UG Articles Archive

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Master of Puppets is Metallica's best album

I declare today Metallica Monday!  Metallica Monday will officially take place the second Monday of January in every year from now until the apocalypse takes us.  The day will be honored by a Metallica-themed post on this blog as long as I remember the holiday and have something to say about the ban- alright, you caught me, I made up Metallica Monday just to introduce today's post, which will be the first of two "Point - Counterpoint" articles debating which album is Metallica's finest.  Frequent contributor Matt, or FunOnABun, will be providing the Counterpoint column at some point in the next few days. 

At the end of 2010, Metallica's "Black Album" remains the top-selling CD since SoundScan began compiling sales numbers in 1991, barely edging out Shania Twain's "Come On Over" and Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill."  While the Black Album is a solid album, it made me look back at the band's whole catalog, and decide which album I would choose if I could only buy one of their releases.  I finally determined that without a doubt, I would go with Master of Puppets.

Why Master of Puppets is Metallica's Best Album:

Master of Puppets was released on March 3rd, 1986 and is without question one of the most influential heavy metal albums of all time.   It was Metallica's third studio album after Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning, and their last album with legendary songwriter and bassist Cliff Burton before his death in a bus crash.  It is on several "Best Albums of All Time" lists, including the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die  and TIME magazine's ALL-TIME 100 Albums list.  Clearly, it has received nearly universal praise.  Why?  The music.

The album begins with "Battery," a classic played with blistering speed and intensity.  The acoustic intro leading into a fast and furious riff is a common theme in today's thrash and heavy metal music, but at the time was a fairly progressive idea.  While "Fade to Black" on Ride the Lightning was probably one of the first popular metal songs to use the acoustic intro, it was more of a ballad than a straight-up moshing tune like "Battery."  Battery is thrash metal at its core.

Another standout in an album where nearly every track has become a classic is the title track.  "Master of Puppets" is the blueprint that thrash bands have followed for the last 20-odd years and is responsible for exposing hordes of radio listeners to the genre.  To this day, "Master" is one of the fastest, heaviest tracks you'll hear on rock radio stations, and was the song that convinced me to explore heavier music and deviate from the Nu-Metal and "active rock" that I had been listening to in high school.  The track is not only masterfully arranged and written, but also is one of Metallica's most meaningful tracks lyrically.  It was written about former Metallica guitarist and Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine and his various drug addictions when he was with the band.  The song is sung from the perspective of the drugs, an interesting take on an old rock and roll stereotype.  "Taste me and you will see / more is all you need / you're dedicated to / how I'm killing you."  It's also a staple of their live show, and you get to yell MASTER at the top of your lungs like 40 times, which is very cool when 20,000 other people are doing the same.

Metallica circa 1986
Other standouts in my opinion are "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," the haunting and very heavy "The Thing That Should Not Be" and the instrumental track "Orion."  Fans are for the large part very divided about The Thing That Should Not Be, with some claiming it's the worst song Metallica ever wrote and others, myself included, counting it among their best.    It's their only song written in D standard tuning, with the rest of their catalog in E Standard, which tells you immediately that it's one of their darkest and heaviest songs.  It's about the Old God C'Thulhu from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, one of my favorite authors.  It features a solo that can only be described as chaotic.  It remains one of the most unique solos I've ever heard in all of the music I've listened to.  "Orion" is perhaps Cliff Burton's finest accomplishment.  A full 8 minutes of beautiful melody, intricate rhythms, and brilliant interplay between all of the instruments involved, especially the bass.  By now we're used to the bass guitar being relatively difficult to pick out of rock and metal music, and bass players are regularly picked on for being "inaudible" in the mix.  Burton did it differently, and Orion is the finest example of this.  The basslines carry the tune at times, and at others drive the rhythm section.  Clearly audible on the record, you can hear Cliff moving all over the fretboard, interspersing mini bass solos here and there, and utilizing a sound that no other bassist has really ever been able to attain. 

I do believe Metallica will be remembered as one of the most successful bands of the 20th (and 21st?) century, and Master of Puppets has a lot to do with that.  As Metallica's "breakout" album, it exposed an entire generation to the thrash metal music that had, until that point, been largely an underground phenomenon.  There isn't a single bad song on the album, and the best tracks are legendary.  Say what you want about their other tunes, but to most fans, "Master of Puppets" is Metallica's defining song, and in the opinion of yours truly, it's the title track on their best album.   

Be sure to check back soon for a different take from Matt.


  1. U got that right love it!

  2. If lankey doesnt choose ride the lighting as his #1 prepare for my WM debut in its defense