Metallica’s Master of Puppets song is one of the band’s greatest metal music achievements. It’s also one of their longest and most popular songs. It’s amazing how that opening guitar riff has become so iconic and part of pop culture. This can be a testament to Metallica‘s success as one of the biggest metal bands of all time.
There are a lot of questions about Metallica’s Master of Puppets, though. This includes how the song was made and what the lyrics are about. That also happens to be one of the band’s strengths: the capacity to have such musical diversity. They were quite eclectic even back in the 80s.
There are many great songs in this band’s catalog, but this is probably the most iconic. It’s the one most people associate with Metallica‘s prime years and one of their most ambitious songs. The song was also significant to help them grow as musicians and move towards more ambitious sounds. In many ways, this song changed the band’s career as a whole.
This is everything you need to know about Metallica’s Master of Puppets and a few other details. This will give you a greater understanding of the song and why it was so successful. Plus, some interesting tidbits of Metallica‘s prime back in the 80s.
Metallica’s Master of Puppets song and all the details about it
“Master of Puppets” is the title track of Metallica‘s third album, which came out in 1986. The song was also a single that came out on July 2, 1986. It was written in the summer of 1985 in a studio in Denmark and has gone on to become one of the band’s signature songs.
The main riff was written by drummer Lars Ulrich back when Megadeth leader and guitarist Dave Mustaine was still part of the band. This was something that Mustaine himself stated in an interview back in 2022.
It’s also worth pointing out that, despite those comments, Mustaine has never stated to be a part of the song’s creation. This is because there some rumors that he wasn’t credited for writing another song on the album, “Leper Messiah“.
The meaning of the lyrics
Metallica’s Master of Puppets song is about the negative impact drugs can have on a person. This has been very well-documented over the years. The lyrics are also relatively straightforward, with several drug references and metaphors throughout the song.
Guitarist, singer, and main lyricist James Hetfield interviewed for Thrasher Magazine back in 1988 and was quite straightforward about what the song was about:
“(The song Master of Puppets) deals pretty much with drugs. How things get switched around, instead of you controlling what you’re taking and doing its drugs controlling you.”
This fits with the overarching theme of the album, which is manipulation. “Disposable Heroes” is about young men being brainwashed in the military to fight someone else’s war. “Battery” is about being consumed by anger. “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” is about insanity taking over. And the list goes on, with the title track fitting extremely well with that theme.
Cliff Burton’s favorite song from the album
Metallica’s Master of Puppets clocks at 8:36, making it one of the band’s longest songs in their catalogs. In that regard, it is very different from the thrash metal songs they were doing then.
The song began to show the band’s most ambitious side, further developed by bassist Cliff Burton‘s classical music background. Burton stated when he was alive that this was his favorite track from the record.
Master of Puppets structure
Joe Daly from Metal Hammer Magazine had the best way to describe the song’s structure, which has become so iconic over the years:
“Comprised of four distinct movements and clocking in at a total of eight minutes and thirty-five seconds, Master Of Puppets begins with ‘the riff; — that taut, distorted power chord, followed by three sharp, descending chords before ripping into the track’s galloping 4/4 groove. From there it plays out with unrelenting aggression in a standard verse/chorus format until fading at the echo of ‘Master!’ at 3:30 and melting into the spiralling, dual-fretted harmonies of the next movement.
Aching with visceral melancholic beauty, the solo builds into a second duet before the two guitars coalesce in a siege of bone-crushing power riffs, followed by a key change and new verses beginning with ‘Master…Master…Where’s the dream that I’ve been after?’ The next movement erupts with another flamethrower solo, a bridge in the middle of that solo and, finally, a connection back to ‘the riff.’
At this point, the modern rock blueprint would have directed the band to hit the chorus two more times and fade out, but Metallica were writing a new rulebook. Instead, nearly seven minutes into the song, they introduce another new verse, pile into the pre-chorus and then take one more triumphant run at the chorus. Fittingly, the song drives to its finish with ‘the riff,’ finally ending with an echo-drenched melange of the band laughing and a spectral wash of reversed guitars.”
Some fun facts about Metallica’s Master of Puppets
This is one of the most popular metal songs of all time, so it was bound to have some interesting tidbits. Here are some fun facts about “Master of Puppets” over the years:
- During the “Wherever We May Roam Tour” in the early 90s to promote the Black Album, the song wasn’t fully played. They would play a version that would be four minutes long.
- The first time they played this song was back on December 31, 1985. It took place at a concert in San Francisco, CA.
- As of September 2019, this is the song that Metallica has played live the most over the years (1645 times).
- It ranked #51 on Guitar World‘s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos list.
