Master of Puppets by Metallica
Release date : February 1986
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
To record Master of Puppets, Metallica needed financing. Within North America, Metallica agreed that Elektra Records would distribute Master of Puppets. Having financed the recording of Ride the Lightning (Metallica's then label Megaforce Records had experienced financial problems), however, the group's European label Music For Nations needed to be repaid. Music For Nations agreed that Elektra Records could distribute Ride the Lightning in North America without having to pay the label, whilst Elektra Records agreed to finance the recording of Master of Puppets. With financing secured, Metallica needed to finalise a choice of producer. Martin Birch, who had produced albums for such acts as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Rainbow, Blue Öyster Cult and Fleetwood Mac, was one consideration. However, the outfit eventually settled upon Flemming Rasmussen, who had produced Ride the Lightning (production was actually accredited to both Metallica and Rasmussen). Rasmussen spent roughly seven to ten days in Los Angeles, and him, drummer Lars Ulrich, and vocalist James Hetfield visited many potential studios. Aiming for a studio with both reverb and ambience, none were found, so the three opted to record at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark (the recording location for Ride the Lightning.
Entering the studio during September 1985, recording sessions didn't conclude until December 27th, with both Ulrich and Rasmussen briefly returning on the 30th to perform tom-fills. One day earlier, Metallica performed at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium in California, opening for Y&T, and for New Year's Eve, the group performed at San Francisco's Civic Center alongside Metal Church, Exodus and Megadeth. By Michael Wagener at Amigo Studios in North Hollywood, California, Master of Puppets was mixed during January 1986. Mark Wilzcak acted as assistant mixing engineer, and George Marino subsequently mastered the full length at Sterling Sound. The record's front cover concept was masterminded by Metallica and Peter Mensch, with the illustration itself being handled by Don Brautigam. In late February, Master of Puppets was issued, peaking at position twenty-nine upon the Billboard 200 charts.
An anti-drug track, “Master of Puppets” concerns the control a narcotic user has over the substances they consume: controlling the amount they consume, the substances themselves begin to control the user. “The Thing That Should Not Be”, meanwhile, exploits a couplet found within 1921 short story “The Nameless City”, penned by early 20th century pulp horror master H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was founder of the Cthulhu Mythos, with Ride the Lightning's “The Call of Ktulu” taking its title from Lovecraft's 1926 short story of the same name. “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” is the narrative of a suicidal inmate incarcerated in a mental institution, whilst “Disposable Heroes” is the tale of a twenty-one year old soldier forced to go to battle. “Leper Messiah” tackles the greed of TV evangelists, though erstwhile Metallica guitarist and current Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine claimed the track was based upon an old composition he had penned entitled “The Hills Ran Red”. Metallica refuted this claim however, stating the track was based upon an old riff, but not one that Mustaine had composed. Swansong track “Damage, Inc.” features the line “Fuck it all and fucking no regrets”, which later resurfaced in the title cut of 2003's St. Anger.
From March 27th to June 17th, Metallica supported Ozzy Osbourne for over fifty concerts, travelling through such states as Kansas, Oklahama, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, California and Nevada. On the 5th and 6th of July, the group performed at Saapasjalka in Wvaskyla, Finland and the Roskilde Festival in Denmark respectively. Additionally, other dates took place in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan, once again supporting Ozzy Osbourne. Prior to a planned concert at Evansville, Indiana's Mesker Theater on the 26th, Hetfield broke his wrist as the result of a skateboarding accident, causing the show to be cancelled. Hetfield was forced to wear a cast until September, and so then road crew member John Marshall handled the frontman's live rhythm guitar duties. Performances in Tennessee, Maryland and Virginia concluded Metallica's North American trek. From the 10th to the 21st of September, Metallica toured the United Kingdom with Anthrax, visiting cities such as Cardiff, Bradford, Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, Birmingham and London. At Birmingham's Odeon on the 20th, Diamond Head guitarist Brian Tatler joined the group onstage for a rendition of Diamond Head's “Am I Evil?”. Subsequently, the group travelled to Scandinavia, performing at Lund, Sweden's Olympus on the 24th, Lillistrom, Norway's Skedsmohallen on the 25th, and Stockholm, Sweden's Solnahallen on the 26th.
