We thought there was no better time than to revisit James Hetfield’s iconic vocals than today. We’re looking back at Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ and the searing isolated vocal Hetfield almost effortlessly provides.
It sees the young Hetfield nearing the prime of his vocal career and accurately captures the moment he moves from hoarse and hurtful yelps into something more mature, more refined and, ultimately, more terrifying. It was the birth of Hetfield as the vocalist we all know today.
Back in 1986, with James Hetfield a young 22-year-old, the singer was trying to remove himself from the Metallica spotlight. Still keen to push the band forward, Hetfield wasn’t convinced his own vocal performances were capable of leading the band to the promised land. But judging by this performance, he was clearly in the wrong.
‘Master of Puppets’ the title track from the band’s 1986 album has always had a special place in the hearts and minds of devoted Metallica fans. Noted for its unusual down-picking and extended instrumental break, the track is a deeply personal song for Hetfield.
As well as being Cliff Burton’s favourite song of the record, the track Hetfield explains is about substance dependency, something Hetfield has struggled with throughout his life. The singer explained the song “deals pretty much with drugs. How things get switched around, instead of you controlling what you’re taking and doing, it’s drugs controlling you”.
Arguably one of the finest metal songs of all time, it’s a refreshing moment to reflect on the song purely from Hetfield’s point of view. Removing the heavy metal instrumentation allows the poetry of Hetfield’s performance to shine through. The “Master” in question may be something Hetfield is continuing to try and rid himself of and the young man singing this song is clearly in the throes of the same struggle.
It allows a crystalline image to be seared into your brain. Metalica may have been rightly famed for their musicianship but it is here, with all of the extra noise removed, that Hetfield’s message can be heard most clearly. It’s also a stark reminder of the powerful vocal Hetfield possesses, aggressive and tough, it still allows for moments of vulnerability and veracity.
Listen below to James Hetfield’s terrifyingly good isolated vocals on Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’.