Master of Puppets (Remastered)
During a 1986 tour stop in Houston, Metallica visited a local record store to promote Master of Puppets. There were two ways of getting to the store from the hotel: a van and a limousine. Riding in the limo would’ve been an affront to the band’s ethic. But riding in the van—without air conditioning, at the height of the Houston summer—would’ve been an exercise in pride. With Ride the Lightning, the band found themselves caught between the worlds of underground purity and mainstream recognition. Master of Puppets was even more popular, and the music even more intense: in speed, in aggression, in its suspicion and hostility toward forces of control. It’s an old question in rock music: How can you scream along to songs about the perils of conformity without becoming a product of it? The band took the limo, but they blasted the Misfits on the way, as though to keep at bay what everyone already knew: Their days in vans were numbered. In MTV footage from around the album’s release, Lars Ulrich tells an interviewer that Metallica is still four idiots trying to stay in tune and on time. The modesty isn’t entirely false: For all its precision, Master of Puppets still feels like the product of the basement or garage. And where the boys’ nights out of Van Halen and Mötley Crüe promise relief (through girls, through drugs, through sheer lack of inhibition), Metallica plays with the restless intensity of someone who can’t catch a break from their spiral of negative thoughts, whether about war (“Disposable Heroes”), addiction (“Master of Puppets”), religious evangelism (”Leper Messiah”), or the failure of mental healthcare to treat those who need it most (“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”). They may sound epic, but their concerns are almost violently earthly. That the album’s sole moment of reflection is named after a constellation makes sense (“Orion”): On Master of Puppets, hell is here and relief is a long way off.