Travel back to the Summer of 1993 for a narrative review of how I was introduced to what would be the album that propelled me into a lifelong love of metal.
Album: …And Justice for All
Release Date: September 7, 1988
Label: Elektra Records
Lineup: James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Jason Newsted
#1 Billboard Single on this date: Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child o’ Mine”
#1 Billboard Album on this date: Def Leppard Hysteria
Recently, I was at a pool party talking with a buddy about our earliest musical memories. As my thoughts drifted to reminisce, I conjured a few images: Van Halen’s “Jump” video on MTV, and Fine Young Cannibal’s “She Drives Me Crazy” played incessantly on VH1.
I was a young kid when these videos came out, but I quickly became obsessed. Music instantly became (and has been) a major staple in my life. Though I date myself while I recall the “good ol’ days” when music videos were actually played on TV, I’m not one of those people hopelessly stuck in the past. Plus, we have YouTube now, which kicks ass.
But, in order to know where we’re going, I often find it helps to reflect on the past and, through deep introspection, examine how and why we got to the point we are today. Not to wax philosophical here, it’s just something I like to do from time to time.
As a kid, I loved the energy of “Jump”, and bouncing off my aunt’s couch while she blasted “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. To me, these songs were just fun. Young and old alike jammed on them, and it was awesome. While I didn’t quite know it at the time, I was already, subconsciously, desiring music that was more energized. Harder. Faster. Crazier.
In the late 80s, I jumped (no pun intended),from Van Halen into AC/DC, Zeppelin, the Stones, Hendrix, Boston, BOC, all the legends of the 70s era. But, while I loved (and still love) these bands, they left me wanting more.
That more finally came to me in the Summer of 1993.
I was 9 years old and spending a week in western Kansas for a big reunion with my mom’s side of the family.
The town: Satanta, KS (pronounced suh-TAN-uh, not say-ten-tah, believe it or not).
At the time, Satanta’s population was around 600 people. That summer, I think our family reunion pushed it up to around 750, a 25% increase!
My family had setup shop at the town center’s civic center. We had that place loaded down with the best Mexican food in the tri-state area, games, and music. It was a blast! Thinking back now, I desperately miss my abuela’s homemade tortillas. I have yet to find any that come close to as good as hers. The only tortillas I would even consider uttering in the same breath as my abuela’s are at Red Headed Stranger in Nashville.
But, I digress.
As the reunion events at the civic center began to wrap up for the night, my mom’s siblings began to load up to have a small dinner at my aunt’s house and play Spanish bingo.
While walking out to my parent’s car, my Uncle Junior (a nickname as he was the oldest and named after my abuelo) stopped me and asked if I wanted to ride with him. He pointed to his 1988 Cadillac El Dorado. I let my parents know, and ran over to his car.
As I started walking up to the passenger door, Uncle Junior asked “What are you doing?” Confused, I said “Riding with you!”
Uncle Junior smiled. “Riding? Nuh uh…you’re driving.” He tossed me the keys to which I fumbled a bit, but eventually caught.
Now, to clear up a few things: Yes, I was 9 years old at the time, and my uncle let me drive his car. But, I grew up in the country in eastern Kansas and had learned to drive a few years earlier. This may seem odd, I know. However, when you live in a remote area with livestock, there is always the real possibility that someone can get hurt, to include your parents. If your parents need emergency medical attention, and they can’t physically drive, and an ambulance is too far away, saddle up, kid! You’re driving!
Plus, this was nearly 20 years ago in a very small town where I was driving less than 6 total blocks. Everything was under control. Now, back to the story!
I expertly got into the plush driver’s seat, adjusted the seat and the mirrors, and turned the ignition. Even though I was 9 at the time, I have always been tall, so there was no need for me to sit on a phone book or anything like that.
I carefully backed out of the parking spot in the big ol’ boat of a Caddie, signaled onto the main road literally called Main Street (c’mon, it’s a small Midwestern town!), and proceeded to my aunt’s house.
