Master of Puppets

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Not to be confused with Puppet Master or Puppeteer.
This article is about the Metallica album. For the title track of the album, see Master of Puppets (song).
Master of Puppets
Studio album by Metallica
Released February 24, 1986 (1986-02-24)
Recorded September 1 (1-09) – December 27, 1985 (1985-12-27) at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark
Genre Thrash metal
Length 54:46
Label Elektra/Asylum[nb 1]
Producer Metallica, Flemming Rasmussen
Metallica chronology
Ride the Lightning
Master of Puppets
...And Justice for All
Singles from Master of Puppets
  1. "Master of Puppets"
    Released: July 2, 1986 (1986-07-02)[3]

Master of Puppets is the third studio album by American heavy metal band Metallica. It was released on February 24, 1986,[4] and was the band's last album to feature bassist Cliff Burton, who died in a bus crash in Sweden while touring to promote the album. The album peaked at number 29 on the Billboard 200 and became the first thrash metal album to be certified platinum. In 2003, it was certified 6× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), having shipped six million copies in the United States.[4]

Master of Puppets was released to rave reviews from music critics and has been included in several publications' best album lists. Its driving, virtuosic music and angry, political lyrics drew praise from critics outside of the metal community. The album is widely accepted as the band's strongest effort at the time, serving as one of the most influential heavy metal albums of all time. Many bands from all genres of heavy metal have covered the album's songs throughout the years, including tribute albums as well. Since the beginning of the SoundScan era in 1991, Master of Puppets has sold 4,578,000 copies.

The front cover depicts a cemetery field of white crosses tethered to strings, manipulated by a pair of hands in a blood-red sky. The album's cover concept was designed by Metallica and Peter Mensch,[2] while the cover artwork was painted by Don Brautigam, who also worked with bands such as AC/DC, ZZ Top, and The Rolling Stones. The original artwork was later auctioned at Rockefeller Plaza, New York City for between $20,000 and $30,000.[5]

Background and recording[edit]

When I saw two kids who worked there in London wearing T-shirts of a local San Francisco band, I knew I was onto something. When I heard their record, I knew they were the one band that could sell to both mainstream and underground metal audiences.

— Cliff Burnstein, on signing Metallica[6]

In the fall of 1984, Metallica signed with Elektra Records. The label re-released Ride the Lightning on November 19, as the band began touring larger venues and festivals throughout 1985. After parting ways with their former manager, Jon Zazula, they hired Q Prime's Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch. During a busy summer, they played the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington, along with Bon Jovi and Ratt, in front of 70,000 fans.[7]

The group began writing new material early in the summer of 1985. Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield initially gathered at a garage in El Cerrito, going through ideas of their own, before inviting Cliff Burton and Kirk Hammett to rehearse along with them. As a result, Hetfield and Ulrich would become the main songwriters on all of the tracks that would make the next album, already entitled Master of Puppets.[8] Editor Tom King said that Metallica "were at incredible song-writing peak" during the recording sessions of the album, partially because Cliff Burton contributed a lot in writing the songs.[9] Hetfield and Ulrich described that the process of writing a Metallica album begins with "guitar riffs, assembled and reassembled until they start to sound like a song". After that, the band comes up with a title and a topic, and Hetfield then works on turning the title into a song.[10]

In the fall of 1985, they returned to Copenhagen to record Master of Puppets with Flemming Rasmussen. Metallica started to record this album in Denmark on September 1, 1985, and ended the recording session with Flemming Rasmussen on December 27 the same year.[11] Describing the recording process, the producer, Rasmussen, said that "Metallica, in that period, made very good demos, and all of the songs were composed, arranged, and recorded on a very good demo. When we changed any of the songs, most changes were only slight."[12] In a recent interview for magazine Rolling Stone, Kirk Hammett shared his experience, saying, at the time they were "just making another album" and that the band "had no idea that the record would have such a range of influence that it went on to have". He further said that the group was "definitely peaking" at the time and that the album had "the sound of a band really gelling, really learning how to work well together".[13] Unfortunately, Flemming and Metallica did not manage to complete the mixtapes to their mutual satisfaction. Instead, the master tapes were handed over to Michael Wagener in January 1986. Wagener, who had previous production experience with Mötley Crüe, Dokken, and Accept, successfully finished the album's mixing.[8]


