Once more hooking up in the studio with Flemming Rasmussen, Metallica achieved near-nirvana with their third album. Master of Puppets appears on nearly every list of the best metal albums, and on a good number of lists of best albums ever, regardless of genre. This was the first thrash metal LP to sell a million copies in the United States (total sales to date in excess of six million).
The Metallica legend was made here.
"Battery"--Just like Ride the Lightning, Puppets begins with a gentle classical flavor. But instead of fading into the monstrous riff, "Battery" goes straight from the soothing message to an elbow planted squarely to the lower back. Asses shall be kicked. Objects shall then be kicked up into asses, then booted back out. The process may be repeated, it may not be, you really shouldn't worry yourself sick over such things.
Nor should you worry about what exactly the battery is in the context of the song. Clearly, we're not dealing with a battery as we know it, because Metallica are talking about "crashing" and "mashing" the unseemlies and you cannot do that with double D's. And don't suggest a car battery, 'cause beating someone to a pulp with one would still take more effort than this song suggests our heroes ever need to exert.
This is a magical battery, indeed. "Never-ending potency," eh? Yeah. Not any battery created by man! (Let the history books accurately document, the Energizer Bunny was a lying SOB.)
Master of Puppets is considered an exemplar of ruthless metal excellence because every song is packed jam-tight with elements and minerals that make the music such a rush in the first place. Skin-peeling riffs, nerve-tingling solos and drums that are less backbeat than heartbeat. Lyrics that brook no misinterpretation. Metallica does everything so right here that it's nigh unbelievable. They went from "Hit the Lights" to this, in three years. (I implore you, appreciate Lars Ulrich on this album. He would never sound this good again.)
Fuck yes, I love "Battery." I'm ready to brace up and sign up with the nearest militia that allows chicks in the ranks whenever I hear it.
"Master of Puppets"--The hells of drug addiction inspired one of metal's most beloved songs. Dave Mustaine must hate this fucking tune.
The particular demon here is cocaine, which in the 1980s exploded up the charts (and the hearts) with disturbingly bored people of all social stratum. "Master of Puppets" is a multi-part epic whose individual sections are not masturbatory canvasses for the self-absorbed artist to splooge upon, but basically short films capturing the decrepit sickness. Connecting the vignettes is Hetfield, the great and powerful Oz in the business of snatching away the brains, hearts and guts of his subjects.
When the clock strikes all 3's, what should appear but one of the prettier pieces of music ever conjured up by a group of scruffy alcoholics who give a shout out to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their liner notes. I read one review that likened this passage to the ephemeral ethereal bliss provided by drugs, that reason the addict risks so much even though the minutes spent in the arms of a luscious illusion of a goddess will always number fewer in toto than those spent utterly drained and alone.
So classic not even the corny RPG boss laughter at the end lessens its power.
"The Thing That Should Not Be"--Fuck me with an anvil. Oh wait, it does.
Picking up where "The Call of Ktulu" left off--now with words! (That wisely lift heartily from Lovecraft.) Waterlogged beasts and the men who write about them.
Waves crash, then calm. Wicked applications of thick oil and a beautiful use of negative space…see see, Sabbath is an influence for pretty much any band that picked up guitars and thought, "We'll tune these to dirt and see what happens." Mud, you motherfuckers, mud is gonna happen!
The fade-out leaves me wanting more more more. Yes! Yes! Yes!
"Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"--Awash in the amniotic ambiance that Anthrax strove for two years later, but failed to replicate due to a band-wide malady. The melodies are plucked with all the bleakness of the standard mental care institution and the souls that shamble 'round its hells, I mean, halls.
Don't be fooled: these guinea pigs, once freed at last, will harm any and all they do not recognize as a brother.
My experience as a patient taught me that 1) none of these doctors/nurses/aides/headshrinkers have the guts, heart, or brains to treat us as anything other than individual test cases to throw the tried-true "solutions" at and 2) even the patients who seem the most foregone are still human beings.
The "lost cause" of my stay was a middle-aged homeless man whose name is the only thing I cannot remember about him. His salt-n-pepper hair, wild on his face and atop his head. The hospital gown he always wore--the rest of us had clothes from home, bar shoes and anything with strings. The non sequiturs he spoke almost exclusively in, save for the time he told that student nurse to stop following him around. When he wasn't staggering around the halls speaking intermittently to the air, or sneaking into the makeshift kitchen area for yet another large styrofoam cup of caffeine-free Coke, he could be seen sitting at a table in the lounge area, silent save for the scrawl of colored pencil on scrap paper and the occasional grunt.
One day he shot up from his seat, clutching the sheet of paper, and slowly made his way over to where I sat in the corner. I didn't like being jarred from my bitter reverie. Not by a well-meaning nutcracker, and not by a fellow nut, who on my first day in group therapy announced his plan for "getting well" involved "kryptonite ropes on the South Pole being held by the secret Santa."
He laid the paper on the table in front of me. "What do you think of this?"
I looked down. The letters were quite large and childishly-formed.
NO ALLEGIANCES ALLOWED
GOLDEN SPACE FOR MY SHIP ONLY
MONDAY-SUNDAY TIME IS NOW
I looked up. He wasn't his usual jittery self. His eyes had a focus I hadn't seen in them before.
Finally I answered: "Pretty good."
"Pretty good, huh?" He smiled, then reached down to retrieve his handiwork. As he turned to walk away, the only real laughter I'd ever hear in that goddamn place exploded from him.
I watched him turn down the hallway to his bedroom, my chest warming from the realization that he was nothing to be afraid of. He was not a large stack of symptoms. He was a human being. And if you really gave a damn, if you knew how to fucking listen, you could help him be "well."
"Disposable Heroes"--Copter blades, bullets, bombs, bodies. Whipping, whizzing, exploding, scrambling. On the head, to the chest, through the back, cross the knees. From known to unknown. Just another ancillary body denied proper interment.
"Leper Messiah"--This isn't a terrible track whatsoever. Just after the fifty-first second, it's goes steadily downhill, until it gets caught in a groundhog tunnel. Fucking televangelists, man.
"Orion"--A casual swim in a lava lamp floating in outer space. That's all. "Orion" is an instrumental that clocks in at 8:27, but this song ain't all about the numbers. This moody metal masterpiece could persist for eight minutes more, and I doubt I'd be mad. Since there isn't a true end-piece, it does persist.
The guitars are divining rods, with Cliff's bass-work bending furthest downward. His solos, beginning at 1:42 and 6:35 especially, are genuinely unfucked clusters.
The album could have ended here, but
"Damage Inc."--Cliff had more minds to blow, via the second of Metallica's three untouchable song intros. The bass swells and harmonics, stacked high upon each other, comprise some of my favorite sounds ever committed to record. It's like someone figured out how to record a comet streaking across the sky. Fucking Cliff, man.
Some of the ferocity disappears when James shows up--but this is hardly his fault. Everything that makes "Damage Inc." worthy of a pantheon-place has naught to do with words. It's about the miscellany of lethal weaponry readily accessible by this band of contumelious uglies bent on Armageddon. It isn't this "following our instinct, not a trend/Go against the grain until the end." 'Cause that is some bittersweet stuff.
Master of Puppets kicked open the door and raised the bar in two fluid motions. Immediately upon release, fans, critics and fellow musicians understood that Metallica had just put together a brilliant record that galvanized the genre. Some argue that they have yet to top it; a counter-argument could be made that they never really got the chance.