Metallica - Master of Puppets (1986)Release ID: 38
‘Master of Puppets’ is without a doubt one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. Taking what they started on ‘Ride the Lightning’ and pumping it full of steroids, this takes all the best elements of Metallica's previous album and magnifies it a thousand times over, firmly placing Metallica amongst metal's royalty.
A nice combination of heavy and melodic, ‘Master of Puppets’ mirrors its predecessor very closely, but at the same time it manages to maintain its own identity. Opening track ‘Battery’ is very similar to ‘Fight Fire with Fire’, starting with a nice clean guitar harmony, followed by riffs of complete chaos that'll destroy all your senses. ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ takes the ballad concept started on ‘Fade to Black’ and pushes it further than anyone thought possible, and ‘Orion’ is a nice eight minute instrumental that can go toe to toe against ‘The Call of Ktulu’ any day.
Despite the similarities, ‘Master of Puppets’ shows a band becoming more mature with each release. The lyrics are even more grim and darker than before, and the song-writing, especially on tracks like ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘Welcome Home’, shows a band that has developed closer over the years to become as tight as they can be, with Hetfield and Hammett's guitars working in perfect harmony with Burton's bass-lines and Ulrich's (somewhat limited) drum skills.
Often cited as the single greatest metal album in history, it’d be hard to disagree.
One of the finest albums recorded in any genre, Master of Puppets raised metal music to new heights!
Metallica’s third album, Master of Puppets, was released in March 1986. Following up the groundbreaking Ride the Lightning album was always going to be a difficult task, but Metallica were never a particularly ordinary band. These guys had ambition that far surpassed being an underground metal band. Kirk, Lars, James and Cliff will always be the ultimate Metallica line-up and this would tragically be the last time they would record material in the studio together. Their sound consistently progressed with each release in the 80s and Master of Puppets is undoubtedly the band at the peak of their powers. The evolution from raw thrash metal to technically impressive and structurally progressive metal, which was first hinted at on Ride the Lightning, can be found in full effect here. That’s not to say that Metallica didn’t thrash hard at this stage, as tracks like Battery and Damage Inc. are as brutal as the band would ever be. But in between these ripping bookends can be found masses of compositionally impressive music, talented musicianship and surprisingly thought provoking lyrics. Running through the tracks one by one is like a nostalgic trip through my impressionable teenage years. I thought this album was completely awesome back then and nothing has changed my mind since.
Kirk and James’ guitar work is exceptional throughout and nowhere is it more impressive than on the title track. It’s probably the highlight of the band’s career, but then with other classics included here such as Welcome Home (Sanitarium), colossal instrumental Orion and the aforementioned rippers that start and finish proceedings, that’s not such a clear cut statement. Just as on Ride the Lightning, there are a couple of tracks that are slightly less quality (Leper Messiah in particular), but this time they’re still good enough to keep the momentum going. Master of Puppets was the first Metallica album to gain a gold record (awarded for sales of over five hundred thousand) and would eventually be certified platinum six times over (selling six million copies in the States alone!). It not only made Metallica a household name, it still ranks today as one of the greatest metal albums of all time, topping numerous polls over the years, even making non metal specific lists such as Time magazine’s All Time 100 albums and Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. If those sorts of accolades don’t impress you, then nothing I say will. No matter what material Metallica excrete upon their fans in modern times, albums like this one will always put the band at a level simply unreachable by all but the very elite.
The story of Cliff Burton’s death is a tragic one indeed. Metallica were touring through Sweden during the European leg of the Damage Inc. tour to support the Master of Puppets album. Sleeping on the tour bus had been difficult due to uncomfortable cubicles, so each night the guys would draw cards to see who would get to pick where they slept for the evening. On September 26, 1986, Cliff drew an Ace of Spades which gave him first choice. This fateful decision would result in his death at a few minutes before 7am the next morning, when the bus apparently ran over black ice (or so the driver claimed, avoiding criminal action) and flipped onto the grass near Dörarp in Southern Sweden. While all other passengers had only minor injuries, Cliff was thrown through the window of the bus and crushed under the vehicle. He was eventually cremated and his ashes were scattered at the Maxwell Ranch while Orion fittingly played in the background. “…cannot the Kingdom of Salvation take me home?” is written on Cliff’s memorial stone which would end up in the lyrics on To Live is to Die on the …And Justice For All release. Burton was deservingly inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of Metallica on April 4, 2009 where his father Ray made a speech on his much loved son’s behalf.
