The Criterion Contention: Metallica’s Master of Puppets Vs. The Black Album
Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Criterion Contention! In our new monthly series, two writers (be they members of the MetalSucks staff or guest bloggers) will debate the superiority of two albums which will somehow be thematically connected — they may be by the same band, or from the same part of the world, or just in the same genre. Then, at the end of the debate, YOU will vote for which one you think is ACTUALLY the more important record. The winning album will be announced one week after the initial debate, and that album will then be inaugurated into The MetalSucks Criterion Collection as a canonical work that every metal fan should know. Then the process will repeat a month later!
We begin the series with MetalSucks co-founded/co-editor-in-chief Axl Rosenberg squaring off against “Overground” columnist Angus Jung as to which Metallica album is the greatest of all time: 1986’s Master of Puppets, or 1991’s self-titled “Black Album.”
I suppose I should say that I do appreciate the Black Album. It was my gateway to pretty much all things Metallica and heavy metal in general, even though it took me a few years to move beyond just them. I’m sure I’m not the only one, as songs like “The Struggle Within” and “Holier Than Thou” were at least pretty close to some of the songs on the older albums. I read an Amazon review years ago that summed it all up pretty well:
This is the album – the one longtime fans often bemoan as the beginning of the end. Metallica sells out. Metallica loses their edge.
There’s no arguing that this is the one that brought Metallica to the mainstream. This was the first Metallica album I bought – not because it was the best, just because it was the first to get radio play where I lived. Imagine if you had never heard Metallica before and this was the first experience you ever had with them. It was incredible.
And through this album I worked backward. AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, MASTER OF PUPPETS, and so on. Perfect or imperfect, this album opened the door to what longtime fans consider vintage Metallica….
Now, with all that being said…
Was TBA “not as Metallica”? Upon hearing the four albums that preceded it, I certainly thought as much. It was slower, softer, and not as complex. I’ve said before that I thought it was ironic that the self-titled Metallica album was my introduction to that band, considering that I liked their old stuff so much better. But that album does deserve its due as a gateway to metal for a lot of people, for whatever that may be worth. (A hell of a lot more than Taylor Swift serving as a gateway to Real Country Music.) And it’s a pretty fantastic hard rock album on its own merits. Still, though, there’s a reason so many people put Master of Puppets at the top of their list of greatest albums of all time – well, eight of them, actually.
If you wanted to get specific about it, though, while not getting into the nitty-gritty, here you go: Master of Puppets is Metallica’s seminal work, their magnum opus. It shows them all at the peak of their powers, as musicians and as songwriters. The Black Album might have introduced a lot of people to Master of Puppets and it does deserve honorable mention because of that, but if you’re going to stick a Metallica album on any list of essential metal albums worthy of the adjectives, there is absolutely no question as to what it needs to be.