What does it sound like?:
Five good reasons why I am entirely the wrong person to review this 10-disc blow out:
It’s remastered. You know honestly my ears and Spotify streaming just aren’t acute enough to work out what has been gained or lost this time around. So anyone else who can comment on this – well go ahead.
I don’t know anything about their catalogue and have never seen them live. So not a clue whether this is their best, worst or somewhere in the middle. No shortage of people willing to tell me, not least daughter.
Metal. Not my period. Rock yes, heavy rock yes. But apart from Sabbath and Motorhead and a touch (little touch) of Priest metal is really not my thing. I remain untouched by the charms of Maiden (who I am at least aware of), Kiss, Van Helen, and the many others.
Extras. See I really don’t do extras. Never played a directors commentary on a DVD. Not that interested in live versions, demos, rough mixes, out-takes. I can just about hack an alternate ending or a good blooper real, but that’s not going to get me through 9CD’s of this kind of stuff. There’s no blooper reel.
Apparently its not just metal. It’s thrash metal. A ‘Fab Four’ is important including Metallica, along with three other bands that I have never ever heard anything by. Amazing how I can get to this stage of life without never having heard this stuff.
However, it’s not all lost as daughter knows all of this stuff, and is only too happy to get stuck into Kirk’s Riff Tapes and Jason’s auditions. So I’m going to offer some sardonic comments about this whole monstrous pile, then hand over to her for a more forensic examination of all this.
THE STUDIO ALBUM
You know it’s not bad. It’s really quite good. I’ve played it three times and can enjoy listening to it. What I like:
Intros and middle eights. They’ve got a good grasp of rock dynamics and know that if you have 30s of acoustic noodling/slow strumming then the crunching riffs come on even stronger.
Twin guitars. Always a sucker for some double-guitar interplay. Bits of this, the best bits, sound a bit like Thin Lizzy. A good thing in my book.
It’s not really thrash though is it? If it is its the slowest thrash ever. So there’s actually room for tunes, singing, musicality etc to come through. It is intense. There’s no number about a lady in a red dress to be found anywhere.
Doomy lyrics. It was the eighties. Ronnie was joking around with the nuclear football, cruise missiles and the like. Not to mention the height of Thatcherism over here. So lyrics about death, destruction, madness, conscription and cannon doddering and general catastrophe are just fine. And the screaming, roaring delivery really sells it.
Riffs. Huge riffs. Riffs from outer space. Riffs carved from the side of Mount Rushmore. If these riffs were an actor they’d be Brian Blessed shouting from the top of a Welsh mountain.
What’s not so good.
The inessential instrumental. When your other tracks are called things like Leper Messiah, The Thing That Should Not Be or Sanitorium then having an instrumental called Orion rather lets the side down. Like YYZ on Moving Pictures its the heavy metal equivalent of the hip-hop skit. Where’s the screaming? Not that it’s bad, just that it’s not really needed.
They could do with an edit button. Most of the tracks clock in at the 6 minute mark which given the sound is everything up to 11 can get a little exhausting.
THE LIVE ALBUMS
OK I have listened to a couple of these. The ‘fan recording’ is surely of interest only to the most Metallica ultras. I can’t tell them apart, the between-song banter is pretty similar and the crowds sound up for it whether in Essen or Chicago. They can play the songs live, and you get a feel for the fact they were quite a force of nature onstage at the time. Whether you need five CDs of different concerts from the same year or so is really up to you. They’re there.
THE OTHER STUFF
Demos, riff tapes, rough mixes, work in progress. All different words to describe music that isn’t finished yet. There are two CD’s of this stuff, including one track which is them giggling in the control room over some playback. Some of the riff tapes are 20/30 seconds long, some of the studio jams quite long. All give some insight into how the songs on the album evolved and are interesting to listen to once. More than once? I think you really must have to quite a big Metallica fan to think ‘You know what I fancy listening to is Lars and Kirk in the control room right now.
So, now I’ve given you a Master of Puppets from a first-timer here’s the second half of the review from daughter Moles, confirmed metaller and no stranger to this album:
Moles Sr. will probably tell you not to buy this boxset, however he is not a Metallica fan if you are considering whether or not to buy a 10 Disc Metallica boxset then it is safe to assume you are a Metallica fan.
As a Metallica fan, who actively wants to listen to “James’ Riff Tapes”, it’s a brilliant live album. Most of the recordings are pretty good, apart from the godawful fan recordings on the last disc which are unlistenable to. Live they play many songs shorter and faster than the studio release, which is a good thing especially in The Four Horseman’s case as it sounds far closer to Mechanix by Megadeth, how Dave Mustaine originally envisioned the guitar parts.
Hetfields vocals and Hammetts solos are questionable on a few tracks, but very few dotted around the discs. I would argue that almost all the songs they play are as good as the studio versions, if not better. Apart from their live staple Am I Evil? which remarkably was better done by Diamond Head on their original version. Yes, I said something positive about Diamond Head. Beware Moles Sr. otherwise I’ll go on about how great Saxon are next.
Unlike Moles Sr. who declined to listen to any of them, I listened to all of the demo, audition and riff tapes. It is nice to be reminded that even the mighty Hetfield himself sat at home recording little bits of songs. Also it is a good thing they cleaned up the Master of Puppets breakdown as without the bass or solo it’s boring.
Worst bits? All the drivel James Hetfield says between songs, mostly comprising of yelling “Are you f***ing readayyyyyy?”; the fan recordings and how Jason plays the opening riff of For Whom The Bell Tolls. It is relatively easy to play and he still butchers it.
Best Bits? Cliff’s solos are brilliant; miraculously Lars’ drumming is in time and the intro and outro music Metallica uses is epic.
Would I buy it? It is well worth the hefty price tag if you are a Metallica fan. But then there’s a Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? 25th anniversary boxset. So as a teenager, if had the means to part with so much money, I’d buy that instead.
What does it all *mean*?
Apparently they were hugely influenced by the NWOBHM. But they looked at drummers in gimp masks and Eddie and thought ‘You know what? Let’s serious the shit out of this heavy metal thing’. And so they did.
Goes well with…
Black. More black. Vaguely offensive t-shirts.
Might suit people who like…
Metallica. And more Metallica.