After hearing a lot of growth between Metallica’s first and second albums, while appreciating that they were still able to stick to a sound that was so purely theirs, I was pretty pumped to hear where they took things next. Like all early Metallica albums, there are a few songs here and there that have made their way into my brain over the years that I love, but they’re easily outnumbered by those I have never heard. So while I knew Master of Puppets had a few real highlights that would be great to listen to again, it was discovering new ones, and the idea of continued evolution to the mega star records, that had me most excited.
Ever since Metallica teamed up with the San Francisco philharmonic for S&M sometime in the mid or late 90s, Battery has been my favourite song from the band. Master of Puppets came out when I was only 6 years old and still close to 20 years away from giving this band a chance. So the orchestra aided version was the only version I knew and loved for a long time. The original, Master of Puppets version of Battery is more stripped back, while somehow more intense and awesomely overwhelming at the same time. As much as I love it, maybe the lush orchestration is too pretty for the assault that this song is meant to be.
The inverse of Battery’s soft, acoustic, finger pocked intro, leading into an amalgam of metal and punk rock, the title tracks starts at full tilt, delivering some of Metallica’s most iconic riffage. Then swings hard into delicate instrumental noodling, before getting back into palm muted crunch and one of Kirk Hammett’s greatest ever shredding solos.
As the opening notes of Welcome Home (Sanitarium) rang out, all I could think of was the amazing Paradise Lost documentary trilogy, following the long ordeal of the West Memphis Three. Without that context, Welcome Home may have just sounded like any generic faux-darkness. Recalling this song in the opening credits of the first Paradise Lost makes it disturbingly haunting in the most effective way.
With Leper Messiah, Metallica prove that they never needed break neck speed to maintain their edge. Driving and relentless, this song might slow Master of Puppets down a little, but that decreased tempo just means increase dread. While Orion is an impressive showcase of James Hetfield, Cliff Burton, Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich as musicians, it’s a little too aimless and redundant to justify its eight and a half minute running time. There are cooler riffs all through Master of Puppets within much more disciplined songs.
Closing out on Damage Inc. it’s a great back to basics attack that wold have sounded right at home on …And Justice for All, or even Kill ‘Em All. But coming at the end of a few more leg stretching, chance taking, creativity expanding experiments that pretty much all pay off, it doesn’t sound like a step backwards here, just a reminder that for all that growth and maturing, Metallica could still deliver a gut punch just as hard as their earlier, hungrier, less subtle selves.