Sound — 7
A lot. of the complaints regarding the album are in it's mixing. While it is true that the bass is completely inaudible, I do not think that it is a really big issue. The guitars and drums are a little too loud too, and the slight constant noise on the background gets a little annoying. What they also did is change their sound quite a bit. Instead of the big distortion of the earlier albums, this one has a much dryer guitar sound. The vocals also changed quite a bit from the shouting of "Master of Puppets" to the more growling sound on "Justice." Vocal effects are occasionally used. The songs became a lot longer. Where on previous efforts there would be a few tracks that reached up to 8 minutes in length, every song on "Justice" is at least 6 minutes long, with 2 even bordering on the ten minute mark. One negative point about the guitars is Hammett's soloing. It is not bad at all, but his best solo's are obviously behind him at this point. He still rips a really good one from time to time, like on "Harvester of Sorrow" or "Eye of the Beholder," but really he started relying on faster playing and wah wah pedals at this point opposed to his more melodic approach before. This all coupled with more frantic riffing and in my opinion the best drumming (them double bass pedals though) in Metallica's career create a rather paranoid atmosphere. If you really get into this album with no distraction, you can hear the frustration, the anger, the fear and sometimes even melancholy and depression all packed tightly in this monster of an album, sometimes balls-out heavy or balled up in the clean parts of "One."
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics also took a huge leap. I did not have any problem at all with the lyrical content on the last few records, but I deem the lyrics on the "Justice" to be more thought-provoking and it definitely feels as if there is more thought put into them. "Blackened," the opener for example is basically an environmental awareness song, telling the listener humanity is doomed if they do not change anything about the current situation. Even while I am writing this now, 27 years later, the message is still relevant. But not only this song still sticks around the anti-government radio; in fact, most of the album is about this, hence the title. Injustice, corruption, madness, war... you name it. The themes are more outspoken and, well "intelligent" than on say "Kill 'Em All." The lyrics show how a group of desillusionised young men view their society, and especially the ones pulling the strings. Hetfield delivers them with his signature gruff, and does it pretty well. This coupled with the morbid arrangements make for a undeniable classic.
Overall Impression — 9
As for comparing it to their earlier work, I think maybe only "Ride the Lightning" really comes close to this masterpiece. The songs are stacked full of great riffs and manage to keep the listener engaged all the way through. All around I like the atmosphere this album gives off, it flows nicely, and the instrumentation is great. The only real negative point is the mixing. This is one of the few albums I can come back to whenever I'm at a loss for what to listen to, with literally every track a killer memorable song and no songs that feel like filler. The albums closes really good. After "To Live Is to Die," which ends on an acoustic part, "Dyers Eve" comes on. Basically a rant against his deceased parents, Hetfield shouts angrily over the crushing riff, and it all just feals like a good punch in the face.
Best tracks: "Blackened," "Harvester of Sorrow," "To Live Is to Die."