At roughly 6:30am on the 27th, Metallica's tour bus travelled along a two-lane road dubbed the E4, a road that passes between two Swedish towns named Ljungby and Värnamo. The bus had drifted towards the right side of the E4, and the driver steered left to correct this. The bus' back end spun towards the right, with a lengthy skid reportedly lasting up to twenty seconds. Sliding onto the road's right shoulder, the bus caught the gravel, tipping the bus onto its right side. Two bunk rows collapsed together, trapping people underneath. John Marshall crawled out of the bus, and tour manager Bobby Schneider remained inside to aid others in escaping. Minor flesh wounds were incurred by Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, whilst Ulrich had incurred a broken toe. Schneider, guitar technician Aidan Mullen, drum technician Flemming Larsen, and the bus driver, who suffered a foot injury, all escaped. Two legs protruded from beneath the bus, legs which were covered by a blanket laid by another. Those legs belonged to the lifeless body of bassist Cliff Burton. Seven ambulances arrived during the next hour, taking survivors to Ljungby's hospital. A crane lifted the bus slightly later, and Burton's body was removed from the scene. Before the man's body was flown back to his native country, Swedish authorities conducted an autopsy. Dr. Anders Ottoson, who happened to be the examining official, concluded that the cause of Burton's death was fatal chest compression with lung damage (formally described as “compressio thoracis cum contusio pulm”). On October 7th at the Chapel of the Valley in Castro Valley, California (Burton's hometown), Burton's funeral occurred, and the man's ashes were scattered at the Maxwell Ranch.
By countless diehard fanatics across the globe, Master of Puppets is hailed as Metallica's single greatest accomplishment. This 1986 opus was bolstered by the moderate success of its predecessor in Ride the Lightning, and was the first of the group's albums to receive gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America, signalling that Metallica were, amongst the Metal sphere, certainly a force to be reckoned with. In 1986, very few acts this heavy actually shifted enough album copies to achieve gold certification. Over the next two decades, Metallica would achieve much, and this was merely the beginning.
Amongst Metallica's catalogue, Master of Puppets is likely where the group were most successful in playing to their musical strengths. Whilst Ride the Lightning laid down road flares for what was to materialize courtesy of 1991's Metallica (commonly dubbed The Black Album), and arguably 1996's Load and 1997's ReLoad, the record additionally paved the way for Master of Puppets.
In countless respects, Master of Puppets is similar to its predecessor. The material is performed at a much faster pace, however, and this occurs almost from the opening notes to the concluding notes. Employing an altogether shorter introduction on this specific occasion, Metallica launches into fist pumping, headbanging anthem “Battery”. Although not quintessential Speed Metal by today's standards, few recording outfits active during 1986 even remotely approached “Battery”'s pace. A Metal fanatic's dream, “Battery” was only the inaugural track. Once “Battery”'s initial shock fades, the listener is smacked between the eyes by what is widely deemed to be one of Metallica's defining moments. More specifically, that defining moment is the epic and pummelling brutality prevalent within the album's namesake track. The groovier “The Thing That Should Not Be” subsequently arrives and, in my humble opinion, provides one of the greatest examples of what the late Cliff Burton had to contribute. The deep groove lends itself to the rhythm of the bass, and drums. Would this have continued if it weren't for the tragic bus accident which claimed Burton's life? One has to wonder.
A cult favourite amongst fanatics, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” lifts Master of Puppets back up to speed. Coupled against “Disposable Heroes” and “Leper Messiah”, the number proves to be an immense force midway into the record. Maintaining the full length's pace, this provides staunch evidence that Master of Puppets would likely never disappear. The instrumental “Orion” honours a tradition inaugurated via Ride the Lightning's “Call of Ktulu”, and should that be the cut's lone motive, then it achieves success. In this reviewer’s opinion, the track exhibits nothing distinct, and serves as the album's sole genuine disruption. The mighty “Damage, Inc.” concludes Master of Puppets in a striking fashion, perhaps even surpassing the speed and aggression audible elsewhere upon the album.
Of Metallica's albums, Master of Puppets is certainly the preferred full length by many longtime, diehard fanatics of the group. The 1986 opus isn't this reviewer's preferred album, though nobody could refute its importance in the group's catalogue, and in the general history of heavy music. Master of Puppets brought Metallica one step closer towards being of the globe's most popular acts, and with good reason - even today, the album timelessly plays.