There’s nothing more lame than a cash grab from a band of millionaires or a greedy record label. Using several methods to accomplish this—greatest hits albums, reissues featuring “one new” track, remastered classic albums featuring “long lost” demos, or even re-recording a full album “the way it should’ve been”—these fat cats can hold devoted fans upside down by their ankles and shake every last penny out of their pockets. Naturally, loyal fans would gladly fork it over, but sometimes examining every last piece of the puzzle that went into creating a definitive album only serves to take the mystique away from it.
But then there are bands like Metallica, and records like Master Of Puppets.
For Metallica, the Puppets era is hands down the most important stretch of their career. Releasing a boxed set of demos, outtakes, interviews, multiple live sets and even Jason Newsted auditions(!) from said era is not a cash grab, it’s a necessity for Metallica fans who celebrate their career from end to end, or those that believe Metallica has only released four records (raises hand).
With the Master Of Puppets boxed set, unfurled by the band’s own label Blackened Records, Metallica dumps their vault of seemingly everything Puppets. The amount of music and other material that comes in the set is immense, and paints a perfect picture of where the band was at the that time; that glorious time just before they became a household name and hadn’t evolved into the businessmen that they are today. When they were still heavy metal cowboys running wild across the globe shooting out everyone’s lights. It was also when original bass player Cliff Burton met his untimely demise, and according to some theologians, changed the trajectory of Metallica forever.
The original, remastered tracks of Master Of Puppets, available on both CD and vinyl, sound fine. Unless you’re an insane audiophile, you’re probably not gonna notice much of a difference. The real meat of the box is in everything else.
There are two interview discs featuring candid chats conducted by mostly metal magazines with James, Kirk, Lars, Cliff and one with Jason. They’re great because it’s not the pickled, present day Metallica regaling you with memories of how things were. You get the real info, from that exact time, straight from four horsemen’s mouths. You get to hear Cliff explaining his affinity for R.E.M. to a flabbergasted Metal Madness writer, and Kirk talk about skateboarding and how they did it to pass the time on tour until James broke his wrist. They sound like kids that are wholly unaware of what they’re accomplishing, or where their life is about to go.
The box also contains five live sets; three with Cliff, and two with Jason. The ones with Cliff are wild and raw. Each one begins with Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy Of Gold” from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, then a drop into “Battery.” Again, heavy metal cowboys.
Perhaps the most foreboding piece of the set is a cassette tape of a fan’s recording of Metallica’s set in Stockholm, Sweden, on September 26th, 1986—the last show the band played with Cliff Burton. Naturally, the quality of the recording is shaky at best, but it’s an ominous hour and a half of blistering Metallica that will make you wanna cry and bang your head at the same time.
The Master Of Puppets set is a time capsule that captures the pure essence of Metallica in their unbridled, untainted, most absolute prime. If any album of theirs deserves the boxed set treatment, it’s this one.