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 March 3, 1986 (1986-03-03)
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
Producer Metallica, Flemming Rasmussen
Metallica chronology
  • Master of Puppets
  • (1986)
Singles from Master of Puppets
  1. "Master of Puppets"
    Released: July 2, 1986 (1986-07-02)[1]

Master of Puppets is the third studio album by American heavy metal band Metallica, released on March 3, 1986 by Elektra Records. Recorded at the Sweet Silence Studios with producer Flemming Rasmussen, it was the first Metallica album released on a major label. It was the band's last album to feature bassist Cliff Burton, who died in a bus crash during the album's promotional tour. The album peaked at number 29 on the Billboard 200 and became the first thrash metal album to be certified platinum. It was certified 6× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 2003 for shipping six million copies in the US.

Master of Puppets was released to critical acclaim 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 considered the band's strongest effort of the period, and is one of the most influential heavy metal albums. Many bands from all genres of heavy metal have covered the album's songs, including tribute albums.

The cover was designed by Metallica and Peter Mensch and painted by Don Brautigam. It depicts a cemetery field of white crosses tethered to strings, manipulated by a pair of hands in a blood-red sky. Metallica embarked on a five-month tour supporting Ozzy Osbourne in the United States. The European leg was canceled after Burton's death in September, and the band returned home to audition a new bassist. Metallica honored the album's twentieth anniversary in 2006 by playing it in its entirety.

Background and recording[edit]

Metallica's debut Kill 'Em All laid the foundation for thrash metal with its aggressive musicianship and vitriolic lyricism. The album revitalized the American underground scene, and records by contemporaries followed in similar manner.[2] The band's second album Ride the Lightning extended the limits of the genre with its more sophisticated songwriting and improved production. The album caught the attention of Elektra Records representative Michael Alago, and Metallica signed with the label in the fall of 1984.[3] Elektra reissued Ride the Lightning on November 19, and the band began touring larger venues and festivals throughout 1985. After parting with manager Jon Zazula, Metallica hired Q Prime's Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch. During the summer, the band played the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington, alongside Bon Jovi and Ratt in front of 70,000 fans.[4] Metallica was motivated to make an album that would impress critics and fans, and began writing new material in mid-1985. Drummer Lars Ulrich and frontman James Hetfield were the main songwriters on the album, already entitled Master of Puppets. The two developed ideas at a garage in El Cerrito before inviting bassist Cliff Burton and guitarist Kirk Hammett for rehearsals.[5] Hetfield and Ulrich described the songwriting process as starting with "guitar riffs, assembled and reassembled until they start to sound like a song". After that, the band came up with a song title and topic, and Hetfield wrote lyrics to match the title.[6]

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[7]

Metallica recorded the album with producer Flemming Rasmussen at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen from September 1 to December 27, 1985.[8] Rasmussen stated that the band brought well-prepared demos of the songs, and only slight changes were made to the compositions in the studio.[9] The recording took longer than the last album because Metallica developed a perfectionist sense and had higher ambitions for this one.[10] Hammett recalled that the group was "just making another album" at the time and "had no idea that the record would have such a range of influence that it went on to have". He also 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".[11] Rasmussen and Metallica did not manage to complete the mixtapes as planned. Instead, the master tapes were sent in January 1986 to Michael Wagener, who finished the album's mixing.[5] The cover was designed by Metallica and Peter Mensch and painted by Don Brautigam. It depicts a cemetery field of white crosses tethered to strings, manipulated by a pair of hands in a blood-red sky. The original artwork was sold at Rockefeller Plaza, New York City for $28,000.[12] The band mocked the warning stickers promoted by the PMRC with a facetious Parental Advisory label on the cover: "The only track you probably won't want to play is 'Damage, Inc.' due to the multiple use of the infamous 'F' word. Otherwise, there aren't any 'shits', 'fucks', 'pisses', 'cunts', 'motherfuckers', or 'cocksuckers' anywhere on this record".[10]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Master of Puppets features dynamic music and thick arrangements. Metallica delivered a more refined performance over the last two albums, with multi-layered songs and technical dexterity.[13] Although the album is similarly structured to Ride the Lightning, the musicianship is more powerful and epic in scope, with tight rhythms and delicate guitar solos.[14] According to music writer Joel McIver, Master of Puppets introduced a new level of heaviness and complexity in thrash metal, displaying atmospheric and precisely executed songs.[10] The songs explore themes such as control and the abuse of power. The lyrics describe the consequences of alienation, oppression, and feelings of powerlessness. Author Ryan Moore thought the lyrics depict "ominous yet unnamed forces of power wielding total control over helpless human subjects".[15] The lyrics were considered perceptive and harrowing, and were praised for being honest and socially conscious.[16] Referring to the epic proportions of the songs, BBC Music's Eamonn Stack stated that "at this stage in their careers Metallica weren't even doing songs, they were telling stories".[17]

