Review Summary: Is something controlling you?
There’s something about Master of Puppets
that you may not catch the first time around, or perhaps even the tenth time around, but it’s something that’s always present. In fact, you could practically slap the “concept album” label on it because of this. And what would “this” be? Control
. As if the album title didn’t outline that fact enough, nearly every song exhibits the theme of control in some way, whether it’s “Leper Messiah”’s expression of control through religion and televangelism, or it’s the title track’s condemnation of the tight grip drug use can have on a person. The reason I bring this up is because the theme lends itself to how well-constructed Master of Puppets
is. Metallica’s 1986 effort truly is one of the most well-rounded and tightly-arranged thrash albums you’re likely to hear, which is pretty damn amazing considering its 55-minute runtime. While the first two records’ tracklists felt much more arbitrary with song placement, Master of Puppets
seems consciously constructed to be played from start to finish so you experience the fullest extent of its dense songwriting and flirtations with progressive rock. And sure, …And Justice for All
may be more dense and more progressive, but it doesn’t quite maintain the razor-sharp focus and deliberate song progression we get here. In essence, this is both a continuation and refinement of the groundwork that Ride the Lightning
laid out for the band two years earlier; every one of the band’s figurative tools has been sharpened this time around, from James Hetfield’s incredibly precise rhythm guitar stabs and chugs to the late bassist Cliff Burton practically being given a new role as a third guitarist/soloist with his instrument.
But what really struck me about Master of Puppets
was how its concept and imagery was reflected in the music itself. The beginning of what I consider the album’s highlight, “Disposable Heroes,” is kicked off with a punchy bass drum attack – as well as high-speed tremolo riffing in the next big riff - that resembles the kind of war zone that the song describes; on the other side, you have the slow downtuned sludge of “The Thing That Should Not Be,” whose Sabbath-drenched riffing makes you feel like you’ve descended into hell itself. The same goes for the faster tracks too, as “Battery” and “Damage Inc.” are just as furious and headbang-inducing as the violent imagery that Hetfield spews out with his gruff delivery. Of course, the high-energy shredding from Kirk Hammett and the solid rhythm section (yes, I said something positive about Lars here) elevate things even further. Actually, I have to give Kirk Hammett a lot of credit on these older Metallica albums. He may get ridiculed quite a bit, but it’s quite impressive how he can switch between blues, classical, and all-out thrash bits on the lead guitar so fluidly. Master of Puppets
is a great showing of that, as well as many of the new effects and technology that Kirk would use – and unfortunately tend to abuse – later down the road (can anyone say “more wah-wah”?). And of course, Cliff Burton is just on another level here. Not only are his solos fantastic, but he was also quite the master of atmosphere. The melodic framework he gave the soft section of “Orion” lends a beautifully spacey texture to the piece; it almost feels ethereal in a sense, and the minimal accompaniment from the other members really gives Cliff a lot of space to shine as a soloist. I’m going to close things out by talking about the only song I haven’t mentioned yet, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” The title should give a good sense of what the song is about, but the music gives such a strong feeling of being trapped in a mental cage. The clean guitar work is eerie and foreboding, the slow tread of the drums is both haunting and anxious, and Hetfield’s vocal delivery is an incredible balance of desperation and anger. And that, my friends, is how Master of Puppets
can truly be summed up. Look at yourself in the mirror. What kind of flaws do you have? Do you feel controlled and tethered by your personal demons? Chances are, Metallica have come up with something that’s relatable to you on Master of Puppets
. And chances are, they complimented it with some of the best metal music ever written.