Master Of Puppets (Deluxe Box Set)


Blackened, 2017

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


There can be no denying that Master Of Puppets, Metallica’s 1986 major label debut (their previous disc, Ride The Lightning, was picked up for distribution by Elektra after its release) and third effort overall, is one of the albums that not only reinforced the popularity of heavy metal, but served to rewrite the rulebook for the genre. With eight songs that alternated from the melodic to sweat-drenching speed and power, there is a reason this remains one of the genre’s most popular albums.

In 2017, the band released a massive box set for Master Of Puppets, consisting of three records, 10 CDs, two DVDs, and even a cassette tape (not to mention a hardcover book, as well as some other physical goodies). For the die-hard Metallica fan, this was the definition of overindulgence…but how much could be too much of a good thing?

The remastered album itself takes up one CD and one LP in this set, and while I’m hard-pressed to hear much of a difference between this and the original mix, it remains an absolute masterpiece in Metallica’s catalog. I will say that I don’t remember the LP sounding as crisp way back in 1986 as this 180-gram edition does, showing there is still very much life in vinyl.

The remaining two records showcase James Hetfield and crew live in Chicago, Illinois at the Aragon Ballroom. Notwithstanding the fact that the show begins part-way through “Battery” (something which will occur at several times throughout this whole set), the overall feel of the live show is a bit sloppy. Granted, the band was still growing in terms of their musicality and confidence on stage. But missed notes here and there from Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett sometimes distract from the overall power of the live performances. (This would continue to be a bit of an issue even later into the tour cycle; the Nagoya, Japan show on the second DVD features a missed section in “Damage, Inc.” that the band is able to quickly recover from.)

The 10 CDs can almost be divided into two time periods: eight of Cliff Burton-era Metallica, and two of Jason Newsted-era Metallica. Studying a band that undergoes a tragic line-up change this closely is somewhat fascinating, and the discs featuring selections from Newsted’s auditions and two live gigs show just how well he fit into the band (even if it doesn’t delve into the hazing he was getting from the remaining members during this time). It also strongly shows that, had ...And Justice For All been properly mixed, Newsted’s bass lines would have clearly been heard.

It’s the Burton-era discs that occasionally are problematic – specifically, the two interview CDs. While it’s nice to hear Burton speaking as a member of the band, the interviews themselves are lackluster and occasionally amateurish. I’ve done my share of interviews, and I’m certain I’ve come across more then once as sounding like I hadn’t done my homework. The bulk of these interviews fall into the same traps (though the two portions taken from Swedish radio don’t feature the reporter).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There is interest in hearing how some of the songs that make up Master Of Puppets came to be, which is captured on the two-disc “Riffs, Demos & Outtakes From Lars’ & James’ Vaults” and the single disc “Rough Mixes From The Vault.” You want to hear a portion of “Orion” in a different song? You got it. You want to hear different lyrics to “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”? You got it. While it eventually gets a little tiring hearing the same riffs over and over again as the band hammers a song into what would be its final form, there still is something fascinating about the whole creative process.

The remaining CDs show Metallica continuing to grow as a live act, with two shows during their time supporting Ozzy Osbourne on tour. Yes, the playing still is sloppy at times, and one show – Hampton Coliseum, their last night on the Osbourne tour – has John Marshall handling rhythm guitar duties due to Hetfield suffering another skateboarding injury. But the other thing you hear is their confidence growing; by the time you listen to the Grugahalle show featuring Newsted on bass, the formula is gelling quite nicely.

The inclusion of one cassette might be an odd item, but it features the final performance of Burton from Stockholm, Sweden on September 26, 1986 – just hours before he would perish in the infamous tour bus crash. Yes, this is a bootleg, reclaimed by Metallica… and serves as a fitting farewell to Burton, even if the audio quality doesn’t match the rest of the set. (Full disclosure: I reviewed this portion of the set from the MP3 downloads included in the package. There was no way I was risking potentially damaging something that cannot be replaced.)

If all this wasn’t enough to get even the most hardcore Metallica fan drooling, there is still the two DVD set. Disc one is essentially an expanded version of Cliff ‘Em All; the two shows featured are audience recordings, both of which had songs featured on Metallica’s first home video release. And while it’s interesting to see the bulk of the two sets (even if there are occasional cuts, and the camera work is less than proficient – do I really need to keep seeing the back of the same person’s head in Denmark?), it begs the question why other shows featured on Cliff ‘Em All from this era didn’t get the same attention. Disc two features the aforementioned Nagoya show, and though it remains locked on one camera angle, shot from what appears to be the balcony, the footage is steady and somewhat clear, and the crisp sound matches the action on stage.

Interestingly enough, it is the interviews that again prove to be the weakest links. DVD one features the full-length items that were seen in edited form on Cliff ‘Em All; why we needed to see 20-some minutes of the band talking to radio stations is more than just a little overkill. (It also reinforced just how often an artist gets asked the same questions in interviews.) The snippet from Japanese TV on disc two isn’t the greatest video quality, but is kind of fun to watch, while the later MTV interviews seem to drag on a bit too long.

Make no mistake, there are lots of hidden treasures in this box set and is designed for the ultimate member of what they once called the “Metal Militia.” Casual fans could easily stick with just the remastered CD, but if you’re an absolute drooling Metallica fan, there are far more positives than negatives in this set. It’s not the easiest to find anymore, and will set you back some serious cash, but it’s well worth the expense.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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