Very few albums come as close to perfection as Metallica’s Master of Puppets. In just under an hour, with just eight tracks, the bay-area thrashers concocted a masterpiece that would be revered as one of the greatest albums ever made.
The 18th century gentlemen with his overcoat and monocle may scoff, refusing to believe that something without ‘symphony’ in its name could have no more merit than the dirt on his shoe but you best believe this tight, visceral, heart-pounding machine is sure to turn anyone to the side of Satan. Metallica’s MOP (a humorous abbreviation it has to be said) celebrated its 33rd birthday on March, 3. This, then, is a tribute to a piece of musical history exploring its 56 minute run-time and all the heavy-weight riffs and solos that comprises it to see what made this record the timeless classic that it is.
What makes this LP, and the Metallica formula so indelible are the songs. I realise that sounds mind-numbingly obvious but hear me out. A lot of respect can be given to other thrash metal titans like Kreator, Death Angel, and hell even some of the earlier Testament stuff but they all fall victim to the same fault; writing albums full of the same song. Don’t get me wrong they’re still solid tracks, and of course there will be exceptions, but honestly, if I even asked a huge Death Angel fan: “Would you mind describing every track from The Dream Calls for Blood?” I’d probably hear them describe the same riff eleven times over.
MOP commits no such crime. Each track is memorable, each track characteristically unique yet united by savage instrumentation and sinister lyrical themes of manipulation, possession and control; it’s all very metal, isn’t it?. We begin, mirroring its’ older brother Ride the Lightning, with a harmless acoustic intro before the trot turns to a gallop and gallop to a canter as intro track ‘Battery’ bursts into life; from here on in your neck better be braced. It’s only the second track now and we arrive at the titular single, this writer’ favourite song of all time (which by the way is absolute hell to decide), an eight-and-a-half-minute long set-piece that chants from the voice of a drug, as a master of all addicts tormenting their dependency as they scream “MASTER! MASTER!” which is all just a backdrop for a journey of 212 beats per minute riffs and beautiful melodic solos before it collapses with a menacing chorus of cackles; ah perfection.
For Metallica, MOP is an achievement of musical maturity. The remainder of tracks exemplify the shift from rowdy teenagers taking on the California Bay to hardened metal Gods. They deliver sophisticated structuring and more convincingly emotional vocal delivery from singer James Hetfield on tracks like ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ while ‘Leper Messiah’ and ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’ delve into mid-tempo anthems of anguish as the former tells of the manipulation and hypocrisy of televangelists while the latter uses Lovecraftian story-telling to bring chills to the bone; can you tell I like this album yet?
While the themes of demons, pits of hell and nuclear warfare were enjoyable on their first two records, it’s great to see the Thrashers tackle a bone with a little more meat. But hey don’t take my word for it, trust the critics! Not only was it thrash metal’s first album to go platinum but it also went on to reach No.167 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time along with placing in the 80s category of Time Magazine’s collection of 100 best albums of all time; for a genre that is practically shunned at academy awards this is unheard of territory.
So, if you’re a R&B fan, pop-lover, jazz-head, rock fanatic, it does not matter; listen to this album and thank me later. Master of Puppets is some of metal’s, some of music’s finest craftsmanship and it makes me damn proud to be a metalhead that we’re still basking in its glory 33 years later; happy birthday!
You can listen to Master of Puppets here.
By Alex Mace