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Sound Mixer on Metallica’s ‘…And Justice For All’ Blames Lars Ulrich for Thin Bass Sound

Metallica Lars Ulrich
Ian Gavan, Getty Images

Metallica released their fourth studio album …And Justice for All in 1988 and their track “One” from the effort earned the group the first-ever Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance. While there is no doubting the disc was a success, many fans and critics disliked how thin the bass sounded throughout that album, at times saying the mix made the bass almost inaudible. In a recent interview with Ultimate-Guitar.com, the album’s mixer Steve Thompson says drummer Lars Ulrich is to blame for the lack of bass.

Thompson is a prominent producer and sound mixer, who has worked with everyone from Guns N’ Roses to Madonna. He told the outlet that Ulrich knew exactly how he wanted the drums to sound on the disc, and demanded the bass be moved way down to make that happen. “We had to get the drum sound up the way he had it,” Thompson explained. “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.”

Thompson said he tried to quit the project after learning how Ulrich wanted the album mixed, but his manager and the band’s managers wouldn’t hear of it. He went on to sign off on Ulrich’s changes. “My only regret is that we didn’t have enough time to at least mix it the way we heard it,” Thompson continued. “I wanted to take Master Of Puppets and blow that away. That was my sonic direction for … And Justice For All. It was all there but I think they were looking for more garagey-type sound without bass. And the bass was great; it was perfect.”

When asked if he’d ever had a chance to talk with Ulrich about the incident, Thompson said he sat next to the drummer at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for Metallica in 2009. “They flew us out and I’m sitting with Lars,” explained Thompson. “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– for the lack of bass.”

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