There was a time when I just wasn't into this album, going as far as to consider it heavily bloated and a little too thrashy. Maybe I just wasn't into thrash at the time. I had to take some time to get used to heavier metal, and eventually I did. At that point, this was my number 1 Metallica album for a while. But I always felt this itching feeling like I was overrating it a little. At this point, I've come to accept Ride the Lightning as the better Metallica album because despite the fact that Metallica's style had fully matured during MoP, RtL was the better METAL album.
Master of Puppets is a lot like a companion piece to Ride the Lightning. Both albums start out with a moody acoustic melody, but I'd give the edge on the intro to MoP. "Battery" might not be as heavy as "Fight Fire With Fire" (although that's a high bar for heaviness), but the songwriting is improved, and the melody is catchier. The title track is probably Metallica's crowning achievement, because its level of poetry and melody, as well as the progressive nature that would define many songs of MoP and In Justice for All, were all at their creative peak. The album shifts from thrash metal monstrosities to slow and doomy songs which may evolve into eruptions, thus bridging the gap between thrash metal and 890's heavy metal akin to the level of brutality displayed on Iron Maiden albums of the time. But Metallica were a little more Gothic. After two thrashers and two songs bridging the gap between the two genres (and ending with a prog influence akin to RtL's "Fade to Black), the album gets right back to thrashing with "Desposible Heroes," continuing this theme with the weakest song, "Leper Messiah," similarly to how RtL continued the thrashing with "Trapped Under Ice" and the album's weakest song, "Escape." And finally, the proggy nature of the final two tracks on each album end it with bursts of creativity that act as proper finales, with the only difference being that the seventh song and the ending instrumental of RtL have their album positions switched on MoP.
The album's darker tone and cleaner production are part of the reason metal maniacs have accepted this as a contender for the finest metal album ever made, but I still feel that it's slightly bloated in comparison to RtL. But the dark vibe, incredible lyrics and pefect melodies are so addicting that the replay value of this album surpasses many other metal albums. You could play this twice in a row and not get tired. This is one of thrash metal's finest achievements, and proved to the world that Metallica were the next true artists, and that brutally heavy metal has a purpose.
Climbing the Ladder of Metal Immortality...For Better And Worse
Metallica already had sky high expectations heading into 1986 following the surprisingly dense Ride The Lightning. But I don't expect that anyone who was around to experience the thrash boom of the 1980s was prepared for what was to come. Metallica saw the success of their previous album and knew that they had to take it up another notch.
The first thing that I noticed upon hitting play on Master of Puppets is just how clean it sounds. By comparison, Ride the Lightning is a dream-y album with its arguably excessive use of reverb and echo effects across the board. Vocals, guitar, drums and hell even bass manage to foam together to create an environment that is just as uncomfortable as the debut, while doing a sensational job of leveling up the songwriting capabilities. Master by contrast is a lot more controlled and clean; it has a lot of similar traits that you might hear in the modern age from metalcore acts. Cutoffs on "Battery", "Master of Puppets" and "Disposable Heroes" are executed with grace and precision.
From a songwriting standpoint, I have yet to hear a thrash metal album that values melody, hooks and drive as much as Master of Puppets; a large reason why it is held in such high regard even outside of the metal community. "Master of Puppets" may go down as one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time despite its runtime; with its iconic main chorus, calming bridge and the way in which this band is able to effortlessly modulate back to its primary motif is one that deserves the utmost praise. Beyond that, the rest of the album is just as solid, even if it does have more than a few progressive tendencies. Such as the excellent ballad "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)", another long song structure on "Disposable Heroes" and of course, one of the finest heavy metal instrumentals you will ever hear on "Orion".
