“I was f**king livid!” Newsted told The Metal Hammer Podcast in a new interview. “Are you kidding me? I was ready [to go] for throats, man!”
He continued, taking a more serious tone: “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.”
The phantom bass on Justice has become the most controversial mixing decision in the history of metal. The official mixing credits belong to Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, but Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield were heavily involved in the process.
Some suggest Newsted’s parts were lowered as means to haze the new bassist, who replaced the late Cliff Burton in 1986. Ulrich has since acknowledged the missing bass on the album in an interview with Decibel, but denied any intentional malice.
The drummer explained, “Justice… was the James and Lars show from beginning to end, but it wasn’t, ‘F–ck this guy — let’s turn his bass down.’ It was more like, ‘We’re mixing, so let’s pat ourselves on the back and turn the rhythms and the drums up.’ But we basically kept turning everything else up until the bass disappeared.”
On the other hand, guitarist Kirk Hammett insisted in the same 2008 interview that the mix was an artistic decision, saying Newsted’s bass tone clashed with Hetfield’s rhythm guitar frequencies and that the band was intentionally going for a dry, punchy sound.
“The reason you can’t hear the bass so well is because the bass frequencies in Jason’s tone kinda interfered with the tone that James was trying to shoot for with his rhythm guitar sound, and every time the two blended together, it just wasn’t happening,” Hammett explained. “So the only thing left to do was turn the bass down in the mix. It was unfortunate.”
Even Newsted agrees that the sound on Justice has its own character, and the fact that it’s so controversial is a testament to its brilliance.
“If the Justice… album had been mixed like a regular record, we wouldn’t be talking about it right now,” Newsted concluded. “… because of the way it all came out, it became such an unnecessary big f–king deal, [and] we’re still talking about it again. I think it was brilliant they didn’t even realize how f–king brilliant they were in their drunk stupor to do what they did!”
Listen to Jason Newsted’s interview with The Metal Hammer Podcast below. You can also stream the fan-made bass restoration “…And Justice for Jason” to hear what could have been.