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While the reasoning behind why “…And Justice For All” was a controversial release among thrashers varies depending on who you talk to, it is pretty well established that Metallica has veered back and forth in terms of style since the latter half of the 80s, and this single is probably the most blatant demonstration of it. Between the razor thin, high end, and fairly dry production and the angrier than ever vocal display out of James Hetfield is a band that seems to be trying to please everyone, throwing a little bit of this and that from one song to the next.
“Harvester Of Sorrow” reflects a latent doom metal tendency that began to surface here and there on the famed 4th studio album, drawing heavily from a number of minimalist ideas that had been surfaced a few years prior by Candlemass and more than a decade prior by Sabbath. However, the salient point of the style that all but completely flew over the heads of these guys is that when you deal in heavily repetitive and slowed down music, atmosphere is king, and what is presented as such here couldn’t be passed off as a lowly knight’s squire. The trebly guitar tone, the detached rhythmic tendencies of the drums and the non-existent bass don’t work in this setting, to speak nothing for how stale the flat implied vocal and guitar melodies become after a couple of listens.
Nevertheless, the band really gets the job done nicely in the b-side department, and would make this an good pickup if found at a reasonable price, provided that money wasn’t already thrown at the cash grabber rereleases of these songs of late. The Diamond Head cover is particularly of note given that it presents Metallica reinterpreting their former style of 1982-84 but through the darker lens of their 1988 sound. The top-heavy production works well against the proto-speed/thrash nature of the original song, and Hammet’s solo work is top notch. The cover of “Breadfan” is also a revealing song, showing that as far back as 1973 there were bands predicting the very style that became so widespread in the 80s, while still having that signature pentatonic riffing approach common to early 70s rock.
It’s a judgment call on whether to get this given that “Garage Inc.” has this along with a lot of the other famous 80s Metallica cover songs on it. It mostly hinges on whether you want all of the crappy 90s stuff that comes with the latter package, though getting a cheap used copy of said compilation might be a safer bet from a monetary standpoint. But on its own, this is one of the few singles out there where the a-side sucks but the b-sides are pure auditory treasure, and the wicked album art has to count for something.