2. Master of Puppets*
3. The Thing That Should Not Be^
4. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
5. Disposable Heroes
6. Leper Messiah*
8. Damage Inc.
Often regarded as the pinnacle of the thrash metal genre, Metallica’s Master of Puppets is more than just that. It is one of the best albums of all time. Metallica took everything that made Ride The Lightning (another one of my favorite albums) so remarkable and improved upon those areas tenfold. The musicianship is perfect. The song arrangements are perfect. The production quality is perfect. You will be HARD PRESSED to find a sensible discrepancy on the entire album. This album made Metallica and defines their sound to this very day.
Put it into perspective that this is arguably the best metal album in what is possibly the best year for metal (the year was 1986 for all you n00bs). It is THAT good. It is no wonder that bands like Trivium, Black Tide, Avenged Sevenfold, and even my own band (add us) Fractured cite Metallica as a major influence today. Aside from Black Sabbath, I cannot think of another metal artist that has had so much influence on the music industry as a whole.
The entire song “Battery” foreshadows what you are in for from the start. The opening, which is comprised mostly of harmonizing Spanish guitar chords, clearly illustrates the band’s desire to keep exploring newer, more ambitious territories. Distorted electric guitars soon overpower the former, but their addition just adds to the atmosphere the band is slowly piecing together. After the opening passes, pure metal infiltrates the listener’s ears. An extraordinarily heavy guitar tone punctuated by some of Lars Ulrich’s most maniacal drum proficiency and I’m instantly hooked.
The title track is debatably the band’s greatest achievement and is easily their greatest title track of all time. “Master of Puppets” is an eight and a half minute masterpiece from beginning to end. By this point, the band knew how to tag on all sorts of diverse musical elements such as progressive, ballad, and arena rock to their straight-up thrash metal sound. This song uses all three, from its hard-hitting percussive opening to its light and touching middle/solo section. The song is an all-out anthem that features some of the band’s heaviest and coolest instrumentation over their whole career and I honestly feel that it does not get much better than this song.
Two tracks follow in the same direction as “Master of Puppets”: The hurried and intricate “Disposable Heroes” and the equally fast (if not, faster) closing track “Damage Inc.” “Heroes” deals with the subject of war and feature some rapid and adept playing styles on both guitar and drums. “Damage Inc,” however, begins with a bittersweet bass intro that is so grand that it is symphonic. This takes place before getting into the routinely mosh-pit sounding stuff. But really, this song is one of my favorite fast Metallica songs because of its memorable guitar chug-a-thon of a main riff. It is a very straightforward song that somehow emerges as equally fun.
“Welcome Home” (also known as “Sanitarium”), while not as emotionally gripping as their earlier ballad “Fade To Black,” is still a fine addition to the catalogue that proves Metallica can be just as heavy with restrained and thoughtfully organized arrangements as they can with high-speed driving metal riffs. Played with mostly clean guitars (that is, until the last half), an atmosphere comprised of fear and anger quickly takes form when Hetfield begins singing lyrics about the pressures that come with isolation. I will also note that the main riff is played in a 5/4 time signature, something of an oddity for Metallica. Near the end, the song seamlessly evolves into a darker, heavier and more fast-paced number, yet still maintains the intensity and emotion it was building up beforehand.
Now with every Metallica album, I feel that there is always one underrated song that gets overlooked in favor of the album’s bigger titles. For this album, it would have to be “Leper Messiah.” I am constantly fascinated by the tone of the song as a whole, which incidentally does not sound too much like Metallica in the first place. Moving at a moderate tempo, the song fluidly grooves along thanks to simple, but vastly beguiling, bass and guitar licks. As one of the shorter tracks on the album (yet it is STILL five and a half minutes), I think this one packs the most punch for its length and I unquestionably suggest it to anyone who skimmed over it, and even to people who just haven’t listened to it in a while.
The two wildcards of the album for me would have to be “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “Orion.” The first comes as a shock to me because of its enormously rough main riff (due in part to its drop-D tuning) and its slow, creeping tempo. It does not quite fit as naturally as other songs on the album, but “The Thing That Should Not Be” is still worth a listen or ten. “Orion” is a surprising one for many reasons. It may be for its frequently changing song arrangement (ranging from grooving hard rock to heavy ballad) or its substantial scope and experimentation. For me, it stands out for being the last hoorah for bassist Cliff Burton, an incomprehensible talent whose life was tragically cut short months after the album’s release. The track features some of his most multifaceted bass lines and even a bass solo (which sounds so impressive that one might mistake it for guitar). One can only wonder where Metallica might be today if Cliff were still with us. The man at 24 already had a staggering aptitude for his instrument and could have probably went on to be one of the all-time greats.
Master of Puppets may mean something different to everyone who listens to it. Some may view it as an achievement on an artistic level. Some may see it as the high-point of heavy metal. Some may view it in remembrance of the late Cliff Burton. Some may look at it as pointless disharmony. It is an album that can trigger many emotions just on its name alone. But one cannot deny the fact that Metallica’s ambitions were at their peak during the making of this record. I believe they accomplished what they set out to do, whatever that may be. And to them I say bravo.