It’s the album that defined the Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Burton line up. By 1986, they had been together for three years and the musical creativity between the guys was at an all-time high.
I can’t believe I haven’t posted any Metallica reviews at all. When I started this blog I tried to focus on artists who didn’t get a lot of love and stayed away from acts like Metallica because the internet is littered with stories and reviews. But each story and review is personal to the person who wrote it.
For me, Hetfield and his commitment to down picking and writing killer riffs is a huge influence when it comes to guitar playing. The lyrics he wrote, living in corporate Reagenomics showed a maturity far surpassed for his young years. There is and never was, no tease and please in his lyrical lines.
The cover foreshadows that other unseen masters control our lives from the cradle to the grave. 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.
With “Master Of Puppets”, Metallica took the diverse musical elements of “Ride The Lightning” and raised the bar even higher. Live, they performed even faster and looked like your friend standing next to you watching the show, so far removed from the image put out by Ratt and Motley Crue, to name a few.
The ominous Ennio Morricone themed intro kicks off this monster track. It’s even classical sounding in nature as James Hetfield creates a melody that moves from F to E to D while the low notes move up chromatically from E to F to F# and to G. And while those chords ring out, a subtle harmony guitar outlines a different melodic idea.
Eventually, the power chords start crashing in and those subtle harmony guitar licks come to the fore.
Then all hell breaks loose at the 1.05 mark, when a chainsaw galloping riff smashes through the boundaries and James starts singing with his four day alcohol infested throat. The song isn’t pretty, but its message is about a light that burns within despite the violence and darkness around.
It could be seen as a bastard, a collision between punk and metal.
“Smashing through the boundaries / lunacy has found me / cannot stop the battery”
And a sea of bodies run, circle and smash each other into bits, creating scars to prove that the battery cannot be stopped.
How good is that hard rock like groove and lead from 2.58 to 3.18 before the breakneck solo section.
And make sure you bang your head on the military foot stomping chromatic riff from 3.49 to 4.00.
Which also closes the song. I guess battery is found in me.
“Master Of Puppets”
They wanted to write another “Creeping Death”.
Hetfield grew up in a Christian Science house. The person here is controlled by the religion first, then the family, the social circles of the family and the cultural values of the family and their circle of friends. Hetfield explored these themes of control and subjugation in “Dyers Eve” and “The Unforgiven”.
In its essence, it’s asking for sanity to prevail in a control-freak society/world. Then again, it could be seen as a band saying to their audience, “taste our music and you will see, more is all you need”, because once everyone got a taste of em, they more or less stayed hooked and agreed with Hetfield.
After a few descending and chromatic power chords, the intro riff kicks in at the 3 second mark. Hetfield’s combination of syncopated chromatic lines with a driving low E pedal at 220 beats per minute creates an urgent feeling.
The verse riff has so much power because of the vocal line. They complement each other.
The song could have ended at the 3.32 mark. A 3 minute thrash-a-thon. But this was Metallica, and suddenly we get a haunting Em arpeggio riff, with harmony guitars and James Hetfield breaking out into an individual solo before joining back up with the harmony lead.
Then the clean tone arpeggio riff is played menacingly with distortion while power chords crash down around your senses, while Lar’s just keeps building into the “master, master” chant section.
“The Thing That Should Not Be”
An ominous D to E clean tone chord rings out. On this they drop the E down to D and all the other strings remain the same. It was my first exposure to the DADGBE tuning.
Lyrically, I read a track by track analysis book from Mick Wall and Malcolm Dome, who said the song is about the madness that lives at the bottom of the well of all human souls. And it stuck with me, because even though it could be about the mythical creature Cthulhu, I always saw lyrics from a personal and social point of view.
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”
This song is the definition of taking the best things of what has come before and merging those things all together to come up with something unique, original and innovative.
INTRO (0.00 to 0.20)
Back in 1971, Yes released “Roundabout”. The intro is more or less a droning note, with some harmonics and a hammer on/pull off lick on the E string.
Take something from the past and make it better.