The songs from Master of Puppets follow the same lyrical theme of control and the abuse of power. In general, the lyrics describe the consequences of alienation and oppression, as people are "powerless to resist the institutions that control them".[14] An author, Brock Helander, wrote that the album's lyrics were "intelligent yet harrowing" and praised them for "their socially conscious themes and brutal honesty".[15]

The lyrics of the opening track "Battery" discuss anger. The title refers to "battery" in the sense of "assault and battery", as shown by these lyrics: "Smashing through the boundaries / Lunacy has found me / Cannot stop the battery". Some critics contend that the title actually refers to an artillery battery; Punknews interpreted it as "Hetfield (singing) of a war tactic as the aggressor," personifying destruction. The theme of the title track centers around the horror of drug addiction,[16] specifically cocaine, which according to an editor, Tom King, was a theme "you couldn't be open about at the time".[9] The lyrics of the third track, "The Thing That Should Not Be", are inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's short story The Shadow Over Innsmouth, whose main protagonist is battling against unearthly forces.[16] Referring to the epic proportions of the songs, Eamonn Stack from BBC Music noted that "at this stage in their careers Metallica weren't even doing songs, they were telling stories".[17]

The ballad, "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)", is based on Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.[16] The story conveys the thoughts of a patient who is unjustly caged in a mental institution, and according to philosopher William Irwin, among Metallica songs dealing with insanity, it is "perhaps the most revealing one".[18] "Disposable Heroes" is a tale of a young soldier and his superiors who control his fate, while "Leper Messiah" unveils "the flimsy ruses of false prophets".[19] Irwin wrote that the song "describes how people are willingly turned into blind religious followers". He further explained that it's not the fact that "people are religious" that annoys Metallica, but that they "mindlessly do whatever they are told."[18] A writer, Ryan Moore, concluded that the lyrics of the album as a whole depict "ominous yet unnamed forces of power wielding total control over helpless human subjects".[14]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[20]
Chicago Tribune 4/4 stars[21]
Robert Christgau B–[22]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[23]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[24]
Sputnikmusic 4.5/5[25]

Master of Puppets received rave reviews from music critics.[26] It was hailed as a masterpiece by critics outside of the heavy metal audience and cited by some as the genre's greatest album.[20] In a contemporary review, Tim Holmes of Rolling Stone magazine asserted that the band has redefined heavy metal with the technical skill and subtlety they display on the album, which he described as "the sound of global paranoia".[19] Kerrang! magazine wrote that Master of Puppets "will finally put Metallica into the big leagues where they belong".[27] By contrast, Spin magazine's Judge I-Rankin was disappointed with the album and said that, although the production is exceptional and Metallica's experimentation is commendable, it eschews the less "intellectual" approach of Kill 'Em All for a MDC-inspired direction that is inconsistent.[28]

In a retrospective review, AllMusic's Steve Huey viewed it as Metallica's best album and remarked that, although it was not as unexpected as Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets is a more musically and thematically consistent album.[20] Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the songs were the band's most intense at that point, despite veering towards "the progressive tendency of Rush."[21] Adrien Begrand of PopMatters praised the production as "a metal version of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound" and felt that none of Metallica's subsequent albums could match its passionate and intense musical quality.[16] BBC Music's Eamonn Stack called the album "hard, fast, rock with substance" and likened the songs to stories of "biblical proportions".[17] In a less enthusiastic review, Robert Christgau said that the band's energy and political motivations are respectable, but felt that they evoke clichéd images of "revolutionary heroes" who are "male chauvinists too inexperienced to know better".[22]


Master of Puppets has been included in several publications' best album lists. In 2003, the album was ranked number 167 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[29] Time magazine included it in their 2006 list of the 100 best albums of all time. According to the magazine's Josh Tyrangiel, with Master of Puppets, Metallica "reinforced everything good about heavy metal" while "while undermining at least a few of the clichés".[30] Slant Magazine placed the album at number 90 on its list of the best albums of the 1980s and wrote, "Master of Puppets isn't just Metallica's best album, it's also their most heartfelt".[31] The album was featured in Robert Dimery's book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[32]

