Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986)
I first tried to explore Metallica before I learned to appreciate albums as a whole, and thusly I ended up hearing the title track of Master of Puppets over a year before I heard the rest of the album… which admittedly, I was quick to explore once I found its predecessor to be so mind-opening at the beginning of my initiation into metal.”Master of Puppets” is… not entirely unrepresentative of the various twists and turns in the album it lends its name to, but its breadth of musical concepts stands in contrast to the rest of the tracks, which while extended at points are still more terse and focused. Beyond that, it’s a chance to ride more lightning.
As a refinement as opposed to a reinvention of its predecessor, Master of Puppets formalized Metallica’s speed/thrash arrangements for some time. “Formal” actually is the word you’re looking for, since Metallica put significant effort into plotting out their songs at this point. There’s a much greater emphasis on dynamics and atmosphere this time, so when it’s not being blatantly metallic, Master of Puppets has its share of mellow or at least midpaced moments which generally work, considering that the songs are designed to support them and make them appropriate. The key is that unlike on its successors (And Justice for All, Death Magnetic, etc), Metallica still had some shreds of restraint to keep them from stretching the content here into overly lengthy songs.
Now, given that A. Metallica had already been comprehensively out-extreme’d in the past, and B. Metallica was holding back the heights of their velocity compared to said past, this album’s peaks of violence aren’t as satisfying as they could be. Some of them (mostly “Battery”; its intro is basically the 101 of how to do a lengthy buildup in a metal context) win points more for being successfully elaborate than for any technical wizardry they might accidentally display. It does sort of point to a path Metallica could’ve successfully taken had history unfolded differently – basically becoming a heavy metal/progressive rock fusion band like latter day Iron Maiden or earlier Rush, except this time slightly heavier and more interested in cheap beer. Describing Metallica’s historical downfall, though, takes me too far into the realm of cliches for my own tastes. The fact that so many metal bands deliberately and knowingly imitated Metallica’s formulas speaks well of their influence. I still prefer Ride the Lightning, but Master of Puppets is a close and worthy second place.
Highlights: “Battery”, “The Thing That Should Not Be”, “Damage Inc.”