Metallica Master of Puppets – Retro Review – Commentary

This is the first of an ongoing series of reviews/commentary of impact metal albums of yesteryear. Not from some publication that hired guns masquerading as metal fans, but true metal fans with a love for the genre. Thanks for reading.

Master_of_PuppetsIf you are ever asked to give an example of a landmark album, a release that shaped the musical landscape forever and shaped the course that metal would take from that day forward, go no further than Metallica’s Master Of Puppets.

Some will beg to differ of course, for there are worthy opponents, but in my opinion, in terms of shaping the Heavy Metal sound, songwriting, musicianship, and production, this album has few peers.

Some will say that it is Metallica’s predecessor to this album, Ride The Lightning, that is the true landmark release. A fair argument. But it is not nearly as influential as this one, and the musicianship was not as high a level as it was with Master, and they were definitely not at their songwriting peak. No, this is the one that brought Metallica to the masses and changed the game forever. Much like Batman did once he appeared in Gotham. And it also happened to be the first concert I ever saw of them when they opened up for Ozzy, yes, with Cliff Burton (more on him in later articles). I was in the same fucking arena with Cliff Burton. That alone give me goosebumps when thinking about Metallica. He WAS their heart and soul, and this album proves it (more on that in later articles).

This was Metallica at their peak, with their classic lineup. Hungry, mean, aggressive, virtuosic, melodic, heavy, hard, and unrelenting. It WAS what Thrash was meant to be, and it stands as one of the metal albums that defined the genre’s sound for all time.

Released in February 24 1986, it began to set a course for Heavy Metal not quite seen up until that point. It forced the industry to take notice of metalheads that had NO desire for image, but ONLY for great Heavy Metal music. It was a kick to the balls of the industry, it was a statement of musical purity, and it was uncompromising in its songwriting. There were no radio friendly songs on this record despite having signed to major label Elektra Records in 1984. It was artistic freedom that made this record great, unrestrained by calls for mass appeal by interfering record executives. Left to their own devices, they did what they knew best – They wrote epic metal of Biblical proportions. And with relentless touring and smart marketing, the bands met with sales success. According to Billboard, the album sold 300,000 in its first 3 weeks. Thrash Metal had finally arrived in force.

The overall theme of the album is one of control of the individual and by extension the masses. The control comes in different forms – Drugs, government, religion. The intro song of Battery speaks of the violent tendencies of man, followed by stories of control and horror(Master Of Puppets, The Thing That Should Not Be, Sanitarium, Disposable Heroes, Leper Messiah), followed by the incredible instrumental Orion, which acts almost as a meditative piece of introspection for those wanting to break free of the control of others (to me its calm before the storm of freedom that follows), and then ending with thoughts of violent expression but this time with the underlying thought of rebellion against those in control (Living on your knees, conformity, Or dying on your feet for honesty), that being the excellent Damage Inc.

This was a band in their songwriting peak. The absolute precision of the rhythm guitars, recorded solely by James Hetfield, was a thing of absolute glory. Kirk Hammet’s emotional, and technically proficient solos were splendid acts of equal parts shred and soul. Add the incredible prowess of Cliff Burton’s Thrash style finger picking bass lines and Lars unconventional (meaning little double bass and less following the rhythm guitars every move as most Thrash does then and now) yet TIGHT AS FUCK drumming, it was a metal chemistry rarely, if ever, seen before. The chemistry exemplified by the band at this time was never to be equaled again, for by September 27 of 1986 the band as we knew it ended. Cliff Burton was tragically killed in a bus accident. You likely already know the tragic story. The ending of this man’s life changed the course of metal, not just the course of Metallica. And though Metallica would go on to even greater success, they would never be as good musically as they were on this album. Why? Because the biggest leap forward in musicianship and songwriting came between Kill Em All and Ride The Lightning, and the force behind the change was Cliff Burton, whose influence was THE KEY to taking them from a good Thrash band into an exquisite one. I’ll write more on Cliff later, but suffice it to say, it is an understatement to say he was the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of Thrash Metal.

Much has changed with Metallica since Master Of Puppets, most of it negative, but nothing can take away from this album from which all other Heavy Metal albums will be compared to until time immemorial. And deservedly so.