Mixer Steve Thompson: Lars Ulrich to Blame for Missing Bass on Metallica’s ‘…And Justice for All’
Yesterday (March 18), we reported that Flemming Rasmussen, producer of Metallica's ...And Justice For All, gave an interview with Rolling Stone, and called Jason Newsted's bass tracks for the album "f--king brilliant." The disc is infamous for the notable absence of bass on the record, which was the first from the band since the tragic death of Cliff Burton. He deferred blame on the mix to James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, and pardoned both mixers, Steven Thompson and Michael Barbiero, for the lack of bass on the disc. Now, Thompson has further cleared the air surrounding the bass controversy.
"My thought was after listening to Master of Puppets, I wanted to make Master of Puppets sound like a demo. That was my intention walking in on the project," Thompson opened in an interview on One on One With Mitch Lafon (listen above). While the mixing was in session, Ulrich and Hetfield flew in. According to Thompson, on the first day, "Lars came in and said, 'This is how I want my drums to sound.' So he basically brought all the paperwork for his EQ setup for how to set up the drums." After spending hours on the drum sound with Barbiero, Thompson heard the mix and said, "I thought it sounded like ass."
After undoing Ulrich's work and remixing the drum sound, Thompson noted, "The bass and guitars work great together. They had like a unison part that worked amazing." He added that Hetfield agreed and gave his approval. The next to hear the mix of the album was Ulrich, who listened to the track for 15 seconds after Hetfield gave the green light. Lars wanted to know what happened to his drum sound and demanded his tracks be mixed the way he originally wanted. He also gave Thompson notes about what to do with the bass, saying, "Take it down about 6db... now take it down about another 4db where you can barely audibly hear it." Upon hearing this, Hetfield threw his hands in the air.
"At the end of the day, I agree, it's the artist's record, so at the end of the day you have to give the artist what you want, but my f--king name's going on it and I totally disapprove of what they want to do with it," Thompson exclaimed. He phoned his manager, who suggested Thompson find somebody else to mix it, but he was convinced to stay on and they had to mix it the way Ulrich demanded. He laments not having the time to make a personal mix the way he wanted just so he could have it.
"I will take blame if blame needed to be taken, but I cannot take blame for something I totally agree with what the critics are saying. But at the end of the day, it's not my record," he subsided. "The funny part is when Metallica got elected to the [Rock and Roll] Hall of Fame, they flew us in to go to the Hall of Fame and I remember hanging out with Lars and Lars goes, 'Hey Steve, what happened to the bass in that record?' like he didn't remember. I basically wanted to coldcock the motherf--ker right there."
When asked about the possibility of remixing and remastering ...And Justice for All, Thompson said he would "absolutely" love the chance, but all the edits from splicing the tape may cause issues, resulting in a "shredded" master reel. Still up for the challenge, he stated, "Talk to the band. I'll be there in a second to do that. It'll give me justice just to hear it the way I want to hear it. 'Cause it's great songs, a great record... The question is are they willing to do that? I'll be the first on board."
In the video below, Jason Newsted reflects on the album, talking about his bass tracks. He explains he was approached by a fan who had taken it upon himself to remix the album and handed him 'And Jason for All' which featured more prominent bass.
Jason Newsted Reflects on Metallica's ...And Justice for All
10 Unforgettable James Hetfield Moments
See Where ...And Justice for All + Other Metallica Albums Landed on the Top 80 Hard Rock + Metal Albums of the 1980s