Sunday, 8 September 2013

#300 Metallica - Master of Puppets

For review #100, I reviewed what, to an extent, I still consider my favourite metal album; Nordland by Bathory. For review #200, I reviewed three Black Sabbath records. So, the question puzzling me all day has been... "What is review #300 going to be?". A personal favourite? An all time classic? Something else? The ultimate answer, after more deliberation than I'd really have liked, was that I had no idea what I wanted to review. This realisation, however, doesn't solve the problem of not having anything to write about, so instead, I'm going to do Master of Puppets - many would say the record which made Metallica the force they are today, and, as they say, an undisputed classic...

Reviewing utter classics is always interesting, especially when it's a classic the "classic-status" of which I agree with. The whole review can sink into a boring morass of words, easily summed up in a mumbled "yeah, it's really fucking good" instead of any real critical evaluation. Fortunately for the readers, then, every time I listen to Master of Puppets, it never seems to rise higher than... "yeah... it's... it's... really fucking... alright". I can't recall if I truly revered the album at any point, but within the last few years, I've rather neglected listening to it, and, quite frankly, been doing so because I don't find it very exciting. It's not, as might be suspected initially, that I dislike Metallica in general; I'm a big fan of Kill 'em All, Ride the Lightning, and, from time to time, when I feel like listening to something with no bass, And Justice for All. However, Master of Puppets never felt quite the same, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, let me indulge in a metaphor about pasta: Pasta can be a wonderful thing, a source of nourishment, joy and satisfaction worldwide. However, pasta is nothing without a bit of seasoning; at the very least, some pepper, some butter, or something. The crippling flaw - or, at least, the one which makes it hobble and swear at it's co-workers - of Master of Puppets is it's production. Someone forgot to put the sauce on it. The dull guitar tone really strips the record of the unholy, raging reverb which gave Ride the Lightning it's power, and it's musical presence equivalent to a jumbo-jet taking-off. Master of Puppets, on the other hand, feels like listening to what could be an album recorded in a similar tone, but listened to from inside a foam mattress - the guitars lack bite and they lack reverb - in fact, the whole record is a bit muffled, and all of the instruments feel very much fused together - I can barely tell where the bass ends and the guitar begins, instead, the entire record is a mixture of drums with muddy, rumbling something placed over the top, with some lead guitar squeezed out onto the top of that... lead guitar with an at times disconcerting and unwelcome amount of wah-pedal abuse. 

The song-writing is another area which never quite hit me with the same love-at-first-sight punch that Ride the Lightning did - sure, there are a few absolute belters on the album; Disposable Heroes, which goes on for about a third too long, and the title track, which justifies its length a little better, but still doesn't quite need eight and a half minutes. The album itself feels like it has been elongated more than really needs to be done, and most of the tracks have a bit of extra fat which could be trimmed in a best possible world, leaving Master of Puppets, as an album, feels quite bloated and sluggish. I hastily add that the slower tracks like Leper Messiah and The Thing That Should Not Be aren't bad - I've always had a place in my heart for slower thrash tracks; For Whom the Bell Tolls is a veritable monster. However, not only are the approximations of it on this record less exciting, but the muddy production really robs them of the incredible presence which For Whom the Bell Tolls carries, instead leaving them dry and hard to chew, despite their great potential - especially with an eye to Master of Puppets relative lack of melody; many of the best tracks on Ride the Lightning had a real sense of melody, or were absolutely vicious rhythm-driven thrash tracks - instead, on Master of Puppets, many of the tracks are neither. Both of the aforementioned songs, for all their enjoyable, catchy edges, fail to be deep or crisp on account of this lack of melody, instead being constructed, for the most part, by memorable but uneventful rhythm parts - many of which fail to be exciting rhythm parts, which tracks like Ride the Lightning itself could do.

...and there we have it; Master of Puppets, retaining it's position as an alright Metallica Record. Granted, it may well be their fourth best, but it's also their second worst, at least, when one compresses everything from The Black Album onwards into a sad little cube labelled "the rest".  Granted, I've had some enjoyable times listening to Master of Puppets, and indeed, every track is enjoyable, but it's never sat on any sort of throne within the hall of my musical taste, and for that reason, I decided it would be more interesting to mark review #300 with that, instead of with an album I utterly adore.

This is a 7/10.

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