Metallica, Master of Puppets

I'd never accuse heavy metal of subtlety; I'd never accuse the music of beating around the bush. But only the most banal of the genre would I accuse of brainlessness, and this one sure isn't that. The ornamentation is spare and some of the riffs seem recycled, but Lars Ulrich keeps the drums pounding at a frenetic pace and Kirk Hammett's circuitous solos wind around them like the most sinuous of serpents. Compositionally the skill impresses, especially Cliff Burton on the instrumental "Orion" in the second half (sadly his last great work before his untimely death). And, oh, that nihilism; a lesser, less earnest band wouldn't be able to pull it off with a straight face, but while "heartfelt" is probably the wrong word for James Hetfield's lyrics, they're direct, sincere and the sincerest of middle fingers to the society that made them that way. The sharpest knives paired with the sharpest licks are probably the title track and "Disposable Heroes," but don't think the rest of the album pulls its punches. Duplicitous televangelists, heartless politicians, Lovecraftian monsters all (but I repeat myself), line up and take your beating: in the cover's red light of righteous rage now we see the strings you pull. The digital reissue adds live versions of "Battery" and "The Thing That Should Not Be," still unfailingly energetic, but the album cuts remain definitive. (Content: some violent imagery, F-bombs on "Damage Inc.")