"Battery" is about anger and refers to "battery" in the sense of "assault and battery". Some critics contend that the title actually refers to an artillery battery, and interpreted it as "Hetfield [singing] of a war tactic as the aggressor" personifying destruction. The song begins with an acoustic intro followed by a wall of distorted electric guitars. "Master of Puppets" consists of several riffs with odd meters and a cleanly picked middle section with melodic solo. Its theme is cocaine addiction, a topic considered taboo at the time.[18] "The Thing That Should Not Be" was inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's short story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", whose main protagonist battles unearthly forces.[19] It is considered the heaviest track on the album whose main riff emulates a beast dragging itself into the sea. "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is based on Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and conveys the thoughts of a patient unjustly caged in a mental institution.[19] According to philosopher William Irwin, it is perhaps the most revealing of Metallica's songs dealing with insanity.[20] "Disposable Heroes" is a tale of a young soldier whose fate is controlled by his superiors. With sections performed at 220 beats per minute, it is one of the most intense tracks on the record.[21] "Leper Messiah" opposes TV evangelists and unveils "the flimsy ruses of false prophets". The song describes how people are willingly turned into blind religious followers who mindlessly do whatever they are told.[20] "Orion" is an instrumental which opens with a fade in bass solo. It continues with mid-tempo riffing, followed by another bass solo at half. The tempo accelerates during the latter part, and ends with music fading out.[22] "Damage, Inc." rants about senseless violence and reprisal at unspecified target. It starts with reversed bass chords and converts into a rapid rhythm.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[13]
Chicago Tribune 4/4 stars[23]
Robert Christgau B–[24]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[25]
Kerrang! 5/5 stars[3]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[26]
Sputnikmusic 4.5/5[27]

Master of Puppets received positive reviews from music critics.[28] Editor Tom King said that Metallica was at an "incredible song-writing peak" during the recording sessions, partially because Burton contributed to the songwriting.[18] The album was hailed as a masterpiece by critics outside of the heavy metal audience and cited by some as the genre's greatest album.[13] In a contemporary review, Tim Holmes of Rolling Stone asserted that the band had redefined heavy metal with the technical skill and subtlety on the album, which he described as "the sound of global paranoia".[29] Kerrang! wrote that Master of Puppets "finally put Metallica into the big leagues where they belong".[5] 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.[21]

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.[13] 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."[23] 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.[19] 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".[24]

Accolades[edit]

Master of Puppets has appeared in several publications' best album lists. It was ranked number 167 on Rolling Stone '​s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[30] Time included the album in its list of the 100 best albums of all time. According to the magazine's Josh Tyrangiel, Master of Puppets reinforced the velocity of playing in heavy metal and diminished some of its clichés.[31] Slant Magazine placed the album at number 90 on its list of the best albums of the 1980s, saying Master of Puppets is not only Metallica's best recording, but also their most sincere.[32] The album featured in Robert Dimery's book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[33]

IGN named Master of Puppets the best heavy metal album of all time. The website stated it was Metallica's best because it "built upon and perfected everything they had experimented with prior" and that "all the pieces come together in glorious cohesion".[34] Music journalist Martin Popoff also ranked it the best heavy metal album.[35] The album was voted the fourth greatest guitar album of all time by Guitar World in 2006,[36] and the title track ranked number 61 on the magazine's list of the 100 greatest guitar solos.[37] Total Guitar ranked the main riff of the title track at number seven among the top twenty guitar riffs.[38] The April 2006 edition of Kerrang! was dedicated to the album and offered readers the cover album Master of Puppets: Remastered.[39]

Commercial performance[edit]

Released in early 1986, the album had a 72-week run on the Billboard 200 album charts and earned the band its first gold certification.[4] The album debuted on March 29, 1986, at number 128[40] and peaked at number 29 on the Billboard 200 chart.[6] Billboard reported that the album sold 300,000 copies in its first three weeks.[41] Despite virtually no radio airplay and no music videos, the album sold more than 500,000 copies in its first year.[42] 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. Between the beginning of the Nielsen SoundScan era in 1991 and 2009, the album has sold 4,578,000 copies.[43] The album was less successful on international level, entering the top 40 on the German and Swiss album charts in its inaugural year.[44]

