The One....that may indeed be Prog.
I remember when everyone in my dorm came home with this album. Metallica were at their peak of hipness, though far from their richest or peak of popularity. This is the last Fleming Rasmussen album and is also the last album with the classic Metallica sound. On it the band tried to be as complex and brutal as they could possibly be. In fact, after playing the tour for this album, the band felt like they had exhausted what they could do with their signature sound and went a new direction.
Reactions were mixed at first. New member, bassist Jason Newstead, was inaudible except for the very small harmony vocal part on the single One. The songs certainly weren't as headbangingly groovin as on Master of Puppets, though the album was if anything heavier. It was more complex, more clinical, more technical. Everything that makes Metallica in any way prog reached its peak on Justice. It is here that you will find extended compositions, complex time signatures, themed lyrics, and clinical precision reach their peak.
Interestingly, the guys in the class above me (class of 89) liked Justice, went to the concert, wore the shirts, but Puppets and Lightning remained their first love. The kids a year younger (91) however worshipped Justice. And so it was that I joined a group of them the fall after they graduated in a Metallica cover band. They had this album memorized. We played all of it, though I never learned some of the harder pieces well enough for performance. The highly precise Eye of the Beholder is a perfect example of what some dislike about this album, and yet I learned more as a guitarist bringing that song to performance level than perhaps any other song. The very fast downstroke 2 on 3 chorus is Hetfield rhythm guitar at its best and was one of my intros to polyrhythm.
My personal favorite song both to play and listen to is Harvester of Sorrow. One of the songs that actually moves, it evokes a, well sorrowful, feel and has great riffs. A few rhythmic surprises, some harmony leads (which can be played by one guitarist BTW) and one of the better classic Hetfield choruses if any song could be considered to have one at that time.
I could bore you with intricacies on many of these songs, but while other albums were part of my education as a guitarist, this is the album that was my education as a bandmember. And what an album to learn from. Try getting all the free time hits at the beginning of Shortest Straw together, or the thrash polka beat of Blackened to groove right.....enough of memory lane.
This is not the best Metallica album, but it's certainly the most complex, the proggiest. They've come along way from their accelerated NWOBHM debut, and probably were trying just a little too hard. But for lovers of complex music, this is the one to sample. Though many extreme bands pull on these elements now, it took quite a few years for anyone to truly follow the suit of this album. It is essential for anyone truly compiling an extreme prog metal collection, which the tastier Ride the Lightning certainly is not. Puppets of course was the balance point, and IMO is their peak. But much of what made Metallica great had nothing to do with prog.
But this album has quite a bit to do with prog. These days prog is in again, and so we have conversations that never happened in 1988. Metallica would never in their wildest dreams thought they were doing prog at the time. But they were in their own way, and the 20+ years since then have shown how much the ideas could be carried.