The summit of 'thrash metal'

By Sergio Ariza

Metallica was like a gift from heaven for the world of metal, a kind of bastard child of the riffs of Black Sabbath and the speed of Motörhead. The mastery of playing in the compact way of James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Cliff Burton on Master of Puppets is, quite simply, brutal. If Ride the Lightning was the record on which they found their perfect formula, Master of puppets was where they polished it in order to deliver their best album and, probably, the best of ‘thrash metal’.  

Metallica’s third album increased the reach and ambition of their early works without losing anything of their anger or force. It is here where the most remembered line up of the band finds its high point, acting like a perfectly-oiled machine; a kind of four-headed monster in which each member plays their part to perfection and in complete harmony with the others. It is the first record in which the name of Dave Mustaine doesn’t appear on the credits and on which Kirk Hammett flies completely free, producing some of the best remembered solos of his career, like on the title song, which today continues to be chanted by thousands, and which shows he is right when he says: “Really I try to find guitar solos that are catchy and memorable, that stick in your head and are almost a song within a song. I have always tried to find catchy guitar solos that you can hum along to and sing.” To achieve this he used his Jackson Flying V “Randy Rhoads”.


It is not the only V that you can hear on the record as Hetfield delivers some of the best riffs of his career with his Jackson King V Custom, to which he would add a sticker with the phrase “Kill Bon Jovi”, things like the dark and powerful The Thing That Should Not Be, with new references to Lovecraft in the lyrics and to Black Sabbath in the music. The band’s guitarists don’t only share the same guitar brand, but they also use the same amplifiers on this album, the Mesa Boogie.


Hetfield and Ulrich don’t deliver one weak song on this album, with the A side looking more like a compilation, following many years of work, including nothing more or less than Battery, Master Of Puppets, The Thing That Should Not Be and Welcome Home (Sanitarium). If Metallica gave a concert today in any part of the world and decided to close the gig with those four songs, all those present would be happy. The incredible thing is that, despite not being so well known, the four songs on the B side do not lower the level of intensity at all, with Disposable Heroes advancing the epic progressive ‘thrash’ of…And Justice For All; and Orion serving as a perfect epitaph for Burton, the clear proof that Metallica never had a bassist that was his equal.

Lyrically the album is a compendium of madness, drugs, war and ferocious criticisms of TV preachers and unbridled capitalism, all quite distant from the fantastc escapism which metal bands of the previous decade had ended up being reduced to. Metallica represented better than anybody the ardor of that new batch of bands that, almost by accident, took the charts by force.    

Now the band present their 30th anniversary edition with more than 11 hours of additional material (and that is without counting what is on DVD) among demos, preparatory riffs and live performances. The latter are the most interesting as they serve as a tribute to the great Cliff Burton, the very much missed bassist who lost his life during the promotional tour for this album, being included the last concert that they gave before the bus accident in which he lost his life on 27 September 1986.