Someone Else’s Nearly Perfect Albums – #3

For the third instalment of Someone Else’s Nearly Perfect Albums we return to The Robster, who chooses ‘Master of Puppets’ by Metallica.  A record that according to the website I am reading right now is a “Seminal Metal Monster” – which puts it up there with others seminal metal monsters like Octimus Prime, The Terminator, Mickey and the annoying beepy thing from Buck Rogers.

I’ve never got on with the music that is described as metal, be it heavy, death, thrash, or one of the other many subgenres that appear every now and again.  I think its because my brother for most of his late teenage years played such awful records by bands like Cannibal Corpse, and such like, when all I wanted to do was listen to the new Teenage Fanclub album.  Still, I admire metal fans dedication to the genre.  For example, about ten years ago I visited my friend Jon’s new house in Exeter and there on the fridge was a note from his fiancée saying “I Love You Jon” and underneath he had scrawled “Tough, my heart and soul belongs to Slayer”.  You wouldn’t get that sort of dedication to a band from a Belle and Sebastian fan.

Anyway, enough of my waffling, here’s TheRobster – with his excellent review of ‘Master of Puppets’.

Thrash metal. Described by Wikipedia as “an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music characterised by its overall aggression and often fast tempo… The language is typically direct and denunciatory, an approach borrowed from hardcore punk.” There’s a lot of snobbery about metal amongst non-metal fans. There’s also a lot of snobbery about the various subgenres of metal amongst metal fans. Whatever side of whatever fence you stand though, there is no denying this one fact: Metallica is one of the defining bands of its generation.

Love ‘em or loathe’em, Metallica have made some of the most influential records of all time and are pretty much a household name. There is no one – NO ONE – who cannot immediately identify the opening strains of Enter Sandman. No one! Well, except my youngest daughter who’s a 22-year-old K-Pop fan, but even she acknowledges “I recognise it, but I don’t know what it is”. Her boyfriend is a heavy metal bass player who can probably play nearly every Metallica song without thinking about it, so she really should pay more attention.

When asked which is THE essential Metallica record, most fans will point to either the band’s second or third albums – 1984’s ‘Ride The Lightening’ or its follow-up ‘Master Of Puppets’ from 1986. While the former contains ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, ‘Fade To Black’ and ‘Creeping Death’ – three eternal highlights from the band’s catalogue – for me it’s the fact that ‘Master Of Puppets’ is consistently great through its almost 55 minutes. Maybe because the band made a conscious effort to make a record that would blow people away. It certainly does that.

Opening with ‘Battery’, we get a direct onslaught on our senses, a blatant act of aggression, the riffs pummelling any defences we’ve put in place.  The title track continues the attack, made even more unsettling by its odd time signatures. It’s about cocaine, its addictive tendencies and the unpredictability it brings out in its users. Three and a half minutes in, it calms right down, with clean guitars and melodic solos before revving up again with monster riffs and Hetfield growling

 “Master! Master! Where’s the dreams that I’ve been after?

It is one of the greatest tracks in metal’s 50+ year history, each and every second of its 8½ minutes fully justified.

Master of Puppets – Metallica (1986, Elektra Records)

‘The Thing That Should Not Be’ is notably slower and heavier, and is inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft, making it one of the most ominous-sounding tracks on the record. ‘Welcome Home (Sanatarium)’ is the ballad and in some ways could be seen as a precursor to ‘One’, the quite frankly mindblowing (and heartbreaking) track that would feature on the band’s next album. Here, though, the protagonist is detained in a mental health facility, dreaming – perhaps in vain – of being able to taste freedom again. Of course, I call it a ballad – and it is by Metallica’s standards – but it does end with some loud, fast, heavy riffage.

Side one is exhausting, but side two opens with one of the fastest, most intense tracks of the band’s career. ‘Disposable Heroes’ is furious and relentless, hitting 220bpm in places and isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s an anti-war song sung from the point of view of a soldier completely at the mercy of his commanding officers. Not a topic that, sadly, will ever date. “I was born for dying!

Disposable Heroes – Metallica (1986, Elektra Records)

The final three songs sound almost tame by comparison, but there are still plenty of thrills to be had. ‘Leper Messiah’, named after a line from Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’, hits back at the rise of televangelism that was infecting the minds of America during the 80s. ‘Orion’ may be the one track that makes ‘Master Of Puppets’ a 9 rather than a 10, a nearly perfect record as opposed to a perfect one. An 8-minute instrumental, it just outstays its welcome a little too long. The fact it fades out suggests it might have been even longer at some point. But the album ends on another high – ‘Damage, Inc’. references Bach and Deep Purple no less, while tackling the subject of retribution and senseless violence at a frenetic pace.

Damage Inc – Metallica (1986, Elektra Records)

‘Master Of Puppets’ is, quite rightly, hailed as a masterpiece. It’s one of the few times I agree with the critics. Its significance is exemplified by the fact it was the first metal recording to be selected by the Library Of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Sadly, in contrast, it was also the last album to feature bassist Cliff Burton who was tragically killed when the band’s tour bus veered of the road while on tour. He couldn’t have had a more lasting legacy.

As far as albums go, ‘Master Of Puppets’ ticks all my boxes when I want something loud, aggressive and (as strange as this might sound) therapeutic. If you don’t feel invigorated and ready to take on all the ills of the world after listening to ‘Master Of Puppets’, then you’re probably dead. Or a K-Pop fan.


1 Comment

  1. Rigid Digit says:

    This is definitely the definitive Metallica album – anyone who says it’s 1991s Black Album is just plain wrong
    (and yes, I have had that argument – in a pub actually)
    Not actually convinced the band ever recovered from the loss of Cliff Burton


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