MASTER OF PUPPETS- Metallica's third album released in 1986 proved, just like the album's predecessor Ride the Lightning, that the band was capable of great things. There third album pushed there style of music even further and effectively built upon the previous album's strengths to produce increasingly complex arrangements. This was also the last album that was recorded with bassist Cliff Burton before he was tragically killed in a tour bus incident in Copenhagen. The album has remained an influence to countless metal bands for two decades, even though many feel it is slightly overrated, it is still regarded by many as the finest thrash album ever and Metallica's defining moment. The band had become familiar with each others capabilities in the previous two albums and so producer Flemming Rasmussen and the band set to work to create this master piece.
The two guitarists, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammet are considered the best guitar partnership of recent decades perhaps even of all time. Throughout the album the way the guitarists peel off complex riff after complex riff with such precision is remarkable and there ability to produce memorable riff after memorable riff is more evident on this album than on any of there others. Battery and Master of Puppets are probably the two tracks that portray there ability the most. What’s even more surprising is that Hetfield managed to play these complex arrangements AND sing simultaneously live.
The opening track Battery, in identical fashion to the previous album's opener Fight Fire With fire, begins quietly with two acoustic guitars playing together. Hetfield gently strums the chords underneath Hammet's inconspicuous melody. As layer upon layer of tracking is brought into the mix the tension begins to build before a huge wall of distortion crashes in. The wall of distortion and crashing symbols of the drums subside just before a lightning quick and precise galloping riff enters. This is the start of the onslaught. The track doesn't have a chorus as such, more an extension of the verse where Hetfield sings 'Smashing through the boundaries lunacy has found me cannot stop the battery, pounding out aggression turns into obsession cannot kill the battery.' Although this track is brutal, it contains great melody and some wah filled frenzies from Hammet. Hammet's solos continue to increase in complexity since the bands debut Kill 'Em All where he frequently played as quickly as possible up and down a basic pentatonic scale. This is a truly great opener and a taster of what is to follow.
There isn't much else to be said that hasn't already been stated about the title track Master of Puppets and if there is, then I’m probably not going to be the one to say it, however it's eight minutes plus of constantly changing riffs, drastic change in intensity and fret burning solos make it one of the best metal songs there is. From the pounding intro flowing into a variation of riffs utilising every fret of the low E-string up to the twelfth fret, to the anthemic chorus and pre-chorus, the band produces a song that pretty much defines the line up at that time. The maturity in there song writing is only accentuated in the quiet interlude which slows down the relentless energy driven pace of the song at the mid way point. This quiet moment builds into another wall of distortion until a pounding drum and palm muted riff with a chant of 'Master! Master' builds in intensity until Hammet is again let loose producing an impossibly fast solo. Hetfield's slower more melodic solo and Hammet's much faster one again add to the variety of the song. The song continues at the energetic pace we were introduced to at the start of the song until it is ended with demented laughter. The title track is probably the best song and most famous song on the album and the bands first and only anti drug song. This is a definite highlight of the album.
The Thing That Should Not Be is a much slower affair than the previous tracks and we are introduced to another area of Metallica's song writing. Instead of the heaviness of the song thriving on it's raw pace and exuberance, the tuning down of the guitars and slower drum beat contribute in making this one of the band's heaviest ever tracks. Often sited as the weaker song on the album, its haunting lyrics and progressive guitar solo still manage to keep the quality of the track high. This track does however suffer from repetition in the final moments of the song and the pure brutality and lack of melody in the riffs somewhat spoil it. Although slightly weaker than the songs situated either side of it, it remains a worthwhile track to listen to.