Master of Puppets became thrash metal's first platinum album and by the early 1990s it successfully challenged and redefined the mainstream of heavy metal. Metallica and a few other bands headlined arena concerts and appeared regularly on MTV, although radio play remained incommensurate with their popularity.[45] Master of Puppets is widely accepted as the genre's most accomplished album, and paved the way for subsequent development.[46] The 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 recognized the album as one of the most influential records ever made and a benchmark by which other metal albums should be judged.[14] MTV's Kyle Anderson had similar thoughts, saying that 25 years after its release the album remained a "stone cold classic".[48] Carlos Ramirez from Noisecreep believes that Master of Puppets stands as one of the most representative albums of its genre.[49]

Touring[edit]

Metallica opted for extensive touring instead of releasing a single or video to promote the album.[50] Metallica spent March to August 1986 touring as the opening act for Ozzy Osbourne in the United States.[4] The group used to play Black Sabbath riffs during sound checks, which Osbourne perceived as a mockery toward him. Metallica was noted by the media for its excessive drinking habit while touring and earned the nickname "Alcoholica".[3] The band members occasionally wore satirical T-shirts reading "Alcoholica/Drank 'Em All".[7] The band usually played a 45 minute set often followed by an encore. Referring to that occasion, Ulrich stated that Metallica was honored to play with Osbourne, who treated the band well on the tour.[7] According to Ulrich, the audiences in bigger cities were already familiar with Metallica's music, unlike in 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."[51] Metallica won over Osbourne's fans and slowly began to establish a mainstream following.[52]

Hetfield broke his wrist in a mid-tour skateboarding accident, and his guitar technician John Marshall played rhythm guitar on several dates.[53] The European leg of the Damage, Inc. Tour commenced in September, with Anthrax as the supporting band. After the September 26 performance in Stockholm, the band's bus rolled over on a patch of icy road the following morning. Burton was thrown through a window and killed instantly. The driver maintained that he hit the patch of black ice, but Hetfield disputed that.[28] The band returned to San Francisco and hired Flotsam and Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted to replace Burton.[54] Many of the songs that appeared on the band's next album, ...And Justice for All, were composed while Burton was still alive.[22]

Live performances[edit]

Hammett performing the "Master of Puppets" solo in the late 1990s

All of the songs have been performed live and some became permanent setlist features.[55] The title track, the album's only released single, became a live staple and 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 characterized the band's performance as "furious" and the song as the set's highlight.[56] Rolling Stone described the live performance as "a classic in all its eight-minute glory".[57] While filming its 3D movie Metallica Through the Never at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, crosses were rising from the stage during the song.[58]

"Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is the second-most performed song from the album.[59] The live performance is often accompanied by lasers, pyrotechnical effects and film screens.[58] "Battery" is usually played at the beginning of the setlist or during the encore, accompanied by lasers and flame plumes.[60] "Disposable Heroes" is featured in the video album Orgullo, Pasión, y Gloria: Tres Noches en la Ciudad de México (2009) filmed in Mexico City, in which the song was played on the second of three nights at the Foro Sol.[61] "Orion" is the least-performed song from the album.[59] Its first live performance was during the Escape from the Studio '06 tour, when the band performed the album in its entirety, honoring the 20th anniversary of its release.[62] The band performed the album in the middle of the set.[63]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by James Hetfield

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:
54:46

Personnel[edit]

Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[65]

Metallica[edit]

Production[edit]

Packaging[edit]

  • Peter Mensch – cover concept
  • Don Brautigam – cover illustration
  • Ross Halfin; Rich Likong; Rob Ellsi – photography

Charts[edit]

Chart Peak
position
Australian Albums Chart[44] 33
Belgium Albums Chart[44] 94
Dutch Albums Chart[44] 17
Finnish Albums Chart[44] 7
French Albums Chart[44] 111
German Albums Chart[44] 31
Mexican Albums Chart[44] 66
New Zealand Albums Chart[44] 33
Norwegian Albums Chart[44] 30
Spanish Albums Chart[44] 52
Swedish Albums Chart[44] 14
Swiss Albums Chart[44] 18
UK Albums Chart[66] 41
US Billboard 200[67] 29

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Canada (Music Canada)[68] 6× Platinum 600,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat)[69] Platinum 81,051[69]
United Kingdom (BPI)[70] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[71] 6× Platinum 6,000,000^

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

References[edit]

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  69. ^ a b The first web page presents the sales figures, the second presents the certification limits:
  70. ^ "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
  71. ^ "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

External links[edit]