In a new interview with producer and YouTuber Rick Beato, METALLICA guitarist Kirk Hammett was asked if there is a particular album of his where he feels like the songs and the production were exactly what he had imagined. Kirk responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “‘Master Of Puppets’, for a number of reasons. I really felt that (album was) that lineup’s peak, and I mean that we were peaking with (late METALLICA bassist) Cliff Burton… Arrangement-wise, songwriting-wise, sonically, playing-wise, we coalesced in a way that we had not coalesced at that point. And it just makes me wonder what ‘…And Justice For All’ would’ve been like with Cliff. That’s a thought that I still contemplate. But ‘Master Of Puppets’, for me, it’s a very sentimental album. We knew we were on to something, and we knew it was provocative and we knew that it might not be accepted by anyone, but we were fully, a thousand percent committed to it — every single note. And we had to be, really — we had to be. And I think it shows. When I revisit it now, I get flooded by a bunch of memories.”
Earlier during the chat, Hammett agreed with Beato that “Master Of Puppets” was “a blueprint record” for METALLICA in terms of establishing the band’s sound and style. “But there was never anything that we sat down and talked about or made like a big list of rules or regulations or anything like that,” Kirk clarified. “It was mostly instinctual — trusting our ears, trusting our hearts, and recognizing what would work and what wouldn’t work, but most importantly with an idea of trying different things. METALLICA has always tried different things. We always took a chance, even if some band members weren’t fully on. There’s been times I haven’t been fully on, and I was just, like, ‘I am gonna take a chance, a leap of faith, lean on my other three bandmembers.’ It’s always been worth it. It’s always been worth it. Even though sometimes we’ve taken chances and they failed horribly from a commercial standpoint, I think creatively and artistically, I think they’re huge successes. And I speak specifically about ‘Lulu’, the album we did with Lou Reed, and also about ‘St. Anger’. Those are really divisive albums, and you have two camps — people who like it and people who don’t. I think stuff like that’s important to have in your catalog. ‘Cause you just don’t want a lot of the same thing. You want peaks and valleys; you want contrast. It’s what makes it interesting. And if you have a catalog that’s just perfect, people get bored of it. There’s a lot of the same thing. Sometimes people wanna get challenged by their favorite band. I love YES. The first three or four YES albums are brilliant. But then they took a freaking left turn into somewhere else. And I loved it, ’cause it was challenging. And it forced me to listen even harder.
“So getting back to ‘Master Of Puppets’, it was something that just kind of flowed out of us,” Kirk explained. “It was largely instinctual. It was also just (being) willing to try different things.
“It’s always a quest, at least for me — create music that no one’s ever heard before. It always sounds like a tall order to people, I think. But the secret of it is just put as much of yourself as you can into it, as much of your own personality, technique, quirks, instinct. When people say, ‘Don’t do that,’ do it. And then you can’t fail. It will sound like you.”
Released on March 3, 1986, “Master Of Puppets” was the thrash band’s third album — recorded in Denmark with producer Flemming Rasmussen — and it went on to sell over six million copies in the U.S. alone.
“Master Of Puppets” proved to be Burton‘s swan song with METALLICA. The bassist sadly died on September 27, 1986 in a coach accident while on tour promoting the album.
More than 35 years after it was first released, “Master Of Puppets” is an acknowledged classic of the thrash genre and proudly sits in the U.S. Library Of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry on account of being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
In a 2016 interview with TeamRock, METALLICA frontman James Hetfield was asked what he thought Burton might have felt about the drastic changes in METALLICA‘s look and sound that the band made through the 1990s and early 2000s with albums like “Load”, “Reload” and “St. Anger”. Hetfield replied: “Well, I certainly would have thought there would have been some resistance, for sure. I think the ‘Black Album’ was a great album and I appreciate the fact that we did have the balls to do that… I would certainly think that the ‘Load’ and ‘Reload’ (era), I would have had an ally that was very against it all — the reinvention or the U2 version of METALLICA.”
METALLICA returned to a heavier style more reminiscent of its early albums on 2008’s “Death Magnetic”, while its latest two discs, “Hardwired… To Self-Destruct” and “72 Seasons”, arrived in 2016 and 2023, respectively.