INTRO 2 and VERSE (0.21 to 1.48) and (2.10 to 3.10)
Anyone heard of a New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) band called Bleak House?
If the answer is NO, then you are in the majority. However, a certain person called Lars Ulrich has heard of this band. James Hetfield has even said in an interview that the band shall remain anonymous.
So Bleak House release a song called “Rainbow Warrior” as a seven-inch single in 1980 via Buzzard Records. By 1982, the band called it a day. The intro riff of “Rainbow Warrior” is catchy. It was so good that James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich are influenced by it. They start to jam on it and they start to tweak it into “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”.
Hetfield and Ulrich made this riff the centrepiece, as Hetfield arpeggiates a serious of 5th power chords on the A and D strings, surrounding them with the Open G and E strings, which forms like a double pedal point. The lead break from Hammett is phrased perfectly.
Metaphorically, I saw the world as a lunatic asylum and you know how truth is meant to set you free, but in this song, truth actually imprisons you. In a cruel twist of fate, knowledge is maddening, instead of being powerful. I’ve definitely overanalyzed the lyrics, but god damn, what else was I meant to do during this time except listen to music, analyse the music, read the interviews in the mags I purchased and since I played an instrument, learn the music and write my own music.
In the “Guitar Legends” #108 issue, Hetfield said that the idea for the song came from the move “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and that “the riff was lifted from some other band, who shall remain anonymous.”
OUTRO (4.05 to 4.26) and (04.48 to end)
Metallica have taken the intro from “Tom Sawyer” and used it as their outro. The feel and the phrasing of the two songs are almost identical.
Again, take what has come before and make something new.
One of the most underrated cuts on the album. This song is a blast to play on guitar with so many different movements and bone crunching riffs, like the open string palm muted chugging riff after the power chords intro.
And that open string palm muted riff comes back in the verses.
At 8 plus minutes, it’s a tour de force, another metal classic, the way metal should sound.
“Back to the front / you will die / when I say / you must die” as even in war, the soldiers are controlled by masters. These kind of concepts Hetfield explores a little bit more in “One”.
Make sure you stick around for the various lead breaks between the 4.50 and 5.25 mark.
And the lyric, “I was born for dying” scared the hell out of me, because it’s true. Everything that is born will die eventually.
The song is written by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich. The title comes from a David Bowie lyric in “Ziggy Stardust”.
It’s worth noting that Dave Mustaine claimed he wrote the song’s main riff and was not given credit by Metallica. Hammett denies this, saying that just before the guitar solo there is a less than 10 seconds of music that could be his and that it was actually Lars Ulrich that came up with the main motif.
For all of those haters that said Metallica had sold out with the “Black” album obviously didn’t know that Metallica had similar style songs on their earlier albums. “Leper Messiah” is one of those songs.
The best part comes in around the 30 second mark. Cliff’s trademark bass lines just rumble along while James lays down palm muted staccato power chords.
“Send me money, send me green / Heaven you will meet / Make a contribution / And you’ll get a better seat / Bow to leper messiah”
Turn on the TV and you see some evil right there. These TV evangelists made some serious bank, using heavy metal and hard rock music as topics of discussion, while spending a lot of their time in seedy motels doing drugs and hookers.
Make sure you check out the section between the 3.20 to 3.35 mark.
The drums are stock standard while the bass plays phased out chords, but when the distorted guitars kick in, that riff is head banging, back breaking and desk breaking worthy.
At the 4 minute mark, the song slows down into a Sabbath like blues rock riff courtesy of Burton and the guitars really shine here, with their harmonies. From the 5.13 mark, a lone lead starts but its quickly harmonised. This whole section was written by Burton.
At the 5.41 mark, there is another melodic lead which keeps on repeating and it builds into a single lead break. Then you get a bass solo. At the 7 minute mark its back to the thrashing mad lead sections, but here Hammett is all Michael Schenker like.
I will leave this review with the following lines from “Damage Inc.”;
“Following our instinct / not a trend / go against the grain / until the end”