Best New Reissue
Metallica, a band stronger than The Beatles? Without a doubt if you consider sound power, but in terms of remastered editions featuring “a few” bonuses, the award might also go to the Four Horsemen if you compare the “Deluxe” edition of their third album to the Fab Four’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Anniversary (Super Deluxe Edition). In it, you’ll find the equivalent of no less than ten fully-packed CDs for this Master Of Puppets that many consider, rightly or wrongly, as Metallica’s own Sgt. Pepper's. Well, it’s true that you’ll struggle finding any defect in the armour of such a monument. And its lengthy gestation period, highlighted through archives at various stages of development, will no doubt reinforce the belief that the band was touched by grace at this very moment in their history.
A few rare critics begrudge this album for not having been as surprising as its two predecessors. Indeed the general structure of Master… , as well as the majority of its titles, can be compared with Ride The Lightning from the first frantic title Battery, in the same vein as Fight Fire With Fire, to the epic final of Damage Inc., wildly evoking a sped-up version of Creeping Death. There is also a false ballad halfway through, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), reusing in essence the same ingredients as Fade To Black and the finely chopped instrumental of Orion, with a very vague similarity with The Call Of Ktulu… However while this third attempt can be seen as a synthesis of the previous two, Master… is by far the most accomplished in the sense that, for the first time, Metallica had the time and means to refine and polish their compositions to the point of almost perfection. Even when compared with recent productions, the album is technically inevitable and unrivalled.
In detail, the value of this remastered edition is not so much the lifting done to the original work, but rather everything else around it. Ever since Metallica’s first official live album Live Shit: Binge & Purge, we’ve been used to them not doing things halfway. But this goes beyond everything you could have imagined, even when compared with the remastered versions of Kill 'em All and Ride The Lightning. The band emptied all their drawers and sorted them out to enrich the album − in every sense of the word. First and foremost you’ll be delighted with the numerous drafts, which can certainly be recommended to aspiring musicians. The same applies to demoes, at different levels of development, and instrumental versions, which reveal numerous hidden details. You’ll probably not listen to James (and his “wananananas”) and Kirk’s personal tapes or the “writing in progress” versions recorded in Metallica’s famous “garage” over and over again, but the two highlights of these archives − The Prince, in a quite accomplished first approach to the title borrowed from Diamond Head, and the cover of Fang’s The Money Will Roll Right In, which was abandoned on the way – are both worth several listens.
The colossal album only brings division among fans when discussing its ranking among Metallica’s best albums − although it would always make the podium. The new approach offered here might sway a few more votes for the first position. But beyond a well deserved and convincing highlight of the quality of Master…, this album is also the undeniable accomplishment of the Cliff Burton era. An easily discernable period in the sense that the bass was beautifully put forward. And for good reason! Far from being a simple bass player, Cliff was both a driving force in terms of creativity and inspiration as and a generous and calm character, balancing and “harmonising” the relations within Metallica. As we’ll see later, his mediating role would have more than once been useful between Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield. Some even wonder if Kirk Hammett didn’t just stop getting better after this album, without Cliff’s mental and instrumental boosts.
The bass player’s role is obvious in the concerts featured in this edition with, for some of them, an exceptional sound quality. It’s also worth noting that Cliff’s very last concert is featured in this edition, at Stockholm’s Solnahallen on September 26th, 1986, a few hours before the tour bus accident that claimed his life. In this instance no one will complain about the “bootleg” quality of the recording. No matter what Jason Newsted – whose auditions and first concert with Metallica are included – brought to the table, it’s clear the band lost much more than a simple musician with Cliff Burton. The main argument of those who place Master… at the top of their ranking is precisely what …And Justice For All and the “Black Album” (Metallica) are missing: Cliff Burton, period! With the great care given to this remastered version of Master…, it is obvious that Lars, James and Kirk wanted to pay tribute to the one who brought them so much. © JPS/Qobuz