In 2007, IGN named Master of Puppets the best heavy metal album of all time. The website's editor Spence D. stated that Metallica's third studio album was certainly their best because it was "built upon and perfected everything they had experimented with prior" and that "all the pieces come together in glorious cohesion".[33] Music journalist Martin Popoff also ranked it as the best heavy metal album.[34][35] The title track was ranked number 61 on Guitar World's list of the 100 greatest guitar solos.[36] In 2006, the album was voted the fourth "greatest guitar album of all time" in Guitar World.[37] The April 5th edition of Kerrang! was dedicated to the album and offered readers the cover album Master of Puppets: Remastered.[38] In March 2007, the guitar magazine Total Guitar ranked it in the 100 greatest riffs of all time and the main riff of the album's title track was ranked number seven.[39] In August 2014, Revolver placed Master of Puppets on its "14 Thrash Albums You Need to Own" list.[40]

Sales and impact[edit]

Released in early 1986, the record had a 72-week run on the Billboard 200 album charts and became the band's first gold record.[7] On March 29, 1986, the album debuted at number 128[41] and later it peaked at number 29 on the Billboard 200 chart.[10] Billboard reported that in its first three weeks, the album had sold 300,000 copies.[42] Despite virtually no airplay and no music videos, the album sold more than 500,000 copies in its first year of release.[43] In 2003, Master of Puppets was certified 6× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), having shipped six million copies in the United States.[4] Since the beginning of the SoundScan era in 1991, the album has sold 4,578,000 copies.[44]

Master of Puppets became thrash metal's first platinum album and by the early 1990s it helped thrash metal to successfully challenge the mainstream of metal and redefine it. Metallica and a few other bands were able to headline arena concerts and appear regularly on MTV, although radio play remained incommensurate with their popularity.[45] With this record, Metallica were labeled "innovators of the genre", paving the way for significant subsequent developments.[46] This album, in the words of writer Christopher Knowles, "ripped Metallica away from the underground and put them atop the metal mountain".[47] David Hayter from Guitar Planet recognizes this album as "one of the most emotionally intelligent and affecting metal albums ever made" as well as "the benchmark against which all new metal albums are measured".[48] MTV's Kyle Anderson had similar thoughts saying that 25 years after its release, the album remains a "stone cold classic" and it is "an album by which other metal albums should be judged".[49] Carlos Ramirez from Noisecreep felt that, since its release in 1986, the record "evolved into one of the most essential albums of its genre".[50]

Most of the album, with the exceptions of "Leper Messiah" and "Damage, Inc.", was featured as playable songs on the music video game Guitar Hero: Metallica.[51] "Battery" was featured as a playable track on Rock Band 2,[52] and was covered by Machine Head on their 2007 album, The Blackening.[53]


Metallica spent the period between March and August 1986 touring as the opening act for Ozzy Osbourne in the United States.[7] The band usually played a 55 minute set often followed by encore. Referring to that occasion, Lars Ulrich stated: "We think Ozzy is great. He's been really good to us on this tour. We're honored to play with him. He's one of the people who started this whole thing." Kirk Hammett recalls Ozzy calling Metallica "the Black Sabbath of the 80's".[6] According to Ulrich, the audience from the bigger cities was already familiar with Metallica's music, unlike the smaller towns they've visited. "In the B-markets, people really don't know what we're all about. But after 45 or 50 minutes we can tell we've won them over. And fans who come to hear Ozzy go home liking Metallica."[54] Metallica went well with Osbourne's fans and as a result slowly began to establish a mainstream following.[55]

The band was touring Europe in support of Master of Puppets when the band's bus rolled over on a patch of icy road outside of Stockholm. The tragedy occurred the night of September 27, after the performance in Stockholm. Cliff Burton was thrown through a window and was killed instantly. The driver claimed that he hit the patch of black ice, but James Hetfield always disputed that.[26] The band returned home to San Francisco and hired Flotsam and Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted to replace Burton.[56] As Newsted later recalls, "A lot of the songs that were written for ...And Justice for All were written during the Master of Puppets tour when Cliff was still in the band".[57]

Live performances[edit]

We had played almost all the songs live before, 'cause they were all, I guess, songs that needed to be played live. They have that energy, that fire; they're still youthful. I think every song on that record is really good and it stands up to time.