Welcome Home (Sanitarium) is the albums ballad and similarly to Ride the Lightning, is situated at track number four. Although I prefer the bands previous effort Fade to Black, this is a more complex and varied song with numerous solos scattered throughout its 6:28 track time and still manages to provide memorable riffs and an equally catchy chorus. Hammet's solos in the subdued verses are reminiscent of the first solo in Fade to Black where the solo is an extension of the songs main melody. The first part provides the listener with a cleanly picked riff during the verses and a comparatively distorted riff underneath the choruses. Hetfield's vocals are a particular highlight on this track as the harshness and shrillness in his voice has been dialled down to assist in portraying more emotion in his vocals. Suddenly, at the mid way point, a hugely aggressive palm muted riff accompanied by an increased tempo thrust into the song. After a slower bridge, Hammet again let's rip with an almost machine gun like beginning to his solo before ending in a rapidly ascending pattern. The pace of the song continues to vary as Hetfield and Hammet begin a dual harmony which builds in energy and pace before Hammet’s final, more restrained solo emerges from the simple harmony. The ballad is drawn to close in thunderous fashion by a rare drum fill from Lars Ulrich and a repeatedly strummed E chord.
Disposable Heroes immediately surges into the pounding riffs and crashing symbols that the previous track ended with. The aggressiveness of the intro subsides for a brief period when Hetfield’s single note riff marches as each of the instruments and countless tracks are included into the mix. Android like riffing, speed driven solos, alterations in pace and chanting choruses that the band seem to summon at will in this album, return to take control for the remainder of this eight minute plus thrash epic. The lyrics focus around the horrors of war and provide the song with its theme and motive. Little diverges from the verses by Hammet are his attempts to maintain the theme of war throughout the song as he tries to mimic a military march. Everything about this song is epic. The prolonged intro, the chorus and the extremely long and intricate solo, just like the title track, defines the line up of the band at the time as this track again provides clear proof of how far they had progressed since there debut Kill’Em All.
The effectively titled Leper Messiah continues in much the same vain as The Thing That Should Not Be by starting with a slow extremely heavy riff which gradually develops into a more technically complex one. Hetfield’s vocals enter and manage to incorporate a memorable tune into the otherwise ruthlessness of the track. The song repeats itself from here on until we are welcomed by another epic interlude and my favourite moment of the album. The harmony backed by Hetfield, Cliff and Ulrich breaks off into a far more frenetic and faster riff which gallops unstoppably towards its climax. Hetfields solitary words in this section of the song trigger another awe inspiring solo from Hammet which is followed by more dual guitar work until the song settles back down into its more relaxed groove oriented riff from the start of the song. I found this song to be relatively average at first, however the severely quick time change and melodic interlude make this one of my favourite Metallica songs and yet another great song from the album. The lyrics focus on the hypocrisy of TV evangelists which supply the songs theme.
Orion is the only instrumental track on Master of Puppets. This song has an almost evocative feel to it due to the fact that it is regarded as Cliff’s legacy. The eerie melody played on the bass at the half way point of the song was the foundation for the bands third instrumental and interrupts the familiar precise and memorable riffs that appear before and after it. One of my favourite riffs on the album is included in this lengthy track and can be heard just before the subdued harmony filled section and in the fade out. This song is just about the finest piece of guitar work and melody on any metal track I have heard and Cliff’s hypnotic bass riff and solo are also embodied within it, which adds even more variation to the arrangement. The numerous guitar solos scattered all over the song are not hugely fast, however they match the feeling of the song perfectly. Listening to Orion gives us an insight into how much the band missed him in there albums after this as his death robbed them of there only trained musician and also there friend. In my opinion this is the bands most accomplished and best instrumental and my personal favourite song on the album.
The final song on the album is a strong reminder that beneath all the beautifully emotive and sensitive arrangements interspersed throughout Master of Puppets, there thrash roots still remain strong at the helm of there song writing. Damage Inc. begins with Hammet creating unusual sounds with a wah pedal before the fastest track on the album fades in with a huge wall of distortion. From then on the track does not slow down as it drives the album to a close. Yet again on top of the unrelenting riffs and pace, a great melody is forged by Hetfield’s vocals which are guaranteed to stay in your head for months. Hammet’s final scorching solo races its way over the top of the riffs after another memorable riff. A couple more verses draw the song and the album to a rather sudden end.
This is an incredible album which still stands the test of time. In my opinion this is Metallica’s most consistent album in terms of quality as every song on it is excellent.
Listen to it, buy it, worship it, hate it, do what you want with it. But Cliff Burton's legacy and evidence of Metallica’s greatness will always be encompassed in there third and finest album, Master of Puppets.
R.I.P Cliff Burton