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Metallica - Master of Puppets CD (album) cover

MASTER OF PUPPETS

Metallica

 

Prog Related

4.09 | 492 ratings

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Certif1ed
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Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Master Piece

Kill 'Em All redefined what Heavy Metal could be - it was a major landmark in the history of the music. It really could be Progressive as well as Metal.

Ride The Lightning was the ultimate affirmation of this principle - the major appeal of the music is for Metal fans, but it is unquestionably the first Progressive Metal album proper, in terms of musical achievements.

Master of Puppets, then, is the benchmark against which all Prog Metal can be compared.

Everything is there - nothing missing from any list of Essential Prog Elements you care to throw at it, and it is Metallica's creative peak - sadly, the last to feature their most creative driving force, bassist Cliff Burton.

Here, Metallica take their already advanced compositional skills to the limit, and never lose their roots - rather, they re-affirm them, as the fastest, heaviest and most complex - yet most melodic band (never mind the label) of the time.

Familiarity has bred a kind of contempt within the metal community, and bands have gone faster, drop- tuned to sound heavier, and introduced advanced playing techniques in order to sound more complex - but in terms of composition (which is where it counts, boys and girls), nothing in the world of metal, Progressive or otherwise, surpasses Master of Puppets to this day. Or Ride The Lightning, come to that.

I'd guess that the songs are familiar to everyone, so I'm going to shy away from descriptions you've read a million times, and dive straight in to the compositional complexities.

The layering technique used in the intro to Battery is much the same as the layering technique used by Les Paul in his early recordings, and is the first metal innovation on this album. It lends a quasi- classical feel to the introduction, for the first Prog link. Not bad for the first few seconds, eh?

Metallica use their patent and progressive developing riff technique to develop the riff texturally - as they did on Ride The Lightning. When the heavy chords crash in (and crash they do!), it's the same chord progression as the acoustic-sounding intro, but the textures are like nothing you've ever heard in metal before (although you've probably heard it plenty of times since in Prog metal). It's like a rich symphony orchestra composed purely of guitars - each voice distinct in the wall of sound, making a valuable contribution to the overal sonic palette to create the ringer - the 5th voice which is the overall sound, along with the subtle harmonics that are created by the combination of frequencies. Each chord is dwelt on exactly long enough to revel in the sonic sumptuousness of it all. And I'm not making this up.

The chord progression is suddenly broken up and fragmented for a 1-2-3-4 introduction to the Battery riff - a riff of awesome, bludgeoning power, almost incomprehensible speed and brain-twisting complexity. Never before has a metal riff wound through so many changes yet felt so natural and become such an instant classic. 8 bars (count 'em) of devilishly playful rifferama. Not content with merely writing the greatest riff of all time, Metallica play with this idea, Lars changing tempo, losing a little time here and there... (never mind!), but producing subtle fills that make the tempo feel like it's shifting.

Then there's the break between verses - did you spot it? It shoots past in a fraction of a second - and then there are all the subtle, yes, subtle changes in the chorus to contend with. There's another verse and chorus - but all the little changes make the piece blast past, almost impossible to comprehend - and explaining perfectly why many people find it difficult to hear this as anything but thrash or noise. It's not - it's many, many leagues above that.

Then everything is torn down for the instrumental.

We're still using the same riff ideas and fragments - the developing thematic material principle is not let up for a second - and let's get this straight, in the world of Metal, Metallica were unique in this compositional approach, which is the fundamental principle of the early work of bands such as King Crimson, ELP, Genesis, Gentle Giant and Yes. That's right, proggers - the music is of the same quality and shares many of the same properties as Classic Prog - and we're only on the first track!

There are many properties missing, of course - there's no Mellotron or Hammond, and Hetfield is no Gabriel - but Can, Camel and Hawkwind, among others, were not famed for their vocals either in the same way that Gabriel was.

I digress... back to the instrumental;

An assertive, classically inspired melody line grows out of a two-chord sucker-punch, as Metallica again revel in the sonic textures, Ulrich providing his patent punctuating drum patterns. This is tidied up with what almost contitutes a fanfare, and the music shoots off into orbit, using a very fast riff fragment idea from the Battery riff, which is rhythmically altered to provide maximum confusion - the ball of spikes hass suddenly turned into a dodcahedron with sharper edges. A return to the open chord idea of before, but extended so that Kirk can make his solo even more melodic leaves the lead guitar and drums exposed for a while, in a masterful turn of development, before Metallica increase the battery further, with an 8-note piledriver of a riff - again, based on the main thematic ideas. This is twisted slightly, Urich yet again punctuating the return to the verse/chorus sections.

That piledriver riff is unleashed again after the chorus - which, like Whiplash before it, is based on a single-word chant inserted at precise accent points in the riff - it's not as easy as it sounds! Back to the pieldriver riff, and Metallica again adhere to Keith Emerson's principle of turning the music upside down - a simple change to the beat and the riff looks up its own... well, it sounds like it's upside down even if it isn't, and it feels faster, where we already feel like we've been going as fast as we possibly can, and the song leaves us breathless.

As you can see, the music here is compositionally even more dense than the incredibly dense Ride The Lightning.

People ask what is Progressive about Metallica.

I ask what ISN'T Progressive about their early albums?

As you can see, there is so much in just the first, simple-sounding track, that a similar analysis of the rest of the material on this album would extend this review to unreasonable proportions.

Highlights on this album, which bursts with highlights and gives you more every time you return to it, include;

- The title track and its' classic main riff, hugely extended instrumental featuring a Classically-inspired breakdown and some of the catchiest tunes in the vocal and guitar lead melodies ever

- Welcome Home (Sanitarium), in which you instantly recognise a large portion of Dream Theater's early influence, and Bleak House's hugely collectible (as a result) minor NWoBHM masterpiece, Rainbow Warrior. Bleak House are well worth investigating further, not simply for this link, but because they are one of the great overlooked - a band that could have been huge had circumstances been otherwise.

- Damage Inc., which proves that it is possible to be faster than Battery and remain melodic, powerful and insanely catchy

- Orion - every other review of this album will be singing this piece's praises, so just assume my voice to be among them, and maybe one day I'll sit down and write a full analysis of this and the other 6 tracks I've hardly mentioned.

Progressive Metal, boys and girls - what it is, where it starts - but hopefully not where it ends. To date, though, it's sadly unsurpassed.

A MASTERPIECE.

Certif1ed | 5/5 |

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