Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986, which now shifts to the releases I didn’t discover until after 1986]
Album: MASTER OF PUPPETS
When I revisited the Metallica discography for my 4-part series in 2013, I was merely a casual fan who didn’t own any of their albums until a decade earlier. In fact, I had no interest in them during their rise to stardom in the ‘80s & ‘90s, as my tastes had veered away from heavy music by then. I had a similar experience with Iron Maiden, so when I fell heavily under their spell in the late-‘90s after a few random used-LP purchases, I decided it was time to reassess artists like Judas Priest and Metallica. While none of them have made a similar impact on me I still discovered some amazing songs & albums that I previously dismissed. I’m really pleased that I spent so much time with the Metallica catalog. It wasn’t always easy…my brain took a pummeling for nearly two months…but it was an eye- and ear-opening experience in many ways. The majority of long-time Metallica fans consider their first four albums to be the pinnacle of their career, often arguing about which one is their definitive statement. I’m not sure I have a favorite but it’s hard to dispute that their third long-player, Master Of Puppets, is a classic that’s arguably their finest hour. Here’s what I wrote about it in Part 1 of my Metallica series:
I’m not sure if they topped themselves with Master Of Puppets (1986) or merely matched the grandeur of the previous album, but there’s no doubt that the first five songs form a phenomenal set of music. “Battery” begins acoustically with a flamenco vibe, two guitars interweaving nicely. Eventually this gives way to a mega-fast tempo with lots of stops & starts. This sheer aggression points toward Pantera. “Master Of Puppets,” which deals with the wielding of & abuse of power, is the longest song on the album, and possibly the strongest as well. Featuring another killer riff and an amazing stop-start intro, it’s filled with hooks like “Obey your…master, master…” and “Just call my name ‘cause I’ll hear you scream.” The arrangement is impressive, shifting to a slower ballad tempo with melodic guitar leads and later returning to speed-metal with a searing guitar solo.
“The Thing That Should Not Be” finds them in Black Sabbath territory again, even adding in a slightly psychedelic effect in the verses that makes Hetfield sound a little like Ozzy Osbourne in his prime. It could be the basis for an interesting sci-fi/horror movie. I love the hook at “Hunter of the shadows is ri-sing…im-mor-tal.” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” is a massive tune. Based on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, it’s a moody ballad about a sane person locked against his will in a mental hospital. It builds slowly & effectively until it’s a full-on driving metal tune, and it points to the big hits they would have a few years later. “Disposable Heroes” begins with an extended instrumental section that acts like an overture, and there are great riffs, alternate time signatures (including a rare 6/8 feel) & strong lyrics about a young soldier being “bred to kill.” The music perfectly captures the anger & futility of the lyrics (“Soldier boy, made of clay, now an empty shell; Twenty-one, only son, but he served us well” and “Back at the front/you will do…what I say…when I say”).
The latter portion of the album suffers by comparison to these first five monster songs, but it’s not all filler. “Orion” is a long instrumental with a mostly steady beat, chugging bass & guitar and various solos. I especially like the shift to a slower, quieter section with twin melodic guitars (or is that one guitar with an octavider?). “Leper Messiah” is their attack on people who hide behind religion for their personal gain (“Send me money, send me green, heaven you will meet”). I wonder if there’s any connection to David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” which included the term “leper messiah” in its lyrics. For me, Master Of Puppets ends on a weak note with “Damage, Inc.,” a fast metal-by-numbers tune that was probably a lot of fun for headbangers in concert, but I feel like they’ve done this better several times before. That doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of this amazing record, which is rightly hailed as one of the benchmark albums in the history of heavy metal. Sadly, it was their final record with Cliff Burton, who died in a bus crash while the band was touring to promote the album. It’s hard to imagine how they dealt with that loss and somehow returned with the biggest albums of their career.
So how does Master Of Puppets stack up against the rest of their discography for you? Metallica fans can be very opinionated…I learned that the hard way as I promoted my blog series three years ago…but I appreciate their passion. I look forward to hearing from you.