- The song charted back in 2022 on “Billboard Hot 100” for the first time in its existence. This was due to the song’s appearance on the fourth season of Netflix’s Stranger Things.
- It is one of the two songs on the album credited to all four musicians. The other one is “Damage, Inc.“
- The song is played at A435 in the album, which is slightly lower than the other tracks.
Lists the song has been on
The song has received a lot of recognition over the years. Some of the most prominent outlets in the genre have praised the song as well. These are some of the most prominent lists Metallica’s Master of Puppets has been on throughout the years:
- Number #2 in Martin Popoff‘s 2003 book, “The Top 500 Heavy Metal Songs of All Time“.
- The song was number #22 in Q Magazine‘s 2005 list, “100 Greatest Guitar Tracks“.
- It was in third place in VH1‘s “40 Greatest Metal Songs” TV special back in 2006.
- The song was in first place in Loudwire‘s “10 Best Metallica Songs” list back in 2012.
- Rolling Stone Magazine did a readers’ poll about the best Metallica songs and this one ended up in second place.
- Kerrang in 2021 wrote an article called “The 20 greatest Metallica songs – ranked” and put this song in second place.
- Revolver did a fan poll in 2021 about the top five Metallica songs and “Master of Puppets” was chosen as the first place.
The times the song was shown in pop culture
Considering Metallica‘s cultural reach and popularity over the years, it’s fairly easy to assume that the song has been shown in different media. That is exactly the case. These are some of the most prominent moments where Metallica’s Master of Puppets was shown in different media:
- The song was featured on the fourth season of Netflix’s Stranger Things in 2022, as mentioned earlier. Eddie Munson plays this song while making his last stand, which the guys of Metallica praised heavily.
- It’s featured in the 2003 film “Old School”, starring Will Ferrell.
- The band Metallica shows up on the first episode of season 18 of The Simpsons in 2006. The episode is called “The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer” and the band plays the song.
- “Master of Puppets” also showed up in the trailer of Marvel’s Midnight Suns video game.
Former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman on the song
It’s no secret that Metallica is one of the most popular bands of all time. Their record sales and world tours prove that. However, this band has also gained the respect of a lot of different musicians.
This is what former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman had to say about Metallica’s Master of Puppets and the album as a whole:
“I was a Metallica fan from the day I heard their first demo, but when Master of Puppets came out, I went from being a fan to realizing just how ‘big league’ metal could be done, and presented to the mainstream while still sounding underground as hell. I was in awe of how they did that then and continue to admire their sense of always doing the absolute coolest things that could possibly be done in the world of metal — which is quite a feat in a genre with so many self-imposed limitations.”
Other opinions by musicians
There have been a lot of musicians who have mentioned the importance of Metallica’s Master of Puppets, both the song and the record. Here are some of the most prominent.
Adam Dutkiewicz from Killswitch Engage:
“I was mostly listening to punk, hardcore and rock at this time, so this was my real first love with the metal sound. The riffs were so damn good, it made me want to pick up guitar a few years later and start learning a lot of their songs. It was James’ down picking, man… sounded so mean and aggressive. It’s still one of the best sounds in the entire fucking world.”
“Master Of Puppets was a pivotal album for me in many ways. My first experience with Metallica had been with Ride The Lightning and what had started as a sort of musical oddity for me, developed into a massive appreciation for the band. For the first time I was able to see that the ‘heaviest music’ available to me at that time could still be a vehicle for legitimate musicality. When Master was released, it was a paradigm shift for me and the people around me as the stage had been set for them to really continue their momentum and they delivered in every way.”
The legacy of the song
It’s no secret that Metallica’s Master of Puppets is one of the band’s first peaks. This is when they truly established themselves as metal gods. The album as a whole was extremely pivotal but this song pushed them in a new direction. This song proved that they were capable of writing longer and more ambitious tunes as well.
“Master of Puppets” is also a great example of how important bassist Cliff Burton was to the band. He added an extra layer of quality to the band’s songwriting style. It’s a shame that Burton had to pass away so young and didn’t continue to make music.
The song was also instrumental in pushing the band creatively. This was something that would be shown in 1988’s “…And Justice for All” album. While Metallica has always been known as a thrash metal band, this type of songs showed some progressive leanings. It showed that they could come up with some really complex structures for their songs.
It was also one of the first times that guitarist James Hetfield would do a solo. He is often in charge of rhythm guitar so this was a nice change of pace. Hetfield does the melodic guitar solo after the calm interlude, which shows the band’s musical flexibility. This was definitely a big surprise back in the day, making Metallica a prominent band in the industry.