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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “Master of Puppets”

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A reader observed that Master of Puppets doesn’t let loose like Ride the Lightning. The guitar tones are tighter, the articulation doesn’t ring out as much, and the fun factor is lower. Instead of “Fight Fire With Fire”‘s machine gun spraying, we get controlled bursts and complicated maneuvers. The seeds are there for …And Justice for All.

The title track is a prime example. Its opening gestures: a staccato hit, three more accents, then the infamous descending chromatic riff, fastidiously downpicked. When the verse riff finally hits at 0:52, even its motoric drive has an odd-metered limp. I’ve never seen Metallica live, but I’d love to see fans try to headbang to that.

When I strip away the baggage that comes with Metallica being Metallica – Load/Reload/Napster/Armani/Cliff/Jason/Dave Mustaine/etc. – and listen to the music just as it is, in headphones with no mental picture of humans behind it, “Master of Puppets” is truly scary. It’s the first entry in Metallica’s catalogue that puts fear in me.

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“Master, master”

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I can pinpoint the exact moment: 5:10. We’ve just exited the bridge (probably the only metal riff so pretty it’s almost brought me to tears), and out of nowhere, the song shifts up a whole step to F#. Over hulking flatted seconds, the lyrics also shift, from the voice of the master to that of the slave: “Where’s the dreams that I’ve been after?”. The song puts us in the headspace of the drug addict, as voices intone in stereo: “Master, master”; “Laughter, laughter”. It’s a great example of production as inseparable from music.

Metallica also got into the heads of characters brilliantly in “Ride the Lightning”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, and “One”. But I don’t know anyone on death row, mentally institutionalized, or comatose (knock on wood). I don’t have to look far in my life, though, for drug abuse. When something close to home is expressed this nakedly – drug addiction is enslavement – I get shivers every time.

— Cosmo Lee

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“Master of Puppets”

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METALLICA: THE FIRST FOUR ALBUMS

“Battery”
“The Call of Ktulu”
“Creeping Death”
“Escape”
“Trapped Under Ice”
“Fade to Black”
“For Whom the Bell Tolls”
“Ride the Lightning”
“Fight Fire With Fire”
“Metal Militia”
“Seek & Destroy”
“No Remorse”
“Phantom Lord”
“Whiplash”
“(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”
“Jump in the Fire”
“Motorbreath”
“The Four Horsemen”
“Hit the Lights”

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