Master of Puppets

Metallica (The Black Album) – Metallica

Release Year: 1991

Rating: 9.5/10

By the late 80s, Metallica was one of the most successful thrash metal bands on the scene. With Master of Puppets being one of their bestselling albums, no one thought they could top it. Then the Black Album happened. This is the record that launched the band from thrash cult heroes to heavy metal superstars. Not only was it met with critical acclaim, there was also backlash and anger. But whatever your feelings are on the album you can’t deny how it’s changed both the band and heavy metal.

But before we get into what makes the album so different, we have to talk about “Enter Sandman,” still one of Metallica’s best songs. Everything about it is a beast from James Hetfield’s singing to the iconic guitar riff. Thanks to its memorable chorus and more rock oriented sound, the song caught a commercial following, which sparked many to cry “sell outs.” But you can’t deny how fucking awesome the song is. It starts with the sparse riff while the rest of the music builds up around it, leaving listeners anticipating for the big explosion. And when it happens it’s so satisfying. The lyrics are also notable as they take sleep, which is supposed to be comforting, and turn it into a nightmare. Even the sandman, who is supposed to an innocent fairy tale, turns into a monster you don’t want to meet. It’s not only one of the band’s best songs, it’s one of the best heavy metal songs ever.

Prior to this record, the band was known for playing fast and having extended solos. For this release, they slow things down. “Sad But True” is still a ferocious, intense track, but compared to their past efforts it’s pretty slow. The guitars grind along while the rest of the music is sludgy. The same goes for the anthemic “Wherever I May Roam.” It starts what sounds like a sitar setting this ominous air before being taken over by guitars building on top of one another. Things finally speed up only to slow down again when James Hetfield growls”…and the road becomes my bride.” But perhaps the biggest change comes in all the ballads on the album.

The band previously tackled ballads with songs like “One” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” but they’re completely redone here. The somber “The Unforgiven” features soft vocals from Hetfield as if he’s singing from a broken place. And while there are moments where the music gets heavy during the verses, much of it sounds like light classical guitar playing. It’s almost…pretty, which you don’t expect from a Metallica song. But the most genre defying song on the record is the heartbreaking “Nothing Else Matters.” By incorporating stringed instruments and an orchestral sound, Metallica were taking a giant risk with this track. Even the guitars are light sounding like something from a lullaby. With these two unlikely genres successfully coming together, there’s a dramatic vibe that grows as the song continues. It’s a sentimental track about Hetfield missing his girlfriend that he never intended to release publicly. Right from the line “never opened myself this way” you know Hetfield is speaking from somewhere private and personal. Thankfully Lars Ulrich got Hetfield to change his mind about the song; it’s a stand out track on an already stellar album.

Not only is the album notable for its shift in music, it’s also their most personal. For many of the songs, Hetfield and Ulrich turned inward for inspiration. There’s the aforementioned “Nothing Else Matters” about missing a loved one, but there’s also the brutal track “The God That Failed.” The song is already intense and heavy with Hetfield’s vocal delivery and the music, but the song gets even darker when its story is revealed. The song is about Hetfield’s mother dying of cancer and not seeking medical relief due to her Christian Science beliefs. Suddenly, his anger and spitfire venom makes sense. He’s criticizing a religious system and how it wasn’t there for her in the end though she devoted her life to it. This gives the aggressive track a deeper meaning, yet is still depressing giving listeners insight to what the frontman was going through at the time. It’s a powerful track both musically and lyrically.

Even though this album shows Metallica heading in a different musical direction, there are still some elements of thrash metal here. “Through the Never” starts with guitars that race out of the gate and dares listeners to keep up with them. Everything about the song is heart pumping and in your face, which is often when Metallica are at their best. “The Struggle Within” follows a similar route with speeding guitars and lots of energy. It ends the album on a fiery note as if to say the band hasn’t forgotten where they came from.

