Steve Thompon, the mixing engineer who worked on Metallica’s …And Justice For All album, has opened up about recording Lars Ulrich’s drum track, saying that it sounded “like ass”. Thompson worked as co-mixer on the metal band’s fourth studio LP, which also happened to be the first following the death of their bassist Cliff Burton.
Thompson’s comments, it would seem, are a long time in the making. The record may be critically acclaimed, but that hasn’t stopped it from being criticised for its poor production value, with many arguing that it has a distinctly tinny sound compared to some of the group’s more polished records.
Speaking in a new interview on A Discussion With Dean Cramer, Thompson explained how he went about producing the much-maligned album. “So anyway, I kind of re-EQed all the drums a little bit just to make ‘em a little more palpable — it’s in the ear of the beholder. Then I brought the bass up, which I thought the bass was a great part because… You know what was great about [Newsted’s] bass? It was a great marriage with [James] Hetfield’s guitars – it was like they needed to work together. It was perfectly played.”
Unfortunately, when Thompson played the album to Metallica, Lars Ulrich seemed strangely disgruntled. “’What happened to my drum sound?’” the drummer asked. “I basically probably said something like, ‘You were serious?’ So I had to rearrange the drum sound to get it to where he wanted it again,” Thompson explained.
Ulrich continued to push Thompson to shift the mix around: “He goes, ‘OK, see the bass?’ I go, ‘Yeah’. ‘Drop it down in the mix’. I said, ‘Why? It’s great’. ‘Drop it down in the mix’. So I did it as a joke. [I] dropped it all the way down. He goes, ‘Drop it down another five or six dB’ from there, which could hardly hear it — you couldn’t hear it. I said, ‘Seriously?’ And I think I turned around to Hetfield, and he just went like this [raises both hands].”
Following Ulrich’s requests, Thompson swallowed his pride and did as he was told. He may have “hated” the final product, but, as he noted “you have to respect [the band’s] opinion” because “it’s not my record, it’s their record”. Metallica recently returned to the stage, performing two special shows in San Francisco to celebrate the group’s 40th anniversary. You can listen to the full interview with Steve Thompson below.