METALLICA: Master Of Puppets Album Review

Tom's Music Reviews

You’re probably thinking “where’s this guy’s Metallica reviews at? He said he’d do their whole discography and he stopped at RTL. We paid good money to our Internet Service Providers to download those articles and he isn’t writing them for us!”. Dude. Chill. I haven’t been writing for my Metallica series because I have been discovering new music and have generally a lot on my plate at the moment. All that aside, let’s go…

This series continues with their third studio release, 1986’s Master of Puppets. You know I said Ride The Lightning was near-perfect? This is even better. You might recognise tracks like these: Battery, Master of Puppets, The Thing That Should Not Be, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), Disposable Heroes, Leper Messiah, Orion, Damage Inc. As you can see, we have some the first wave of thrash metal’s biggest hits on one record. So it’s pretty darn impressive.

The first song, Battery, is one of Metallica’s biggest and most popular songs. It is a bonafide crowd pleaser and an immense album opener. It starts off with an acoustic intro which hypnotises the listener, then James Hetfield’s brain-crushing guitar riffage comes in. This wakes up the listener to the thrash metal attack that will blow them away from the first listen and (if they hadn’t listened to metal prior) change their life. Then, the vocals come in. James uses the same voice he used for RTL except on MOP it’s more refined and less in-your-face. Then, there’s the chorus of “pounding out aggression, turn into obsession, cannot kill the battery!”. On your screen they may seem like typical clichéd metal lyrics, but the way they’re incorporated into Metallica’s style and the way James sings them there is literally no other way of putting it, IT’S AWESOME.

Track 2, Master Of Puppets, is where it all kicks off. Apart from it being one of the most popular metal anthems of all time (we’ll move on to that in a second), it has a fast, palm-muted guitar riff that is really typical of Hetfield’s style of guitar playing. Furthermore, it has lyrics dealing with addiction: “Come crawling faster, obey your master, your life burns faster, obey your master! Master!”, the word ‘Master’ refers to the drug (or in Metallica’s case alcohol) that ‘controls’ you like a master. Later on in the song, it has a slow solo involving harmonising licks from James and Kirk. Then, it gets heavy again with a call-and-response bridge where the bass player (Cliff, Jason or Rob depends what era performance) sings one part and James sings the other. Then Kirk unleashes the tapping, triplet-producing beast that is his lead guitar talent. This solo, laced with triplets and intricate melodies, is one of the best our genre has produced.

The third song, The Thing That Should Not Be, is mostly to flex Metallica’s lyrical ability more than anything. It is based on the short story by H.P Lovecraft “Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Musically, it is the heaviest song they have ever done (until 1991’s Sad But True) with downtuned guitars in C# tuning. This technique was inspired by Black Sabbath, the band that invented metal. This gives it a gloomy, atmospheric tone. It also has a great solo from Kirk.

Track 4, Welcome Home (Sanitarium) is another example of Metallica’s semi-ballads (soft intro and verse, hard chorus and outro) that would go on to include 1988’s One, 1991’s The Unforgiven, 1997’s Unforgiven II and 2008’s Unforgiven III and The Day That Never Comes. It starts off with a soft melody involving high notes and harmonics on the 12th fret on the top 3 strings. Then it goes into an arpeggio pre-verse and that continues into James’ soft singing and then in the chorus it goes heavy and that structure is then repeated and then a heavy outro.

You probably don’t have time to read about the rest of the album, so I’ll talk about a few honourable mentions, the first being Orion. It is an instrumental track, wrote by the bass player Cliff Burton. Master was the last album they did with him before his tragic death in a tour bus accident on the European leg of the album’s supporting tour. It really was a shame because he really made their songwriting great and after he died (the following release …And Justice for All has a track which was written when Cliff was alive and thus has a posthumous writing credit) the band’s style changed.

Now back to Orion. It has a bass intro and then the guitars kick in, not too intense, it’s very influenced by classical, what Cliff listened to amongst other things. And then it has section B (it’s in binary form, A and B sections) which is a mellow, again showing his classical background and silence. Three unaccompanied heavy power chords come in (same as the intro) and the solo enters. The fact that it’s heavy but relaxed at the same time really shows the differentiation between Cliff and the rest of the band. Based on this Cliff was the best thing to ever happen to the band, if Kirk hadn’t given his bunk on the tour bus up to Cliff Metallica would be a completely different band (you may recall hearing their post-80s material on the radio and in popular culture, notice how it’s more mainstream than their 80s material). Rob is trying to recapture his spirit (he played Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth) live and it was well-received) by getting them back into the thrash spirit (2008’s Death Magnetic is a prime example) but it’s not the same, frankly.

Keep an eye out for more reviews soon!
Tom Sherrin


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