Uncle Junior opened his glove box and pulled out a cassette. “Ever hear this before?” he asked, pointing to the cover of Metallica’s “…And Justice for All”. I quickly glanced over, being sure not to be a “distracted” driver as my parents taught me, and offered a skimp, “No”.
Granted, I had heard “Enter Sandman” a few years prior, as my dad used to blast it in the family van every time it came on the local rock station. But, my young brain didn’t make the connection that this was the same band, as I hadn’t listened to any of their other songs.
He popped the cassette into the stereo, and proceeded to crank the volume knob to what was visibly past its maximum setting. Beyond 11, if there is such a thing.
What I heard next changed my life forever.
The epic, slow crescendo, two-part harmony intro of “Blackened” began to tear through the hot Midwestern night. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. This was the more I was seeking. As soon as Lars hit the first cymbal choke, and the dual rhythm guitars came driving in full force, I was hooked.
Then there was “One“. What seemed like a ballad told a horrific story through the eyes of a tragic victim of WW1. Later on in high school, I finally learned the song was based on Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun”. In it, the main character is hit by a mortar shell, and loses his arms, legs, and face, but miraculously survives. While being kept alive by military doctors for “research” purposes, the protagonist experiences vivid hallucinations and flashbacks of his life. Truly dark stuff.
In the middle section of the song, Lars’ double bass kicks in with an iconic syncopated groove, mirroring the terrifying sounds of machine guns in war. I had never heard anything quite like it in my young life. “Hot For Teacher” may have been the closest thing. But, that music was fun; this stuff has teeth.
My dad loved western movies, and growing up, I used to watch them with him all the time. “To Live Is To Die” instantly felt like it could easily be at home in one of these films, alongside a classic Ennio Morricone score (RIP, maestro).
Once the music started, my Uncle Junior just smiled and didn’t say a word. We just cruised the quiet streets of Satanta and jammed out to the incredible metal tunes
As we began to pull up to my aunt’s house, I tried to shout over the music “Where do you want me to park it?” Uncle Junior grinned. “Just take it around the block a few more times”, he said casually, making a swirling motion with his index finger. So I did, and I loved every minute of it.
We listened to the whole album during that night’s cruise.
Almost serendipitously, the album ended as we came rolling up to my aunt’s street. I found a parking spot, checked my mirrors, and expertly parked this monstrosity of a luxury automobile.
I took the keys out of the ignition and handed them to Uncle Junior. He leaned over to the cassette deck, ejected “…And Justice for All”, and delicately put it back in its case as to not bend the liner corners.
“What did you think of that album?”, asked Uncle Junior.
“I LOVED it”, I beemed, almost interrupting him.
He smiled, and tossed the cassette into my lap. “Its yours now,” he said authoritatively, “I’ll buy another one tomorrow”. He busted out into a big, belly laugh as we got out of the Caddie.
After that gesture, I walked on air up to my aunt’s house.
That summer, I proceeded to wear out that cassette in short order. I ended up buying it with my allowance two more times over the course of a year since I listened to it so many times.
I was eventually gifted a CD player for Christmas, got “…And Justice for All” on CD, and subsequently had to replace the disc a few times from overuse.
The more I had been looking for was the teeth; the darker side of music.
While so many other songs I loved at the time seemed to be about partying and relationships, here was an album that delved into the darker side of life, and with it came a heavier, more aggressive form of musical expression.
This albums represents my initial descent into the annals of metal, and is THE reason why I play, listen to, and support the metal genre.
I often think back on this experience and wonder what compelled my Uncle Junior to share this album with me. I could easily ask him, but I mostly feel its better just to let it be.
If for whatever reason you have not heard this album, you must check it out. Hopefully, it has the same positive effect on you as it did for me.
You can buy “…And Justice for All” here.
Did you have an “Uncle Junior” in your life? In the comments below, tell us about the person or album that got you into metal.