My 30 Years as a Metalhead (Part 2)

My 30 Years as a Metalhead (Part 2)

THE ALBUM THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

2016 marks the 30th anniversary of Metallica’s acclaimed, genre defining release of Master Of Puppets. This also comes with its recent induction into the Library Of Congress -the first metal album to achieve that. With that distinction alone I do not have to sell anyone on just how artistically monumental and important this album is. It may not have been a life-changing force in your life, but it did more for metal in the last 30 years than any other release. Today the band may be a shadow of its former glory, but there is no mistaking how powerful their influence and art was in the 1980s.

Master Of Puppets is an album of all-time favorites for me. Favorite album of any musical genre; Three of my all-time favorite songs (The title track, Disposable Heroes, and Leper Messiah); Favorite instrumental (Orion); Favorite lyrics;  And favorite metal vocal performance. The quality of the song-writing, production, and performances still stand up today after 30 years.

The cover art alone is very moving and a standout in album artwork in the music industry.

James Hetfield’s career as a vocalist has been all over the place. When Metallica started he certainly had the right attitude, but his delivery was raw. Ride The Lightning showed a monumental improvement, and was perfected on Master Of Puppets. His accessible tone of voice with the perfect mix of gruff to go with his subtle, yet catchy melodies is very rare. If you really want to judge how rare this quality of metal vocal style is, just try to name other bands with vocalists that do that consistently. Since the 1980s most vocalists in metal bands can either:
-Sing monotone, guttural, death vocals
-Do hardcore shouting
-Or clean melodic
They cannot seem to incorporate all these elements together in one vocal delivery. Hetfield didn’t need to scream to have power, or guttural death vocals to sound heavy and aggressive. He actually sang melodies WITH aggression and heaviness. Having vocalist experience myself I’ve learned that it just isn’t easy to pull off convincingly, much less create catchy enough vocal lines that actually add to the musical compositions. Too often vocals are just unnecessary accessories to the music (and often times silly) that only show the inferior musical talent of the vocalist compared with the rest of the band. On Master Of Puppets, Hetfield’s vocals are one of the most important elements. Unfortunately, the quality of his voice and style decreased from that album onward to what is now more than two decades of output that is easy to make fun of and is often laughable. Vocals can make or break a band, and Hetfeild’s voice in the mid-80′s was as good as you can get without polarizing or limiting your metal audience.
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Lars Ulrich has never been a stand out drummer from a technical standpoint like most of his peers in thrash metal, but his performance on this album is very complimentary to the exceptional guitar riffs and vocals. It has been said that much of his worth has been in song-arranging, and the structure of these eight songs are nothing short of perfection.
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When I first got into this album songs like “Battery” and “Damage Inc.” were a bit too heavy for my tastes. Of course I grew into them. Battery’s intense and eccentric riffs initially just went over my head. The intro is one of the finest in metal, displaying Hetfield’s diversity as a guitarist, much like it did on Ride The Lightning’s opener Fight Fire With Fire. There’s nothing quite like an acoustic, beautiful, haunting guitar melody building up to a full scale rage. Damage Inc. is more of a straight forward assault, and features some of my favorite no-compromise lyrics. I hung my hat on lines like “Living on your knees, conformity, or dying on your feet for honesty” and “Fuck it all and fucking no regrets” in high school. Not quite as poetic and high brow as most of the lyrics on the album, but it was just the kind of attitude adjustment that I needed at the time.
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The title track and also Disposable Heroes are American thrash anthems that have no peer. I have not heard another metal song coming out of the Western Hemisphere that can compete. The riffs, arrangements, melodies, lyrics, and vocals are as good as you can get. Perfection.
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The Thing That Should Not Be and Leper Messiah are quirky, progressive standouts, and to this day still don’t sound like anything else I have ever heard. There is nothing formulaic about either of them. To create that kind of originality is extremely rare.
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Welcome Home (Sanitarium) is the “ballad” of the album, and is in good company with Fade To Black and One.
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And who doesn’t love Orion? Has there ever been a better metal instrumental? The riffs and arrangement are really something you can savor and you never miss the vocals. Cliff Burton’s bass lines are legendary and  his solo is one of the best you’ll ever hear. He pulls it off like a lead guitarist.

Arguably one of the best bassists of all time, Cliff would tragically lose his life in a bus crash while on tour in Europe in September of that year.

I must also give respect to Kirk Hammett on this album as well. His solos set him apart as one of the best lead guitarists in the industry, as did his work on the previous and follow up albums. Unfortunately, his later work has been about as uninspiring as you can get.
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Master Of Puppets was the first thrash metal album to go gold in the U.S., and despite the follow up of And Justice For All being the first one to go platinum  (and The Black Album outselling both), without the achievement of Master Of Puppets, the later successes would never have been as dramatic. Today Master Of Puppets is just on the heels of albums sales with The Black Album, and has only not surpassed it due to all the non-metal people who jumped on the band wagon in the early ’90s. This album alone changed my attitude and the course of my life. Despite my disappointments with the band over the last 25+years, I will always hold Master Of Puppets close to my heart and it will be a soundtrack to my existence.