Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Master of Puppets... 29 Years On.

The year is 1986.
Bon Jovi, America’s latest sweet heart, has released his soon to be hit album “Slippery when Wet”. Filled with glam hits such as “Living on a Prayer” and “You Give Love A Bad Name”, the blonde boy from New Jersey capturing the hearts of lonely teenage girls everywhere, propelling his name to the top of the Billboard charts. The biggest selling song from this year, slap bang in the middle of a decade where MTV and hairspray rule supreme, is appropriately Europe’s “The Final Countdown”. It has only been 12 months since Live 8, but mainstream music has hit new heights materialistically.

In the spring of this, most sparkly of decades, 4 men from San Francisco descend upon a small studio in Denmark to record their third album. Fresh from the underground success of their previous project, the long haired, tight jeaned ruffians from the land of hope and glory hit Europe looking to build on their cult status and break the cultural zeitgeist of heavy metal.
That’s right, Heavy Metal. The style of music far left of traditional Rock ‘n’ Roll was going through a transitional phase at this point, the “Classic Rock” acts that made their name in the mid to late 70’s are fading away, from Led Zeppelin’s break up 6 years prior, to the continued decay of Heavy Metal pioneers Black Sabbath, who were so comprehensively outshone on their own headline tour by spandex donning fireworks Van Halen. 

However, just bubbling under the surface, there is a new, energetic style of Metal, appropriately called “Thrash Metal”. Fusing the operatic fantasy of traditional classic Rock with the energy of Punk and New Wave of British Heavy Metal(Bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon etc), Thrash is America’s latest dent on society, beginning in 1983 and acquiring a firm following thanks to the “tape trading” movement – the 80’s version of file sharing.

By 1986, Thrash was on the verge of a breakthrough, but it was crying out for an album to really stand out, to bridge the gap between traditional metal fans, and the shiny new Thrash ones. And Metallica, the band I am reviewing today, did just that with Master of Puppets.

Released in March, Master of Puppets has all the classic hallmarks of a great piece of work, a defining Thrash album. It took the fiery energy of Thrash, the punky drum beats and aggressive strokes, and combined it with an almost ethereal spark of musicality, allowing it to transcend categories, and appeal on an almost universal level.

It begins with “Battery”, and a deep texture of acoustic guitar that ominously grows in volume, building up to a slippery, snake like riff that sets the tone for the rest of proceedings. Clocking in at 5:13, the opener is one of the shortest songs in 'Puppets, but ticks all the boxes in terms of the peerless brutality that has become associated with Metal.

The next track, “Master of Puppets”, is a superlative work of art, effortlessly blending the dark, burning nature with the contrasting beauty of a classical piece. The song hits hard until the 3:35 mark, before fading into a clean, picked guitar playing around the chord of E Minor and D. This washes into an intricate harmony guitar interlude, a solo, and then rebuilds back all the way to the main, now world famous riff. It finishes with a collection of manic laughter, and closes a curtain on what is a sumptuously satisfying 8 and a half minutes.

 A second of silence follows before the third, a deafeningly heavy tribute to a deep sea creature, and literally feels like you are taking a dive, sifting through fathoms of water. The bass heavy sound and echo sound on James Hetfield’s mic give the work a cave like openness.

The fourth, beginning with another E minor picked intro and finishing with a squealing cacophony, is ode to madness “Welcome Home(Sanitarium)”. Another fantasia esque opening complete with distorted chorus that Kurt Cobain would later make world famous in “Smells like Teen Spirit”, the song rises in emotion and perceived desperation with every upturn in volume, culminating with the “Just leave me alone!” line ¾ of the way through.

The 5th, “Disposable Heroes” is a prog infested thrill ride through the both World War’s, focusing on the anonymity of the dead soldiers. Slowly churning at the beginning, the song explodes like a cannon after a minute and half, turning into a thrash – rock piece, varying tempos often and unexpectedly, featuring the now clich├ęd “group vocal” chorus of “back to the front”

The 6th, another sniping social commentary, is “Leper Messiah”, unambiguously referring to Christianity, likening the religious movement to a visceral plague. The tempo of the piece is relatively mild, perhaps a conscience decision to allow the message, rather than the music, come to the fore.

After “Leper Messiah” reaches its conclusion, the layered bass tones of instrumental masterpiece “Orion” seep into the listeners’ consciousness. What begins with a cerebral chordal piece, slowly develops into a grinding, patient riff, accentuated with flourishes of lead guitar. Then, comes the interlude, and a moment of rare beauty. A slow bass riff, picked out with clarity and gentility, breaks into a lead passage with classical precision, culminating in a bass and guitar solo, the former being shockingly technical.

The final act of this gripping drama is “Damage Incorporated”. Unrelenting, no holds barred, the speed alone is a timely reminder that after all, this is a thrash album.

When one looks back at the thrash scene, Master Of Puppets will stand as the release that helped propel it into the mainstream metal audience. Hitting the Top 40 without any radio or video airplay, MOP is and always will be a timeless tribute to an era, music and a movement.

Fuel Rock Club

Fuel Rock Club
Cardiff's Only Dedicated Rock & Metal Bar and Club