Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Metallica - Master of Puppets (1986)

In late 1985, Metallica returned to Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark, to begin recording their third full-length album. By this time, the band had amassed quite a following. As well, they were all out of Mustaine riffs and now had to stand on their own talents and prove that they were fully capable of delivering the goods. In February 1986, Master of Puppets was released and it has since been widely regarded as the definitive Metallica album. However, I do not share this opinion. Much like Slayer's Reign in Blood, I feel that this record is a bit overrated and doesn't match up to their previous output.

First, it's very clear that Master of Puppets was an attempt to recreate Ride the Lightning. More or less, it follows the same formula, just with less impressive results. "Battery" opens with an acoustic intro, just like "Fight Fire With Fire". Similarly, this is one of the fastest songs on the album and proves to be one of the most solid. The production isn't far removed from that of the last album, and Hetfield's vocals are firmly entrenched in the style that he had developed for himself, so there are no complaints there, either.

Continuing with the formula, the next song is the title track and it's lengthier and features a more complex arrangement. The middle section is slower and more atmospheric, proving once again that the band really shines when they go beyond the established song structure. Unfortunately, the song gets a bit repetitive when it returns to the main theme for yet another verse and chorus. Had it ended two minutes earlier, I think the song would have really benefited.

"The Thing That Should Not Be", much like "For Whom the Bell Tolls", slows the pace down a bit and possesses an epic vibe and is somewhat darker. However, something about this song kind of rubs me the wrong way. The riffs seem a bit dumbed-down and less inspired. When the band sacrifices melody and thrash, what they're left with is something rather plodding and it fails to hold up under close analysis.

In keeping with the pattern, Side A must end with a ballad. Sure enough, "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" does its best to recreate the brilliance of "Fade To Black", yet fails miserably. As it regards the lyrics, this song already loses points just in the fact that it isn't something that is so easy to relate to. While many can read the lyrics to "Fade To Black" and feel that they echo their own sentiments, less people can empathize with being locked in a sanitarium so it loses some of the personal appeal. Musically, the song gets better as it goes along, with more thrash riffs and decent lead solos.

Side B begins with a more energetic song. In the role of "Trapped Under Ice" is the lengthier "Disposable Heroes". It features a good build-up and some really decent thrash riffs. Not a bad song, at all, and includes some good solos and even a bit of double bass from Lars, near the end. My only real complaint is that, like the title track, this song runs a bit too long and the final verse-chorus section is overly repetitive.

"Leper Messiah" is another simplistic song with rather boring riffs. Again, this is the type of track that will more than likely appeal to the legions of mouth-breathers, not requiring a lot of attention to detail. Things get much more interesting, a little beyond the halfway point, and it's ironic that one of these riffs is the one that Dave Mustaine claims as his. Whatever the case may be, the second half of the song is infinitely more appealing and salvages this from being complete filler.

A slight deviation in arrangement, but present nonetheless, we have the obligatory instrumental. "Orion" has a nice build and is loaded with some of the best riffs of the entire album. I've said it before, but it bears repeating, Metallica really shines when they focus on their instruments and create these epic pieces of music that stray beyond the typical song structure. Not to take away from this song but, as good as it is, it neither reaches the same heights achieved by "The Call of Ktulu" nor does it create the same dark atmosphere. It's actually kind of peaceful and relaxing. In all fairness, that may be what they were going for, but it fails to suit my personal preferences.

The album ends with "Damage, Inc.", which begins with an intro similar to what was found on the previous song. As with "Battery", this is a straight-forward thrash song and it's one of the most solid ones on the record. It's fast, heavy and energetic. They would have done well to include a couple more songs in this vein.

To summarize, Master of Puppets isn't a terrible album, but it's certainly not the "definitive" Metallica record. I think it makes such a good impression on listeners simply by beginning and ending with very strong tracks and featuring a lot of decent riffs in-between. Out of eight songs, two decent ones are weakened by going a bit long and becoming repetitive, one is complete filler, with another one being 50% filler and, finally, two songs that don't match up to their predecessors from Ride the Lightning. That only leaves two solid tracks, and that certainly isn't enough to make this album rise above the previous ones.

In the end, Master of Puppets is not as genuine as Ride the Lightning, and really comes off as a failed attempt to recreate that same magic. It's not bad, but it's hardly essential.