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Music

Listen to Lars Ulrich's isolated drums on Metallica's 'Master of Puppets'

Metallica are one of the most significant bands of all time. Regardless of what you think of their more recent music, their impact on the proliferation of metal is undeniable. Artists ranging from Korn to Snoop Dogg and even Avril Lavigne have all showered the California band with love, showing just how widespread the influence of their music has been.

Whether it be frontman James Hetfield‘s fierce vocals, Lars Ulrich’s unmistakable drumming prowess, or Kirk Hammett’s legendary guitar solos, Metallica is the sum of its genius parts, which has allowed them to remain titans of metal. It says a lot about the quality of their craft that 40 years after their formation, they continue to inspire many.

Out of the ‘big four’ thrash metal bands Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth, Metallica are the most prominent, and for good reason. In the years since their breakthrough, they’ve appeared in movies and video games and continue to be a presence in the media, something that exceeds the PR work of their thrash peers, even if artistic integrity is sometimes questioned.

Before all else though, Metallica are stellar musicians, and across their career, they’ve given us countless iconic moments. One of the most thrilling and influential is 1986’s ‘Master of Puppets’, the only single of the album of the same name, a thrash metal masterpiece that helped to spread the gospel of the genre.

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A complex piece, with constantly locomoting dynamics, it was recorded from October to December 1985 at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark. “That one took some time,” producer Flemming Rasmussen recalled in Rolling Stone in 2016. “There are a lot of different parts and melodies, but it’s a primo song.” 

To make the sound tighter, Rasmussen asked the band to tune their instruments just a little bit lower than usual so they could mix them with the tapes that were running faster, to make it sound like they were in tune, creating the thunderous noise that has made the track so important. He explained: “We banged it out a couple of times and decided on the one with the best feeling, because they’d have to play it live.”

The band knew they’d struck gold with ‘Master of Puppets’, and it became the band’s late bassist, Cliff Burton’s favourite track they wrote. “My favourite song is ‘Master of Puppets,’” Burton said in a 1986 interview. “I think it’s the best Metallica song yet.”

The song is also famous for its anti-drug themes. “I just went to this party in S.F. and there was a bunch of sick freaks shooting up, and it made me sick,” Hetfield said in 1986. “It’s not about any drug in general but people being controlled by drugs and not the other way around.” 

Whilst there are many reasons to love ‘Master of Puppets’, one of the highlights is Lars Ulrich‘s performance. Serving the song fully, he allowed the rest of the band to convey their combined power with their visceral down picking, whilst also managing to deliver a thunderous rhythmic ballast that glued it all together.

Luckily, the isolated drum track of the song has been unearthed, and on it, we hear the brilliance of Ulrich fully, and it confirms why he has been hailed as one of the best behind a drum kit for so long.

Listen to the isolated track below.

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