I think it should go without saying at this point that despite their drastically different sound palettes, Master of Puppets and Slayer's Reign in Blood are practically inseparable. I have already spoken at length about Slayer and how they developed a sound for heavy metal that was unfulfilling as part of a musical composition and was more interested in aggression, speed and intensity. Master of Puppets has plenty of all of these things, but also makes it worthwhile by incorporating it as part of a unified collection of ideas and themes. It's a large party why I think the album closer "Damage, Inc." is the albums weakest track; feeling closer to a thrash metal aggressive rump than a well constructed idea.
This actually brings me to another compliment for this album that I had never really grasped until recently. Master of Puppets is the true "transition" album. Sure, Metal Academy darling, and onetime favourite Metallica album of mine, ...And Justice For All has plenty of the cleanliness of Master, but without the well engineered sound design that left the album feeling "dry and sterile" according to Steve Huey. I personally believe it was because Lars never liked Jason Newsted (it's not like it would be the first time a band treated its bass player like a second class band member Slipknot), but I digress. Getting heavy metal to a wider audience is no small feat; it takes a lot of time and patience. Metallica were not about to start becoming dad rock just yet, but the simpler song structures, despite their lengths, cleaner sound design and a more welcoming mix lured folks in like lemmings, and once the gang was all assembled, Metallica could go the commercial route. It would cost them some of their identity, but it did exactly what it was intended to do and for that, I am eternally grateful.
I realize most of this is anecdotal, but I am sure that a lot of newer heavy metal fans can relate to my story with Metallica and Master of Puppets in particular. Heralded as the greatest metal album of all time (right alongside the first two Black Sabbath albums) and a monumental achievement for a genre that desperately needed a spark so that it would not fade away prematurely with its lack of innovation or commercial success. Any gushing that I give this album will only get lost at this point amongst a sea of similar praise. It is undeniably an unconventional way of approaching things, but this album is deserving of legendary status.
P.S. Just for the record, Ride The Lightning is my personal favourite Metallica album.
One of those albums you know upon first listen as a masterpiece. Now, I’m going to start off by saying it’s only my second favorite Metallica album, and I wouldn’t put it anywhere near my favorite metal albums of all time or anything. There are hundreds of bands out there that cater to my taste more than Metallica – probably a hundred Thrash bands alone.
The thing is, this album just has that sort of magic anyone can identify. Dare I say, a sort of objective quality that one can appreciate, if there was such a thing. This is one of the closest albums I’d award the term flawless to. It’s not that every song is a 5-star masterpiece, however, there simply aren’t any glaring, or even hidden, flaws. The musicians, as always, are fantastic; the dual guitars deliver a combination of incredible riffs and solos, the bass gets time to shine, and Lars on drums sounds better here than he ever had before or would since. James sounds fantastic, using his melodic singing more here than before (and acing it) while still giving us a healthy dose of aggressive yelling. The lyrics here are all great too, referencing literature, war, mental illness, and more.
The music itself is very consistent for an album that mixes a lot together. There is pure heavy, thrashing aggression; there is slow, moody darkness; there are even emotionally compelling and beautifully melodic moments. Every song is a complete package with tons of great riffs, solos, and a couple have complete mood/tempo changes. Despite this, they are all very memorable and deliver something unique. No one can go wrong with this album when looking for a masterpiece.
It is with some trepidation I approach an attempt to review Master of Puppets. I mean, what can I add to the volumes rightfully heaping praise on one of metal's all-time greatest releases? I have related elsewhere how I discovered thrash metal through Metallica's previous album Ride the Lightning and so when MoP was released I was looking forward to it with great excitement. Even that didn't prepare me for how awesome a record Metallica had laid before the metal world. The progression from RtL to MoP was every bit as impressive as from the debut to that classic.
