photo & text by nacrowe
while their debut KILL EM ALL (MEGAFORCE, 1983) had a ferocious and immediate spit-in-your-eye aggression and the follow-up RIDE THE LIGHTNING (MEGAFORCE, 1984) a growing compositional and lyrical sophistication, to many fans MASTER OF PUPPETS (ELEKTRA, 1986) is the definitive METALLICA album. in many ways it marries the aggression and sophistication of their previous two releases into a cohesive yet brutal statement dealing with themes regarding ADDICTION, from DRUGS ("MASTER OF PUPPETS"), RELIGION ("LEPER MESSIAH") and SELF-IMAGE ("WELCOME HOME (SANITARIUM)") to our seeming cultural need for AGGRESSION and DOMINATION with regard to foreign conflicts ("DISPOSABLE HEROES"). in my interpretation, this record is about the price we pay at both a societal and individual level for our dependency on PROPAGANDA and SELF-DELUSION. and it still holds up.
i very much see this record in tandem with its aforementioned predecessor RIDE THE LIGHTNING in terms of its track-listing, subject matter and even its artwork. both albums have highly orchestrated opening tracks that devolved in to barn-burning torrents of absolute aggression ("FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE" vs "BATTERY") as well as CLIFF BURTON-penned instrumentals ("THE CALL OF KTULU" vs "ORION") that showcase his musical dexterity as well as compositional chops. my personal preference is towards RIDE THE LIGHTNING, but many consider the title track "MASTER OF PUPPETS" to be among the best tracks METALLICA ever produced, if not the definitive track bar none. this track is epic in its conception, as it has multiple sections that seem to mirror the stages related to ADDICTION and RECOVERY. the aggressive parts are sonically beyond brutal as if to aurally express the bowels of SHAME, GUILT and SELF-HATRED that come with the pursuit of one's addiction while the middle interlude section with its down tempo and soaring dual guitar leads presents a sense of HUMILITY and COMPASSION towards oneself and gives a sense of HOPE that RECOVERY is an option. again, this is just my interpretation since the song could be about ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOR writ large, but its musical and compositional complexity gives it that deeper MEDITATIVE quality that renders it anything but one-dimensional.
sadly MASTER OF PUPPETS is the last METALLICA record recorded with the late great BURTON, who passed away while touring this record in NORWAY in a freak bus accident. in many ways the METALLICA that came after is a different band entirely since BURTON was such a key contributor to the band and was arguably responsible for their sophisticated compositional aesthetic that made them standout from both their THRASH METAL counterparts and the NEW WAVE OF BRITISH HEAVY METAL bands that predated them. their seminal yet problematic next offering ...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (ELEKTRA, 1988) is a more compositionally complex yet less coherent statement, which really provides an apt metaphor for the band's state of mind post-BURTON. he is dearly missed to date, but in many ways MASTER OF PUPPETS is his lasting statement and legacy within the broader musical community, well beyond the confines of METAL.
rest in power CLIFF BURTON.