Released – March 3, 1986
Genre – Thrash metal
1. “Battery” 5:13
2. “Master of Puppets” 8:35
3. “The Thing That Should Not Be” 6:36
4. “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”6:27
5. “Disposable Heroes” 8:17
6. “Leper Messiah” 5:40
7. “Orion” (instrumental) 8:27
8. “Damage, Inc.” 5:32
Master of Puppets was released on March 3, 1986. Master of Puppets was the band’s last album to feature bassist Cliff Burton, who died in a bus accident in Sweden during the album’s promotional tour. Master of Puppets was released to critical acclaim and has been included in several publications’ best album lists. Its driving, virtuosic music, and angry political lyrics drew praise from critics outside the metal community.
The album is considered the band’s strongest effort of the period and is one of the most influential heavy metal albums. Critics credit it for consolidating the American thrash metal scene with its atmospheric and meticulously performed songs. Many bands from all genres of heavy metal have covered the album’s songs, including tribute albums. Master of Puppets was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” enough for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the United States Library of Congress in 2015, the first metal recording to do so.
The cover was designed by Metallica and Peter Mensch and painted by Don Brautigam. It depicts a cemetery field of white crosses tethered to strings, manipulated by a pair of hands in a blood-red sky. Instead of releasing a single or video in advance of the album’s release, Metallica embarked on a five-month American tour in support of Ozzy Osbourne. The European leg was canceled after Burton’s death in September 1986, and the band returned home to audition a new bassist. Metallica honored the album’s 20th anniversary on the Escape from the Studio ’06 tour, by playing it in its entirety.
“Battery” is about anger and refers to the term in the sense of “assault and battery”. Some critics contended that the title actually refers to an artillery battery, and interpreted it as “Hetfield [singing] of a war tactic as the aggressor” personifying destruction. The song begins with bass-heavy acoustic guitars that build layer by multitracked-layer until they are joined by a wall of distorted electric guitars.
“Master of Puppets” consists of several riffs with odd meters and a cleanly picked middle section with melodic solo. The song shares a similar structure with “The Four Horsemen” from the band’s first album: two verse-chorus sets lead to a lengthy interlude to another verse-chorus set. The theme is cocaine addiction, a topic considered taboo at the time.
“The Thing That Should Not Be” was inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos created by famed horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, with notable direct references to The Shadow Over Innsmouth and to Cthulhu himself, who is the subject matter of the song’s chorus. It is considered the heaviest track on the album, whose main riff emulates a beast dragging itself into the sea.
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” was based on Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and conveys the thoughts of a patient unjustly caged in a mental institution. The song opens with a section of clean single strings and harmonics.
“Disposable Heroes” is an anti-war song about a young soldier whose fate is controlled by his superiors. With sections performed at 220 beats per minute, it is one of the most intense tracks on the record. The syncopated riffing of
“Leper Messiah” challenges the hypocrisy of the televangelism that emerged in the 1980s. The song describes how people are willingly turned into blind religious followers who mindlessly do whatever they are told.
“Orion” is a multipart instrumental highlighting Burton’s bass playing. It opens with a fade-in bass section, heavily processed to resemble an orchestra. It continues with mid-tempo riffing, followed by a bass solo at half-tempo.
“Damage, Inc.” rants about senseless violence and reprisal at an unspecified target. It starts with a series of reversed bass chords based on the chorale prelude of Bach’s “Come, Sweet Death”. The song then jumps into a rapid rhythm with a pedal-point riff in E that Hammett says was influenced by Deep Purple.