Of the song Master of Puppets, I think I can predict each beat by heart, the input of each instrument. It is such an iconic and recognizable song that, from the very first notes, it is clear that it is a masterpiece. This song also gives the title to the entire album, released on March 3, 1986. Today we celebrate this successful musical event because, if you remember, the last time we talked about Metallica was to tell you about a flop, Through the Never . And how do we celebrate? Telling you all the aspects. The first: what is the meaning of Master of Puppets? This is obvious, it is the puppeteer, the one who holds the strings of the puppets, so to speak. And that orders us to continue reading and discover more!
Master of Puppets: Metallica’s artistic apex
On 3rd March 1986 Metallica released their third album, Master of Puppets. Becoming essential after a few months, it is the group’s first album to be certified platinum by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). Today, if Black Album is Metallica’s best-selling project, Master of Puppets remains the most popular: six times platinum in the United States, it has also sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
Beyond the numbers, Master of Puppets marks, for many, the artistic apex of Metallica. Their two previous records, Kill ’em All and Ride the Lightning, undoubtedly have their place in the history of the band, with their songs and live versions remaining classics. But it is with Master of Puppets that Metallica transform history. It becomes one of the greatest trash metal albums ever heard and confirms the collective’s place at the top of the “Big Four of Trash Metal” in the 80s (with Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax).
The members of the group – leader James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Cliff Burton (died September 1986) and drummer Lars Ulrich – gathered around the same producer and recorded this masterpiece in the Copenhagen studio, as happened for Ride the Lightning. The Master of Puppets sessions ran from September to December 1985, resulting in 8 tracks, each lasting 5 to nearly 9 minutes.
Inspirations and composition of the album
While most of the trash metal bands of the era opted for intoxicating chaos from the beginning to the end of their album, Metallica, with Master of Puppets, offer pleasant musical alternations, pauses, with slightly softer melodies. Inspired by old metal and hard rock artists such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, the band sometimes offers us to break this tumult by alternating dense and lighter sounds. And the recipe works wonders.
We can experience this from the very first seconds of the album with the title “Battery”, which starts with a classical guitar interlude before continuing with heavy music. In “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, the slower parts following the fast parts have the same effect. The same for “Orion”, a 100% instrumental piece that looks like a symphony, the different parts of which have the power to almost completely change our mood. Of course there are also moments of pure frenzy.
The album artwork, designed by Metallica & Peter Mensch and painted by Don Brautigam, depicts a cemetery field of white crosses tied to ropes, manipulated by a pair of hands in a blood red sky.
The story behind Master Of Puppets
On August 31, 1985, Metallica performed at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum as part of that summer’s Day On The Green festival. On the poster, led by the Scorpions, the group’s nine songs, played in the early afternoon, were greeted with unusual enthusiasm by an audience of 60,000 people. But that year, the real fulfillment happened at another Oakland address. After wrapping up their headlining tour with Armored Saint in March, the East Bay quartet had spent the hottest months of the year in the garage at 3132 Carlson Boulevard, also known as MetalliMansion, to write their third album.
Flemming Rasmussen, producer of Master Of Puppets and founder of Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark, said:
I’m sure it was a gamble that Lars convinced the rest of the band to record the new album at Sweet Silence.
Within the confines of Sweet Silence, Metallica built Master Of Puppets by experimenting, particularly with playing the tapes in reverse, an effect that can be heard on the ominous waves that open Damage Incorporated, the album’s closing track.
The aforementioned Flemming Rasmussen recalls being struck by the technical advances the band had made since recording Ride The Lightning, most notably the breakthrough of controversial Lars Ulrich. James Hetfield’s rhythm guitar, skill and precision left the producer spellbound. Each of the songs on Master Of Puppets features at least six identical guitar parts, layered to thicken the sound of the album. Each was recorded separately, instead of overlapping the same track multiple times, as is customary. In this regard, the manufacturer said:
I haven’t seen anything like it since and don’t expect it to happen again.
As we said at the beginning, Master of Puppets, after its publication in March 1986, has sold millions and millions of copies.
The band members then spent that summer as special guests of Ozzy Osbourne on his Ultimate Sin Tour in the United States. After six months of touring, the band was reunited by co-manager Cliff Burnstein in his dressing room at the Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. Cliff Burnstein had news for them that he delivered directly. His protégés had earned enough money thanks to that album that each of them could afford to buy a house!
Beyond the commercial success, this album is a real diamond not only for metal fans, but it is also a classic of music in general, which we highly recommend rediscovering. In 2016, Master of Puppets became the first metal album to be added to the National Recording Registry of the United States Library of Congress. It is a collection of preserved sound recordings, including works deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
One more reason to listen to this album as loud as possible, especially to annoy neighbors who don’t understand anything about good music!