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Metallica – …And Justice for All (demos)

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These are demos in the classic sense: demonstrations of songs. They will not be legendary artifacts, better than the polished studio albums they presaged, pressed onto picture disc 20 years later by Nuclear War Now! in diehard editions. No, they’re just worse versions of their future selves.

But they’re more interesting for it. …And Justice for All is very much a construction – it practically pulsates with math; if it were a building, it would be a low-slung labyrinth – and these demos reveal its scaffolding. The songs exist in various states of completion. “Blackened” is mostly done. Kirk Hammett isn’t. It’s fun to hear him fumble around, searching for the right notes. (He eventually found them. I wouldn’t change a note on this record.) Lyrically, “Eye of the Beholder” has but a chorus. Lars Ulrich is, to put it politely, a very human drummer.

What fascinates me the most about these demos is Hetfield’s incomplete lyrics. We get a peek at his work process: he comes up with vocal patterns before lyrics. Sometimes he starts with a phrase. We hear that “The Shortest Straw” germinated from the phrase “shortest straw has been pulled for you”. “Harvester of Sorrow” has basically just its title words. But even though Hetfield hasn’t found “Harvester”‘s words yet, he sings their placeholders with utter conviction. His language is literally infantile – “Wa-na-na-na-na-na” – which, in a way, sounds even more enraged.

The vocal pattern is an underappreciated art. So many metal bands have awkward enjambments and mushy syllabic structures. But Hetfield understands that vocals can form riffs. In these demos, you hear him molding his vocals around his guitar. Sometimes they buttress each other; sometimes they act in call-and-response. He’s one of metal’s best rhythm guitarists, but he’s also one of metal’s best vocalists rhythmically. That’s a big reason why we sing along to his songs decades later.

— Cosmo Lee

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“Harvester of Sorrow” (demo)

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