[Retro Record Rewind] Celebrating 35 Years of Metallica's 'Master of Puppets'

On this day in 1986, Metallica released their epic, third studio album, Master of Puppets on Elektra Records! This album has always been my favorite Metallica record, and will continue to hold a special place in my heart. Some of my earliest childhood memories include many tracks from this album while playing my Nintendo on the CRT TV in the attic. In high school, the title track was one of the only songs to calm my anxiety so I can fall asleep. As thrashy as the album is, it’s always been a source of comfort to me throughout my life. I remember my first reactions to certain album covers, and I have always loved the symmetry of the crosses on Master of Puppets, as well as the color scheme of the hands in the looming sky and grass between the crosses. It vaguely reminded me of Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast, with the puppet strings clearly visible between the crosses and eerie hands. Master of Puppets, for me, set the tone of the metal genre and would hold other metal bands to this light in what I’d define as metal. If a perfect metal album ever existed, this, personally, would be it. It’s also the last Metallica record to have the late bassist Cliff Burton on it, as he was sadly killed in a freak bus accident on the tour promoting Master of Puppets.

“Battery” deceivingly begins the song with a soft acoustic intro, and the band slowly comes in to help electrify the song. Though when the instruments cut out, the guitar rips through the air with a thrilling riff, and Metallica is out in total thrash force. The tempo changes just before the guitar solo, the change up they did with the melody is killer before the solo explodes and the drums intensify! “Battery” is really fun to just jump around and head bang to! The energy between James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and Cliff Burton is unmatched! The enticingly dramatic intro to “Master of Puppets” cannot be understated. I always loved the bantering of the drums and the guitar, it’s just so epic! The guitar playing the iconic riff alone is a mood. The verses are powering full speed ahead, and the chorus brings back the intentional breaks of the instruments. The pre-chorus has a really good flow to bridge the verses and chorus together. As the guitar solo plays, it’s in the staple gradual build-up Metallica typically has. Though the harmonics are truly a heavy metal lullaby sandwiched in an extreme song. Leading out of the solo is arguably theatrical as the drums with the “Master! Master!”, hold a steady rhythm and all the guitars get to their pace. Another half step to increase the suspense slowly builds up to the REAL solo! You can hear the fingers sliding all over the fret board before the most metal version of the iconic “Master of Puppets” riff. I love the cascading effects as well, sliding up and down a few times before the next verse starts. Fading out with maniacal laughter, this song never gets old.

The band begins "The Thing That Should Not Be" with a slow progression; I imagine seeing a monster come out of a body of water. Then we get a snippet of how most of the rest of the song will sound when it starts to jam the main piece of the song. The sound diminishes again each time James Hetfield sings the verses, the sound builds both between each breath and leading into the pre-chorus. I always loved how deliberate the timing is throughout a lot of the songs on Master of Puppets. It definitely adds a theatrical element to the overall album; that there is clear intention behind every song. It’s always hard to not break out and head bang every time there’s the dramatic pauses. Especially in lines such as, “In madness you dwell!” The fade out leaves more to the imagination, as you could listen to that solid piece over and over….

The harmonics in the beginning of the song were one of the first pieces of music I actually played on guitar, and it will always make me want to pick up a guitar to play it myself. It’s a beautiful melody, and gets better when the other guitar comes swooning in. A total lighter moment at a concert! Even through the first verse it holds the band hostage as you can almost feel the band waiting to break out. Finally in the chorus it builds some, but the band still isn’t in full force! The harmony before the second verse is also so beautiful, and we stay serenaded by each member. The second chorus, seems no different than the first, but it’s here where it actually repeats one bar and the band picks faster, and the drums beat between the slower tempo of the earlier part of the song! It isn’t quite the guitar solo, but the bridge, to further tease us! Finally the solo penetrates through the song, and the whole song is completely electrified!

“Disposable Heroes” thunders in with a furious march and the electric guitars start to blaze over, and take over the lead. The tempo slows a bit as the marching continues before erupting in a wave of thrash. It’s one of my favorite intros to a metal song. Finally, the first verse plays as the instruments stampede on. The chorus gets extremely thrashy again, and it’s thrash at it’s finest in my opinion. You have the guitar soaring over the commotion, and such control when playing the next musical piece. This awesome cycle repeats, and then there’s a quick silence before the guitars play in a steady march for the bridge. Quickly, the guitar solo rips through the air, switching between a metal melody and straight thrash. “One, two; one, two, three, four!”

My favorite deep cut track on Master of Puppets is definitely “Leper Messiah”. I am obsessed with the straightforward metal riffs littered all over this song. When it sounds so awesome, and it just gets better and slightly faster, and then it switches up slightly at the end before the guitar drones out and the drums play a solid rhythm. Then more subtlety when the song begins, slowly, more than any other song on this album, build up, and this is what the verses actually sound like! As much as I love intricate metal songs, it’s the “simpler” ones like this that bring me back to my metal roots. There are awesome bits of thrash and chants scattered in “Leper Messiah”, and it’s done tastefully. Half way through, it changes up slightly before heading right into a guitar solo full of metal 80’s gold. The change-ups through the rest of the song are all awesome, before it concisely ends with the minimal melody that they began the song with.

“Orion” is the only instrumental on Master of Puppets, but it’s in the top 3 best songs on this legendary album. The guitar is faint and ominous, and the drums are even fainter. Eventually you hear the steady drums get louder and louder before it counts off for the rest of the band to play this comforting metal melody with more energy. Eventually after a nice, long jam session and letting it sink in, the guitar switches it up and picks a little more. Then every instrument gets more intense, and the tempo is more dramatic with the more aggressive guitar picking. It’s one of the best songs to zone out to and appreciate 80’s metal. The guitars sing to you so James doesn’t have to. When it theatrically ends the first half of the song, the Cliff Burton’s bass solo shines before the electric guitars come through to just sway and play a few long notes amidst the bass. It’s very calming and relaxing to listen to, especially when the guitar continually plays with more serenading charms. Nearing the end of the song it slowly builds again where we hear a true guitar solo, and then they thrash it through the end like a powerhouse!

To close out the epic Master of Puppets album, “Damage, Inc.” starts very quietly, and you aren’t quite sure what the instruments are doing. But then a guitar holds a long note, and you hear the band power up for an assault. The band quickly builds the suspense and releases all the pent-up thrash from “Orion”. More thrash continues to build before we hear James’ gritty vocals again. The song is choppy going full speed ahead and then building suspense to intensify force and build more excitement for the rest of the thrashiness. The guitar takes charge and leads the rest of the band to a slower but exceptionally heavy flow before igniting into the breakneck guitar solo. Making a statement, it ends with the last bits of high intensity to the last second!