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Metallica - Master Of Puppets CD (album) cover




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4.12 | 743 ratings

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3 stars By March of 1986, when "Master of Puppets" was released, it was apparent to anyone with half a brain that metal was not just some here-today-gone-tomorrow musical fad and that the band known as Metallica was the undisputed champion of that genre, at least in the United States. It was their first album to be put out by a major label (Electra) and not only did it crack the top 30 on the charts but stayed in the Hot 200 list for 72 weeks. These rowdy rockers had arrived. As I've confessed before, I wasn't a fan at the time and, being the snob I was, didn't take them seriously. I should have but I didn't. My opinion at the time was that they were obviously very angry about something and I couldn't relate. I'd come of age over a decade earlier to the metallic sounds of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin (in the late 60s when there was plenty of political crap to be pissed off about, believe me) but I adored their music because it was so damned COOL, not because they were expressing some inner rage that stalked within me, looking for a way to get out. I just didn't get it. It was only after seeing various documentaries of them in the last few years that I got sufficiently exposed to their aural art and that prompted me to finally give them a fair listen. There's no doubt that they had a progressive mind-set and weren't satisfied to stay in one place for long so my hat's off to them for their moxie, regardless of their rock & roll attitude. I do prefer their later material mainly because it sounds better fidelity-wise but it helps to know where a group's roots are planted so as to make an unbiased assessment of their music. That's why I'm reviewing their product chronologically.

This record begins with "Battery," wherein big, thick acoustic guitars lead the listener to an onslaught of brittle metal riffs that bite and rip like a pack of Piranhas. Lars Ulrich's frantic drumming is relentless underneath. While the song is superbly tight (something I put a lot of stock in), it's also very predictable. Cliff Burton's bass and the lower frequencies in general are almost non-existent and that fault detracts from the impact the tune might've had. The title track is a definite step upwards. Its aggressive and prog-laden intro lays the foundation for a song that's more dynamic and interesting than the opener was. I was pleasantly surprised by their sudden descent into a calmer, more melodic movement in the middle that provides essential contrast before they slowly climb in intensity back to the original feel. The imaginative arrangement of this tune shows they were growing and learning as composers. "The Things That Should Not Be" is next and its slower rock tempo allows the deeper grit of James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett's guitars to emerge and grab your attention. It's also nice to be able to at least feel the bass even if I can't discern its lines distinctly. To my ears the bad news is that the number lacks cohesiveness, as if it was pieced together from unrelated ideas.

"Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is a highlight. The song's atmospheric beginning with its unusual time signature draws me right in and the finesse they display in their approach better allows their musicianship to shine through. The 2nd segment doubles up the beat, turning it into more typical metal fare but the tune doesn't lose its personality in the process. "Disposable Heroes" is a large case of lightning-speed riffs zipping over sensible, grounded drums that wisely avoid trying to match the furious tempo set by the guitars. Hammett plays with fire and fierceness throughout. Here I detect a palpable Black Sabbath influence in their writing but there's no lack of energy, that's for sure. "Leper Messiah" is a growling, chomping monster of a track even though it seems to have swallowed the bass guitar whole. This one has more rough edges surrounding it than the other cuts, hinting to me that this tune just never jelled the way they wanted it to.

The best cut is the instrumental "Orion." That's not an indictment of James' strong voice at all. He's good at what he does. The number's haunting, mysterious opening leads to a penetrating, steady rock rhythm roiling underneath a bank of churning guitars. It's as if the absence of a vocal presence freed them up to relax a bit and to rely on their ingenuity to create a stunning piece of music. The intricate guitar work is engaging from start to finish and I'm happy to be able to hear and enjoy Burton's bass guitar for a change. They close with "Damage, Inc." and they smartly utilize another "ease in" ploy to keep things from becoming stale. Soon, though, this song develops into an all-out blitzkrieg of metal sensibilities, no doubt in order to appease their loyal head-banging flock of followers. That's not a knock at all. The boys in Metallica knew who brought them to the prom in the first place and that it was important to deliver the goods.

"Master of Puppets" has been called one of the greatest metal albums in history so I feel a tad out of place in saying it's only slightly above average in my book. I'm no connoisseur, though, and my estimation of its merits should be taken with a marble-sized grain of salt. At the same time I'm an admirer of any group that can defy the odds and attain spectacular success despite the lack of support from the popular radio stations of that era that would only play hit singles. These guys did it the hard way and they are to be commended for that and for the fact that they were "progressing" steadily in their career. 3.1 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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