This Metallica article was written by Daniel Luscombe, a GIGsoup contributor
Thrash metal was still relatively young when Metallica unleashed their behemoth album Master of Puppets in 1986. A genre known for ultra-fast songs, wailing solos and shouted out vocals, Metallica raised the bar in thrash metal with their second album, 1984’s Ride the Lightning. But it was with this album, their third and final with the late bass player Cliff Burton, that they perfected the mix of unrelenting speed with melody.
From opener Battery to the brutal closer Damage Inc, the band are sickeningly tight. Frontman James Hetfield leads the iconic riffs, Kirk Hammett’s solos shimmer and intricate while Lars Ulrich, who receives a lot of stick for his drumming of late, pounds the skins and double bass pedals flawlessly. Virtuoso bassist Cliff Burton stamps his influence all over the album as he reinvented the role of the bass in metal.
As Metallica were the main competition in thrash metal, the album showcases the band at their most ruthless. However, the band know where to slow things down such as in The Thing That Should Not Be with its sludgy riffs and haunting imagery inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft. Leper Messiah slows the tempo while retaining its heaviness.
Lyrical themes such as war (Disposable Heroes), drug addiction (Master of Puppets) and mental health (Welcome Home) are tackled so effortlessly by Hetfield, almost to the point of ridicule. Commanding lines such as “Back to the front!” from Disposable Heroes and “Listen dammit, we will win!” on Welcome Home are barked with vengeance and triumph that you’ll want to punch the air while listening to them.
The songs subjects still bear relevance today which is partly why this album remains so fresh after 30 years. The music may be played at 150 mph but it’s so carefully constructed that it’s little wonder Metallica continue to play the songs live to this day.
MOP’s crowning moment is the 8 and a half minute instrumental, Orion. Named after its spacey mid section, you can picture the band looking at one another in the eye as they carve out every riff and harmony with Cliff Burton leading the pack with his orchestral basslines. The song was played at Burton’s funeral after he tragically lost his life in a tourbus accident just 6 months after the release of this album, aged just 24. His death adds a poignancy to the album and while Metallica recovered and went on to become the biggest metal band ever, one can’t help but wonder what might have happened had the band’s true leader not met a premature end.
Master of Puppets was the work of a band who pushed metal to the point of no return. Metallica proved that there were no longer any rules on an album that announced to the world that they were the new Kings of Metal. With just 8 tracks, not one of its 54 minutes are wasted and at the end you realise that on this one album Metallica thought of absolutely everything .
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