedy is that ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted had laid down an absolutely stellar track. “My only regret is that we didn’t have enough time to at least mix it the way we heard it.”
These mixing choices have been met with a lot of flack over the years—including some from Ulrich himself! Thompson tells of an incident that occurred during the band’s Rock ’n’ Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2009. “They flew us out and I’m sitting with Lars,” Thompson recalled. “He goes, ‘Hey, what happened to the bass in … Justice?’ He actually asked me that. I wanted to cold cock him right there. It was a shame because I’m the one getting the s–t for the lack of bass.”
[Photo: Getty Images]