March 1986: Metallica Releases "Master of Puppets"

Bass guitarist Cliff Burton (1962-1986), drummer Lars Ulrich, vocals, guitarist James Hetfield and guitarist Kirk Hammett pose for a studio portrait during the Ride the Lightning Tour at the Royal Oak Music Theatre on February 1, 1985 in Royal Oak, Michigan. (Photo by Ross Marino/Getty Images)
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(Ross Marino/Getty Images)

When it came time for Metallica to record the band's third album in late 1985, it's safe to say that that the group was going for the gold. Drummer Lars Ulrich had convinced the outfit that they needed to step up their game and record at the state-of-the-art Sweet Silence studios in Copenhagen, and they made the most of the opportunity.

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“When I listen to Master of Puppets now, I just sit there and go, ‘What the f*ck? How do you do that?'” Ulrich said to Rolling Stone back in 2016. "There’s a spark or spontaneity or impulsiveness that happens when you’re in your twenties. We wrote Master of Puppets in probably eight weeks over that summer. Nowadays, it takes me eight weeks just to drive down to the studio. It’s like, ‘What the f*ck did we do in the summer of ’85 where we could just give birth to that from the first note to the last note in eight weeks?’ Death Magnetic took us probably 18 months from when we started writing to when we started recording. On this current record, it probably took us about nine months. How the f*ck do you write a record like Master of Puppets in eight weeks?”

Released on March 3, 1986, Master of Puppets would make an immediate impact, crashing the Billboard charts before peaking at #29 over the week of May 10, 1986.

The instantly classic heavy metal magnum opus has gone on to sell more than 10 million copies worldwide, and has influenced generations of bands that have emerged in its wake. In 2015, Master of Puppets became the first metal album selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry.

Master of Puppets would also mark Metallica's last album with original bass player, Cliff Burton. While on the road in Sweden in 1986, he would be killed in a tragic tour bus accident.

“I think about him a lot,” Ulrich revealed in 2016. “It was a very unique thing that we had going for us on those three records in terms of the sound of that lineup, and God bless Jason Newsted and God bless Robert Trujillo for their individuality and what they’ve brought to Metallica since his death, but Cliff really was a character all his own. That hasn’t changed one iota since then. It only becomes more and more apparent.”

"Master of Puppets is my favorite album, because we culminated as a band on Master of Puppets," guitarist Kirk Hammett told Revolver in 2017. "Everyone was kind of settled into their roles; everyone was playing well. We knew what we were striving for, we knew what we could do, we knew each other's playing well, we knew our strengths. And it just kind of all culminated on this album."

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