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Metallica - Master Of Puppets CD (album) cover




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4.12 | 743 ratings

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5 stars Well, it's not a huge improvement over Ride the Lightning, but it's an improvement nonetheless. In terms of overall flow, it follows pretty much the exact same formula as its predecessor, with the sole exception that the nine-minute instrumental on side two is the penultimate track instead of the ending one. For that reason, one could very, very easily argue that Lightning should be considered superior, especially when nothing on this album quite reaches the glorious pummelling heights of "Fight Fire with Fire" or "Creeping Death." However, I don't consider any of the tracks on here significantly worse than their Lightning counterparts, and a couple are measurably better. Furthermore, the overall sound is better. They've actually pulled back on the intensity just a whee bit, but that just means that I don't feel like the band is regularly trying to kill me (and besides, this may not be as heavy as Lightning was on an overall level, but that just means this album was arguably the second heaviest American rock album of all time at the time of its release), and that's a good thing. Plus, the production is better than before if only because I can actually regularly hear Cliff's bass as a distinct individual instrument, adding a tangible (as opposed to implied, which was the case on large parts of Ride) counter presence to the amazing guitar interplay. Oh, and James' singing is a lot better than before, if only because there's no excessive reverb attached to his vocals this time around.

And the songwriting, gah. Ok, the album has one duffer on side two, the fairly boring (in the first half anyway, even when taking the cool basslines into account) "Leper Messiah," but even that briefly picks up serious steam in its last couple of minutes in the guitar passages, so it's not a total loss. And with the rest, well, I kinda get the feeling when listening that the band realized in the midst of recording that it was creating a rock classic for the ages; the opening minute of the album and "Battery," with a trio of acoustic guitars morphing into the duel-guitar and bass attack that dominates the rest of the album, doesn't sound to me like the band is just aping its Lightning formula in one more way. No, that opening sounds genuinely beautiful to my ears; it's a stretch of legitimate grandiosity that I've heard few (if any) metal bands pull off succesfully (heck, the only opening instrumental passages in all of rock music that I can think of to match this in anthemic power are "Baba O'Reilly" on Who's Next, "Watcher of the Skies" on Foxtrot and "Where the Streets Have No Name" on The Joshua Tree). And of course, the song itself rules; it isn't cripplingly whomping like "Fight Fire with Fire," but the crisp power and intensity (and the bass, oh the bass), combined with a neat efficient vocal melody, make this a total classic. And that part in the middle where it slows down just a smidge and where Kirk teases the listener before exploding in his typical way, well, that's just great rock music there.

Skipping the title track for a minute, the "For Whom the Bell Tolls" counterpart, "The Thing That Should Not Be," may not have the symphonic bliss of its predecessor, but the riffs are so menacing in their mid-tempo stomp, and the introduction so eerie, and the vocal melody so well written in the way it works its way around the instrumental breaks, that it nearly overtakes "Bell." Anybody who thinks for even a second that 80's Metallica used its speed and noise to cover up a lack of songwriting has to give this track another five or so listens; if you're still unconvinced, then at least shut up for a moment and enjoy the weird-ass noises Kirk squeezes out of his axe around the four-minute mark. And then we have "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" which, as great as "Fade to Black" was, grinds its competitor's bones to make its bread. My favorite part is the dark-yet-shimmery introduction, which once again demonstrates the band's once impeccable understanding of contrast, but the vocal melody and lyrics are both great (again), the solos are amazing (again), the bass adds infinite amounts of depth, and the ending crescendo and acceleration (before the final slowdown) would likely be the band's finest moment were it not for the band topping itself a couple of years later with "One."

The second half can't help but be slightly weaker (especially during "Leper Messiah"), making it into somewhat of a letdown, but the drop still isn't as much as I think some make it out to be. For one thing, I can't really buy into the tiff many people have against "Disposable Heros," which I think rules. Ok, yes, the lyrics are a bit banal and obvious; they're about the way "grunts" in the military are treated, not as human beings with real thoughts and feelings and families, but rather as mere cannon fodder. The thing is, the music ends up supporting the theme to a tee; the main melody has a great feel of angtsy tension, and the chorus, with its "Back to the front!" calls is a perfect manifestation of the calls of an officer who couldn't care less about his soldiers.

After "Leper Messiah," we come to the instrumental "Orion," which I've found from experience can be somewhat overlooked if one's not careful. Don't make the same mistake I did; this doesn't have the same kind of repetitive menace that "Ctulu" has, but this instead has a lot of high quality variation, with lots of high quality riffs and untrivial chord changes and mind-blowingly cool diverse solos from Kirk a little over six minutes in. Plus, it has that one section in the middle that probably qualifies as the only instance of a band playing space-metal blues (!!). The song really sounds like it matches its title in terms of having all sorts of sci-fi vibes throughout, but it also makes it sound like travelling to the stars would make for a really great weekend excursion, and that's a neat combination.

At the very other end of the metal spectrum, we have the closing "Damage Inc.," which shows the band temporarily breaking out of its artsy tendencies and delivering a straight-up speed-metal frenzy, kinda like one would find on Kill 'Em All, only completely pwning the majority of that album (and having an eerie atmospheric opening to boot). Let's see, there's better singing, there are more mature instrumental techniques, and yet when it's time for Kirk to deliver a fast solo, James yells out "GO!" Ok, so it's not a classic on the level of the first half of the album, but it's a great great closer.

For all this, though, the title track is still my favorite of the album, and in my mind completely destroys the title track of Ride the Lightning. From the standpoint of just the music, this thing is totally amazing, from the great intro riffs through the great, slower you-will-bang- your-head mid-section and the intense, no-you-don't-get-it-you-WILL-bang-your-head reprise at the end, blah blah blah you've read all this before. My favorite aspect of the song, though, is that they managed to create an anti-drug song so slick lyrically that it managed to make the PMRC completely miss the point and use the song as one of its prime examples of the evil of rock music by the mid 80's. That's right people: this song, unless I, my brother and others from whom I've heard this are completely missing the boat, is about none other than the horrors of cocaine addiction and the hopeless slavery that comes from it. If you don't believe me, look at the lyrics again; the line "chop your breakfast on a mirror" should be a dead giveaway. Way to go, guys: you managed to make an anti-drug song into one of the greatest heavy metal songs ever.

Sheesh, I'm reading this review, and I'm almost wondering why I don't like this enough for it to crack my top 50 or higher. Of course, to be fair, it's (like all albums of this kind) a difficult album for me to sit through from start to finish without a break (sometimes a man just needs to hear some ABBA), even though 80% of it completely rules. And "Leper Messiah" is really noticably weak ... and "Disposable Heroes," as much as I like it, really shouldn't be in excess of eight minutes in length. So ok, it's not quite pantheon-worthy for me. Make no mistake, though, the last couple of sentences are just mild quibbles: this album is easily one of my favorites of the 1980's, and a solid inclusion into my overall top 100. Everybody who likes rock music should own this, period.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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