Bookended by the two most straight-up aggressive tracks, Battery and Damage Inc., the album was a masterclass in jaw-dropping metal songwriting and flawless execution. Complex songs with one of the absolute tightest ever metal performances committed to record, this album single-handedly took metal to a whole different level. Master of Puppets itself may be the single best metal track of all-time, a perfect storm of controlled aggression and meaningful songwriting that is one for the ages. The crawling menace of The Thing That Should Not Be and it's Lovacraftian imagery of unspeakable evil should set your neck hairs on end. Welcome Home (Sanitarium) closes out side one and is as sorrowful a song as Metallica ever wrote, the despair and helplessness of the song's protagonist laid bare for all to see.
Side two kicks off with Disposable Heroes, it's galloping main riff has always been one of my favourites and Cliff's bass-playing here is fantastic. It's anti-war sentiment is also atypical for a metal band and yet another thing that set Metallica apart from the herd. Next up is Leper Messiah and despite still being a good song, I feel it is the album's weakest link. Orion is one of the great metal instrumentals, it's throbbing riff is a great foundation for the guitar work of Hetfield and Hammett. In light of future events, the bass line halfway through the song after the first pause brings a metaphorical tear to my eye every time I hear it, particularly when the mournful-sounding guitar solo kicks in over the top of it, almost like a portent of things to come. Damage Inc. closes out the album in violent style, both musically and lyrically.
It's easy to knock Metallica in hindsight and they rightly deserve a lot of the kicking they get, becoming a complete joke in later years with their rock star crap. But no matter what, they will always have made this album and no amount of Some Kind of Monster or St. Anger bullshit can change that. The sad passing of Cliff Burton had some bearing on the direction Metallica went in later years, of that I am sure, but this is as fine a memorial to that legendary human being and metal musician as it is possible to have. R.I.P Cliff. You have been missed.
Anyone who writes reviews, even for something as comparatively straightforward as amateur album reviews on a website, knows the feeling of being so daunted at the prospect of tackling a particular work. Something that's challenging not because it's bad or there's nothing to say, but because it's SO good you know your feeble words will never truly do this thing justice. In terms of its quality or importance to you, it's this unfathomable monolith and you just want to drop down to your knees like Wayne and Garth and cry, "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!".
That's Master of Puppets for me. I won't go into a big life story, but this is basically the album that got me into heavy music in the first place, as I'm sure it was for many others. It's what made me fall in love with heavy metal, it's a gateway into the passion and the creativity of the genre, and also a true peak. For a long time I just had it on repeat, starting it up again as soon as it ended. To some, that alone might be reason to dismiss my take on it as that of a blind fanboy, someone too heavily shaped by nostalgia and youthful impression. I'm not going to say such people are wrong, but I don't care. Master of Puppets is vitally important in my own musical journey, and remains THE benchmark of how to write good metal to this day.
One thing is worth noting though. In all the above, I make little mention of "thrash" specifically, and that's the one caveat I feel the need to make when assessing this masterpiece. Master of Puppets certainly -is- thrash, and there are some outstanding examples of the style on here. But as a whole album, it doesn't feel purely like thrash metal. It feels like it and the band's ambitions go beyond that. This is to their credit: one of the most striking things about Puppets, and Metallica's 80s works in general, is that they manage to utilise the bite and aggression of thrash for a broader purpose, using it to enhance the songs rather than just as an end goal itself. It isn't loud and destructive for the sake of it, and this is a good thing, but it also leaves me hesitant when ranking this simply -as- a thrash metal album. There are other works that thrash harder, even if they aren't as satisfying overall.
Of course, this is not to say there aren't some incredible aural assaults to be had here. The album is bookended by some absolute blitzkriegs, "Battery" and "Damage Inc.", each demanding that the listener lose themselves in a frenzy of destruction, but always mindful of a particularly metallic catchiness. They're aggressive, but as mentioned above, never simply for the sake of it. It's always in service of making the furious ride memorable.
