Master of Puppets (Remastered Deluxe Box Set) (Blackened Recordings)
Reviewed by Alejandra Ramirez, Fri., Dec. 8, 2017
Any pantheon of essential extremities short-lists Black Sabbath's Paranoid for its political doom, Slayer's Reign in Blood for annihilating conciseness, and Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast for the commercial, conceptual, and intra-band paradigm shift of all time. Then there's Metallica's Master of Puppets (1986), eight individual instances of psychotic-break paranoia that along with their pair of full-length predecessors redefined the very notion of "metal."
Following up last year's ambitious Ride the Lightning deluxe set – and only 20 months late to the album's three-decade anniversary – this mammoth document includes: a hardcover book, handwritten lyrics, a set of six buttons, a "Damage, Inc." lithograph, a pair of DVDs with interviews and concert footage, a record of the album itself and a double-LP live show, and multiple demo discs and a half-dozen vintage performances on 10 CDs and one cassette. That's over 11 hours, if you're keeping score.
Fusing lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield, stickman Lars Ulrich, lead axe Kirk Hammett, and bassist Cliff Burton, the Los Angeles quartet was waist-deep into revolutionizing their home state's underground metal circuit alongside hellish counterparts Slayer and Megadeth at the time of the album's release. Master of Puppets emerged in that moment, then, born of a decade transitioning from post-Vietnam malaise to New Wave nihilism. Kill 'Em All (1983) and Ride the Lighting ('84) laid the groundwork for Metallica's thrash metal cacophony, but Master of Puppets realized the band's greatest strengths, coalescing hardcore punk with progressive metal.
Insanity ("Welcome Home [Sanitarium]") and drugs ("Master of Puppets") raise two big middle fingers to the era's hawkish world order ("Disposable Heroes," "Damage, Inc."). These grander statements crystallize in small gems throughout the box, as distorted, two-minute riff snippets scattered throughout piece together into a larger framework of fire and brimstone marches like "Orion" and "The Thing That Should Not Be." Most profoundly, Cliff Burton's presence hovers above his last album, sprawling bass solos inducing vertigo and never more so than the bootlegged tape of his last show in Stockholm, Sweden, hours before he died in a tour bus tragedy.