Metallica – Master Of Puppets.

In the space of twelve months, from March 1986 to March 1987 the 3 essential thrash metal albums were released – by 3 different bands. Each albums betters any other album released by any thrash band respectively.

The ultimate thrash album, Slayer’s – Reign In Blood will never be topped as a thrash album. Never. A 26 minute masterpiece without a single dull moment. Arguably the best production on an LP from any genre too. Outside of the thrash genre, Reign In Blood is also one of the best albums from any genre, it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard and works as a unique body of art in a way most albums just cannot compete. (Check out my take on Reign In Blood – if you like – here )

So, from 1986 – 1987 thrash music’s time had come, it had arrived. All of a sudden metal was no longer a dumbed down, ridiculed genre. Three bands freshened up metal with albums of blistering pace and musicianship.

Metallica. Slayer. Anthrax.

Unlike punk, all these three bands found their perfect gear with their third respective albums. Arguably every punk band peaked with their debut albums? Whereas punk exploded – thrash grew. It grew until the time was right to crossover and fill a void for alternative music. The thrash music sections grew larger in independent record shops – you noticed it. All of a sudden loads of incredible looking expensive imports from the likes of The Misfits, Attitude Adjustment, Nuclear Assault, Stromtroopers Of Death, Black Flag, Crumbsuckers, etc sat side by side with U.K. Hardcore releases from the likes of The Stupids, Ripcord, Napalm Death, Electro Hippies, etc.

Metallica, Slayer & Anthrax laid down the gauntlet in this musically rich 12 month period. Slayer actually sounded like hell had opened. It didn’t sound like they were joking, the music mirrored some outrageously dark lyrical imagery. Anthrax brought a New York vibe to the scene, goofy, cartoony, a world away from Slayer.

Metallica are the most succesful thrash band of all time. They would go on to crossover and achieve much wider commercial success two albums after Master Of Puppets with their Black Album. Master Of Puppets, sales figures aside, will always be the bands most credible and essential album.

So, what does it sound like?

Battery intros with a classical music vibe. Clearly the band are great musicians. Strings, added to within 40 seconds with a solid – all band as a unit – backing. Shades of Iron Maiden and a New Wave Of British Heavy Metal vibe. Then, bang on the minute mark Metallica show exactly what they are all about and what they do so well.

Sharp blistering stabs. Choppy solid slabs of thrash metal.

Despite the band, for many – being the genres best exponents, Hetfield has the weakest vocal (Slayer – Araya, Anthrax – Belladonna). It still is a great vocal though and fits the music very well. Kirk Hammet lets loose short flying guitar leads, nothing too extravagant. The albums opener is a perfect introduction to the band.

Master Of Puppets starts with angular, fast, thrash jabs. Cliff Burton’s bass rolls in the background. Quickly it rattles up a gear and showcases the stop-start punches the band deliver so well.

Half way through the song Metallica show another facet that makes them unique. The track breaks down and backtracks into near a near classical music vibe. It bridges, then builds, then a more constructed solo is unleashed before the tracks washes away.

The Thing That Should Not Be is a weaker track than the albums two openers. It maintains a solid sound throughout its six and a half minutes and throws some nice echoey guitar fades into the mix.

Welcome Home (Sanitarium) has a story telling vibe. The pace is slower – the mood ethereal. In an amazingly strong and subtle way the track quietly builds consistently for 3 minutes – then it bridges – before launching into an all around more triumphant sound. Whereas the first half of the track sees the instrumentation locked together the second half frees up solos and judderingly powerful breaks of pure thrash metal.

Disposable Heroes sways like a looming giant as it intros. Almost alien sounding effects come from the guitars. Quickly, (and with no surprise) it speeds up – and speeds up again. A fist pumping in the air chorus. Then long streaks of the band jamming a frankly brilliant heavy sound. Hetfield hollars “I was born for dying” – the vibe is anti-war in a veiled way. You can sense a lamb to the slaughter on the frontline, Hetfiled’s vocal sneers like a war sick General ordering the lamb “Back to the front”. It’s a great, great track and its anti-war theme is a card played outstandingly well.

Leper Messiah (what a great song title) again – is a song of two halves. A robust first half – then it breaks – before, (no surprise) speeding up and delivering a far more urget second half.

Orion at a push, is my favourite track on Master Of Puppets. It really maxes out the classical music vibe Metallica can deliver. Burton’s bass is sublime. What a loss (it was his last album before his untimely death). An instrumental of searing languid beauty. Hammet lets fly scorching guitar solos that do not outstay their welcome. Just past the half way mark it lulls into a majestic softer sound before building again and washing away.

Damage Inc. closes Master Of Puppets. It showcases what all of the album is about. Soft, doomy intro, sharp stabbing precise sheets of metal. Blistering pace. Tight, tight. Hetfield’s vocal is best suited for this track. When he utters “Go” the band let loose. Guitar streaks that fly out of your speakers and make the corners of your mouth turn upwards.

Metallica. Slayer. Anthrax. Three bands. Three very different bands that all contributed massively to revitalising Heavy Metal circa ’86 – ’87 and inspired a new generation to pick up a musical instrument and have a bash themselves.


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