Metallica also clearly have no problem extending this attack into something longer and more grand in scope, as perfectly illustrated by the epic title track and "Disposable Heroes". Heroes in particular is horrifically underrated, remaining one of my all time favourite Metallica tracks with its ferocious pace, grim lyrics and buzzsaw riffing from Hetfield. Right out of the gate, it's an absolute eruption of sound, Lars' crashing drums becoming an opening bombardment to kick off the brutal battle. And Puppets itself, what even needs to be said? With its relentless riffs and dark, twisting lyrics of addiction, it's a journey into dangerous obsession. Both songs more than earn their 8 minute plus lengths, never tiring and always maintaining pressure.
Perhaps the greatest strength present here, and the reason why this album has stuck with so many for so long, is the fantastic variety on show. Metallica can thrash the fuck out in short or long form, but they have far more in their quiver than just that. "Orion" is the very definition of an epic instrumental, a mighty titan striding across the landscape. "The Thing That Should Not Be" is every bit as foreboding as its title suggests, every riff, stomp and vocal brimming over with dread befitting Lovecraft's work. In "Leper Messiah" we get a fantastic example of something that still feels like thrash even as it takes a more measured pace, at least until it cranks things up toward the end. "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" shows even greater restraint, an ominous ballad building to a well-earned explosive finish. Like "Thing", there's a darkness rising up here, but this one from in the mind rather than an other-worldly horror.
It's this that keeps me coming back to this album time and time again, a variety of approach coupled with an ironbound consistency of quality. Every song on here is solid gold, often in their own special way, without a single wasted motion.
If you're on here reading this, chances are you've already listened to this and have your own opinion on it, and I'm sure my review isn't saying anything that hasn't been said more eloquently by others. But I'm not going to force myself to write something edgy and ultimately untrue just for the sake of some "hot take" on this classic album. While other albums have since surpassed it in sheer heaviness, speed, technicality, and a bunch of other individual ways, Master of Puppets remains the gold standard for quality heavy music. It isn't just here to have a good time or pad out some great songs with a bunch of filler. It's a perfectly crafted beast that set a new bar for just what heavy metal had to offer. I'm not worthy, you're not worthy, none of us are. We can only bow down to the Master.
Choice cuts: EVERY DAMN MINUTE OF IT
At whatever point in their discography you personally feel Metallica "lost it" (and I haven't got the time nor the inclination to debate it here), few would argue that during the 80s Metallica were still straight up thrash metal with no interest in commercial or mainstream success. Having delivered two hungry and energetic records already - with a marked improvement in sound and maturity already evident - their third effort was again a step up in the progress and development of the band. Whilst we had speed galore from the likes of Slayer, Metallica offered a more technical edge to their musicianship which although far from flawless was still skilled enough to stand out from the crowd.
It is hard to sit here decades after the event and not consider "Master Of Puppets" a landmark record in both Metallica's discography and thrash metal's evolution also. The hard hitting force of tracks like "Battery" and "Damage Inc" still hold punch today whilst the structure and composition on the title track and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" in particular stand as tall today as they did nearly 30+ years ago.
Whilst I am never sure of the longevity of tracks like "Leper Messiah" and "Disposable Heroes" there is no denying that both still chug and chop like true thrash machines. I have always been of the opinion that you have to work your way through an entire album to truly appreciate the overall quality of all parts. Sometimes you have to sit through a couple of sub-par tracks (like the aforementioned) in order to be rewarded with the stellar output that lies beyond. The final two tracks on the album are varied in comparison to each other and offer the most memorable combination - that underpins the whole record - of solid composition and structure as well as heavy as hell thrash, delivered with a real sense of aggression and fury.
There's a mountain of reviews online that reason this to be the start of the decline of Metallica or "the last great" Metallica release. One review I read picks up on a "lack of thrash" on "Master.." which is ridiculous, if anything you won't find a better example of blending composition and thought with the immediacy and familiarity of riffs recognisable as being as 80s thrash as it gets.
Thrash Metal (conventional)
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