Thursday, June 9, 2016

When Music Mattered - Master of Puppets (1986)

It was 1986 and I was a freshman in college writing a music review for the school newspaper. For some reason I cannot remember, I had purchased the new cassette by Metallica called Master of Puppets. I had heard bits and pieces of Metallica's stuff before Master, but I wasn't the hardcore fan I was to become. In my review, I panned the record for its unnecessary aggression and seemingly endless songs. This is my attempt to make up for that horrible error in judgment.

By the time Metallica had signed its major label record deal with Elektra and prepared to release the first thrash metal album ever on a major label, they were already legends. Within a span of five years, Metallica had managed to combine all of its European metal influences together into a style of music that American metal fans had never heard before.

Their passion for the music they played was obvious, and so was the command of their instruments. Between 1986 and 1991, Metallica kicked down doors for metal bands that made the success of a whole host of groups possible. But Metallica's desire to stand for what they believed started to tarnish the relationship with their fans, and lost in the sour grapes was the recognition due to the album Master of Puppets.

Master of Puppets showed the music industry that good metal would sell and, even more importantly, that metal fans were extremely loyal to their favorite bands. It paved the way for a career that would span decades, polarize fans, and show that Metallica knew what it needed to do to roll with the times and stay in the collective public consciousness. In the music business, "relevant" is a useless word. It means nothing. Music is always relevant. The problem for many bands is finding ways to stay popular in the face of changing public sentiments. Metallica knows how to do that, and it does not always involve playing music.

Master of Puppets is a metal masterpiece that contained brooding epics and quick blasts of energy all tied together by a sound that became something all metal bands strove to attain. It was unlike anything the United States had ever heard before. Thanks to the crosses on the cover of the record and the fast music, misguided people automatically assumed Metallica was a satanic band. I still find that funny, and so does Metallica.

The songs on Master of Puppets are composed of several parts, but there is no song with standard verse/refrain/verse structure. The transition to each part in each song is smooth, and the point of every song is loud and clear. Kirk Hammett's playing is masterful, and Cliff Burton holds down the low end like nobody ever did before or after. Every song on Master of Puppets is a metal classic, and every lyric has a purpose.

Master of Puppets is where American thrash metal started, and it is a very good starting point. Over the years, Metallica has become more of a punchline than a potent statement, but they did that to themselves. Plenty of other metal bands, such as Iron Maiden, managed to survive for years and retain their powerful image.

Metallica probably opened up too much over the course of their career, and now they are not mentioned with the reverence they used to be afforded. But in 1986, there was no more important metal band in the world than Metallica. I don't care what you think of Metallica today, there is nothing that can tarnish the legacy of Master of Puppets and nothing that can take away its importance to American music in general.

Rating: 4 out of 5

George N Root III is a Metallica fan from back in the day. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at