he April 5, 2006 issue of Kerrang! contains one of the most noteworthy CD's ever packaged with a magazine. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Metallica's Master of Puppets, Kerrang! rounded up eight bands to cover the album in full. The bands range from superstars to unknowns, and the results on Remastered are equally mixed. The used sections of record stores are glutted with metal tribute albums—why should you care about this one?
Because it's a tribute to Master of Puppets, that's why. The album will perpetually lock horns with Slayer's Reign in Blood for the title of best metal album of all time. Master of Puppets is one of the few albums where every note is not only perfect, but also memorable. Metallica was never more "on"—Lars Ulrich (who contributes liner notes here) pummeled his drums with power and speed, James Hetfield howled fiercely and played crushing rhythm guitar, and Kirk Hammett's solos actually mattered. More importantly, the album was Cliff Burton's swan song. His bass lines on "Orion" have gotten countless metalheads through tough times; after his death in a bus accident in 1986, Metallica was never the same.
What makes Remastered interesting is that bands are taking on material that's essentially flawless. The eight songs on Master of Puppets are all anthems, with not a note out of place. Any deviation from the blueprint will be immediately noticeable. Will these covers be note-for-note, or will they add their own flavor? Some of the bands were in diapers when the album came out—will they have enough gravitas for the songs? If you're curious, act quickly. Kerrang! is a weekly, and once Issue 1102 leaves newsstands, the only place to buy Remastered outside of eBay will be the magazine's website.
01. Machine Head - "Battery"
This cover should grace metal mixtapes for years to come. Machine Head storm through this song like it's their own; this version seriously rivals the original in intensity. Rob Flynn's voice is raging, while Phil Demmel nails the solos with wah-fueled aplomb. Dave McClain's drumming is fiery, and the production perfectly captures the seat-of-the-pants performance. Machine Head tunes down a step and a half here; it should be noted that Metallica created one of the heaviest albums of all time using standard tuning.
02. Trivium - "Master of Puppets"
Not only is Trivium one of metal's "it" bands at the moment, it is also perhaps Metallica's heir apparent. Last year's Ascendancy was lacking in the lyrics department, but had songs, chops, and ambition redolent of early Metallica. Singer/guitarist Matt Heafy even sounds like a young James Hetfield at times. The guitars here are a little thin, but perhaps Trivium was going for retro tones. The performance is fine, if a bit raw. The band misplays the clean riff in the middle, playing a G where there should be an A. This repeats throughout, so it's unclear whether this is a mistake or a reinterpretation. Also, the main solo starts promisingly but devolves into aimless dive-bombing. These blemishes aren't fatal, but they stand out.
03. Mendeed - "The Thing That Should Not Be"
Mendeed is a young Scottish band that recently signed to Nuclear Blast. Their cover of "The Thing That Should Not Be" is the most daring of this compilation. The band throws in oddball harmonies, tremolo picking, blastbeats, and a wild thrash section that definitely wasn't in the original. The new elements don't always work, and the singing leaves much to be desired, but the reinterpretation is fun to hear.
04. Bullet for My Valentine - "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"
Metalcore newbies Bullet for My Valentine take on one of the heaviest songs on Master of Puppets, and the result feels very much like a cover. While the band adds some guitar harmonies and a nice legato slide in the main clean riff, the performance is essentially note-for-note. The guitar tones aren't heavy, the vocals sound youthful, and the whole thing feels "lite."
05. Chimaira - "Disposable Heroes"
This cover starts out great, with heavy guitars, tight drums, and loud, clear production. Then hoarse, tuneless vocals enter at 1:37 and nearly ruin everything. If one can get past the vocals, the rest of the cover is pretty decent. While strong, the performance feels studied and lacks the urgency of the original. Perhaps the study will be beneficial, as Chimaira could learn a thing or two about songcraft here.
06. Fightstar - "Leper Messiah"
Fightstar turn in an utterly undistinguished, bar band-worthy reading of "Leper Messiah." Singer/guitarist Charlie Simpson was in English pop group Busted, for what that's worth.
07. Mastodon - "Orion (Instrumental)"
This compilation should have been called Unmastered, as the songs vary wildly in volume, basically in direct proportion to the stature (and thus recording budget) of the band. Presumably Mastodon, having signed to a major label last year, can now afford proper recording sessions. Why, then, is the band's take on "Orion" half the volume of everything else here, with cassette tape sound quality? Admittedly, there's not much the band can do with the song, an instrumental, without committing serious sacrilege. The guitar harmonies come off nicely, especially the slow bends in the middle, and the crucial bass lines are thankfully audible.
08. Funeral for a Friend - "Damage, Inc."
Welsh group Funeral for a Friend closes this compilation in fine fashion with a sharp, spirited version of "Damage, Inc." The vocals are pukey, but they fit, and next to Machine Head, this performance comes closest to matching the energy on Master of Puppets. The heavy, clear production is a relief after the mishaps of the preceding tracks.