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Steve Thompson was co-mixer on the 1988 album, which was the metal icons’ fourth LP and first since the death of their bassist Cliff Burton.
While the record is acclaimed, it has long been criticised for its dry, tinny production and Jason Newsted’s hard to hear bass guitar lines. In a new interview on A Discussion With Dean Cramer, Thompson spoke about working on the Metallica album.
“Lars originally came in with a whole EQ setup chart of how he wanted his drums to sound,” he said. “So Michael Barbiero, my partner, says, ‘Why don’t you work with Lars and get the drums [sounding the way he wants them to sound], and then once you do that, I’ll take care of the rest’. So he does that. And I listened to the sounds, and I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I think this sounds like ass’.
“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.”
He continued to say that when he played it to Metallica, Hetfield approved but Ulrich wasn’t happy, asking “What happened to my drum sound?”
“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. “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].”
Thompson added that although he “hated” the final result, “you have to respect [the band’s] opinion” because “it’s not my record, it’s their record”. Watch the interview in full above.
Metallica recently returned to the stage in San Francisco with two special fan club-only shows to celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary.
During the first gig, which was held on December 17, they gave ‘Fixxxer’ from their 1997 album ‘Reload’ its live debut. More rarities were included in the setlist on the second night (December 19), playing tracks like ‘Death Magnetic’ and ‘Dirty Widow’, which they hadn’t performed in over a decade.
“We are grateful that you have been along with us for 40 years, and we are so happy that you’re here still after all this time,” Hetfield told the crowd at the first show.