James Hetfield, on playing the album live[58]

The title track has become a permanent staple of the band's live setlist and is the most played Metallica song. When played live, the crowd fills in some of the vocal parts while the group performs the instrumentals. Loudwire's Chad Childers characterizes the band's performance as "furious" and the song as the set's "highlight".[59] The song's live performance is qualified by Rolling Stone as "a classic in all its eight-minute glory".[60] While filming their 3D movie at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, crosses were rising from the stage during the performance of the song.[61]

"Battery" and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" are also regularly played live. "Battery" is usually played at the end of the setlist or during the encore, accompanied by lasers and plumes of flame.[62] "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is the second most performed song from the album.[63] The song's live performance is seldom accompanied by lasers, pyrotechnical effects and film screens.[61] "Disposable Heroes" was recently performed live at the fifth annual Revolver Golden Gods Awards on May 16, 2013.[64] It also appears on the live video album Orgullo, Pasión, y Gloria: Tres Noches en la Ciudad de México (2009) filmed in Mexico City, in which Disposable Heroes was played on the second of three nights at the Foro Sol venue.[65] One of its recent live exposures was at the Orion Music + More festival, held on June 9, 2013. Journalist Adam Graham, writing for The Detroit News, called the song a "classics from the band's deep catalog".[66] Rolling Stone observed Hetfield's rhythm guitar playing as "impeccable on the lengthy and infrequently-performed Master of Puppets cut "Disposable Heroes."[62]

The rest of the tracks are rarely played live. "Orion" is the least-performed song from the album, having been played only 45 times.[63] The first live performance was made during the Escape from the Studio '06 tour, when the band performed the album in its entirety, honoring the 20th anniversary of its original release.[67] The album was played in its entirety in 2006 at Rock Am Ring.[68] They played it again the following day at the Rock Im Park festival in Nürnberg. The band performed the album's eight tracks in the middle of each night's set.[69]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by James Hetfield[2]

No. Title Music Length
1. "Battery"   Hetfield, Lars Ulrich 5:12
2. "Master of Puppets"   Hetfield, Cliff Burton, Kirk Hammett, Ulrich 8:36
3. "The Thing That Should Not Be"   Hetfield, Hammett, Ulrich 6:37
4. "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"   Hetfield, Hammett, Ulrich 6:27
5. "Disposable Heroes"   Hetfield, Hammett, Ulrich 8:17
6. "Leper Messiah"   Hetfield, Ulrich 5:40
7. "Orion" (Instrumental) Hetfield, Burton, Ulrich 8:28
8. "Damage, Inc."   Hetfield, Burton, Hammett, Ulrich 5:29
Total length:
Digital reissue bonus tracks[70]
No. Title Length
9. "Battery" (Live in Seattle 1989) 4:53
10. "The Thing That Should Not Be" (Live in Seattle 1989) 7:02
Total length:


Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[2]


Technical personnel[edit]


Year Chart Peak
1986 German Albums Chart[72] 31
Swiss Albums Chart[73] 18
UK Albums Chart[74] 41
US Billboard 200[75] 29
2004 Belgium Albums Chart[76] 94
Finnish Albums Chart[77] 7
French Albums Chart[78] 111
Swedish Albums Chart[79] 14
2008 Australian Albums Chart[80] 33
Norwegian Albums Chart[81] 30
Spanish Albums Chart[82] 52
2009 Mexican Albums Chart[83] 66
2010 New Zealand Albums Chart[84] 33


Region Certification Sales/shipments
Argentina (CAPIF)[85] Platinum 60,000x
Canada (Music Canada)[86] 6× Platinum 600,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat)[87] Platinum 81,051[87]
United Kingdom (BPI)[88] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[89] 6× Platinum 6,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


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  84. ^ "Metallica - Master Of Puppets". Hung Medien. Retrieved August 1, 2013. 
  85. ^ "Argentinian album certifications – Metallica – Master of Puppets". Argentine Chamber of Phonograms and Videograms Producers. 
  86. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Metallica – Master of Puppets". Music Canada. 
  87. ^ a b The first web page presents the sales figures, the second presents the certification limits:
  88. ^ "British album certifications – Metallica – Master of Puppets". British Phonographic Industry.  Enter Master of Puppets in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select album in the field By Format. Click Go
  89. ^ "American album certifications – Metallica – Master of Puppets". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH
  1. ^ The labels were merged and known as Elektra/Asylum Records through the 1980s;[1] The publisher of the album's 1986 Compact Disc release is credited as Elektra/Asylum.[2]

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