15 December 2013

Metallica - Master Of Puppets

First and foremost, I have never been a great fan of Metallica although I have recognised their importance in the metal Hall of Fame, if such a thing exists. I can't remember how many metal fans at school goaded me into listening to them, and by the time Master Of Puppets came out I was still barely making the grade in school only looking forward to the 1530 bell and getting out. I was never going to be a big fan of them, probably because a lot of their music back then felt disjointed and on occasion messy. Well, this was the days when the jukebox was still playing scratchy records and CDs with their more crisp and clearer sound quality were still relatively unheard of.

Secretly, I did like their more well known songs at the turn of the 1990s, but it still wasn't enough to endear me. I only got into metal when DAB digital radio came out and it was when all these acts were given long overdue airplay and suddenly it seemed that all the noise from the glam era was then starting to mature very well. Ok, I'll admit it's cruel to relate Metallica to the big hair and makeup genre as they didn't aspire to the Motley Crue or Twisted Sister ideals thankfully, but easy to see why they were probably the biggest of the "Big Four". In my opinion, most of Anthrax's earlier material feels rather twee today (at the risk of being horribly bludgeoned to death by Chris Jermyn), Slayer were still a bit of an unpolished diamond and Megadeth? Well, Dave Mustaine (ex-Metallica by the way before he was given the elbow) has written shed loads of addictive tracks, but my respect for him is minimal given some of the crap and foot-in-mouth comments he's made.

The Editor, Eddie Carter has palmed this onto me, possibly, when the term progressive metal was thrown in the ring. So I guess I'd better start reviewing Master Of Puppets, and this of course being the U.S. outfit's third album and their last one with bassist Cliff Burton before his tragic and untimely death. Essentially, this is thrash in its infancy but the first big surprise for me is that Master Of Puppets is a lot more disciplined and more listenable than I thought. The second surprise is that there's not much multi-layering here, so Kirk Hammett's fast picking and riffing is easily identifiable for the budding shredder. Leper Messiah is one such user friendly track and memorable, in fact most tracks on the album play off an E5 chord and the basic EADGBE tuning arrangement. It's not all simpleton tracks however, for example, Orion (Instrumental) is comprised of various beat changes and there's evidence that Joe Satriani's teachings have rubbed off on Student Hammett. Some of it's almost unashamedly and I suspect unapologetically mellow too. Briefly.

Favourites on the album? Well, I've certainly enjoyed Welcome Home (Sanitarium) where the familiar metal notes trade places with some rather cooky smooth strings, but thankfully, true to form, nothing stays the same. Disposable Heroes also has some alternating beats and does more than enough to hold my attention. So far I've focused on the riffs and basic chords, so it's worth mentioning of the lyrical punch James Hetfield delivers. None of it wax either, the theme of thin despair runs throughout, the title track for instance is a thin narrative of substance abuse and being overwhelmed by it. The rest of the record runs on the concept of insanity, your innermost fears and, surprise surprise, aggression. Well, it is a thrash metal record after all and it's easy to see the countless acts have been inspired by Hetfield and co. 

It has palpable energy, but not the limitless reserves from start to finish that I was expecting, and trying to imagine thirty years ago what the most hardcore thrash aficionados were hoping from this outing. I can only guess that they would have been for a rude shock away from the top end leads. Nylon strings at the beginning of Battery and hints of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in one or two tracks. Nevertheless, if there was ever a definitive metal album, Master Of Puppets certainly is a classic case in point. In today's terms, it might feel slightly dated but even I've gotta admit the Metallica offering is certainly a quantum leap on Kill 'Em All (read the blog here), one that no ardent metal can ever overlook. Or asylum may just beckon you.

8.5 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.

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