There’s no question Metallica changed with this album and some would say for the worse looking at their output after this release. Yet, it’s still an amazing record that showed Metallica could do more than just play fast and loud. They may have moved away from their thrash roots, but they expanded both as songwriters and musicians. And they did a damn good job of it. Every song on the record feels like it has a purpose. Even if its a ballad, it still has the intensity and fire that made them so viscous. They were still angry, but they were also vulnerable and wounded something we rarely saw before. They grew as musicians, took risks, and made an album they were happy with. Looking back at it, the changes they made no longer seem drastic. Many metal bands vary their sound and it seems Metallica paved the way for that. No matter your feelings about the album, it’s still one of the best in metal history.

Master of Puppets- Metallica

Release Year: 1986

Rating: 9/10

This is Metallica’s most popular record. This is the album that made them a force to be reckon with in the metal scene. While it’s only has eight tracks, it’s still a killer album even over 20 years later. This is a heavy and intense album that is sure to get your blood boiling. All the songs are great and the music is killer. Though this is basically a thrash record, it’s probably the best thrash record since the 80’s.

“Battery” opens this metal record. It begins with a slow, melodic acoustic guitar riff that sounds similar to a latin guitar or as if it comes from a Western movie. Though it starts off slow, it grows bigger and bigger before it explodes in a mass of distortion and racing riffs. There’s heavy guitars and drums throughout the entire song that makes you want to run out and get a guitar just to play the song. It’s a great energetic, heavy song that’s a perfect way start to the album.

The infamous “Master of Puppets” comes next with it’s recognizable riff and it’s this riff that really drives the song. What’s amazing about the guitar playing is that there are so many different riffs playing, yet they still manage to come together to form a cohesive song. It doesn’t sound like a bunch of songs put together. It’s an epic track that sounds overpowering, which perfectly fits the topic of the song. While it’s the most popular song on the record there are other great ones to be found here.

One great song with heavy lyrics and subject matter is “Disposable Heroes.” It has an intense, powerful riff that actually manages to sound like marching footsteps. The lyrics talk about soldiers who are sent out into battle with no regard for their lives and how they are easily replaced as if a human life doesn’t matter. With such a sensitive topic, it’s no surprise that the song has an aggressive tone and such attitude behind it. Not to mention how catchy it is when Hetfield sings “Back to the front!”

Another amazing song is “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” It’s the slowest track on the album, but it’s just as intense as the others. It begins with a somber melodic riff that sets the dark tone. From here, Hetfield quietly sings about being isolated from others, feeling trapped, and wanting to lash out at the world. His vocals are amazing here. He starts off singing softly, which makes him sound vulnerable and hurt. Before the verse is through, he gets louder until he’s flat out angry and on the verge of screaming. It’s a dark song that makes the listener feel like they’re trapped in the mind of someone going mad.

The music is intense, heavy, fast and insane. The guitar playing can get so blazing fast, it’s hard to keep up with it at times. The drums are also killer, with how hard and forceful Ulrich hits the kit. And though the bass can’t be heard all that well in this album, there are a few songs where it’s noticeable. One song you can hear the bass on is “Leaper Messiah.” It can’t be hard extremely well, but it plays beneath the dirty guitar riff and adds a bit of a groove to the track. You can also hear it on the instrumental “Orion.” Since it adds more heaviness and even a groove at times, it would’ve been better if the bass was featured in the mix more often.

Though this may be a great album and is often touted as one of the best by the band, it’s essentially a thrash record. The guitars are played fast and hard and never really slow down. Only on the instrumental track does the guitar playing sound different. It’s more melodic and even sounds sensual. It’s not like the music is bad, but if there would’ve been more variety in the playing it would’ve improved the album a bit. There’s only so much you can say about music that’s fast and loud. But to be fair Metallica was a thrash metal band before they decided to add variety to their sound.

Overall, the album gets 9/10. All the songs are killer and intense. The album will get you pumped because it’s filled with so much energy. All the songs have such an attitude behind them that you can actually hear Hetfield spitting out the lyrics. The music is stellar and really aggressive. Though it’s a typical thrash record, it’s still one of the best metal records ever made. It’s a classic that’s held up well over the years.