Welcome to a new recurring article on This Day in Metal called Versus. In this series, we will take a look at two iconic releases in heavy metal history and see which one was the better album. The only rules are I am looking at the original release of the record, no remasters or re-recordings of the album. Also, I will not be including bonus tracks, only the songs that originally appeared on the record will be considered a factor.
This week, we have two titans in the thrash metal genre from two of the most legendary bands in thrash. We have in this corner, Metallica and their 1986 magnum-opus Master of Puppets, which a lot of Metallica fans would claim it to be the band’s best record. This would be the last record featuring bassist Cliff Burton before his tragic passing in a bus accident that same year, 6 months after the release of this record. The album peaked at number 29 on the Billboard 200 upon its release and received critical acclaim. As of 2003, the record was certified six times platinum. Let’s take a look at this contender and see what it brings in this matchup.
Starting off with album opener “Battery”, the record starts mellow with an acoustic guitar intro section before the dual harmonies and powerful drums hits hard after the intro and then we are off to the races. The song flies by fast and furious, with vocalist James Hetfield’s vocal delivery hitting with such ferocity along with the gang vocals on the chorus. The song flies by, even for a 5-minute-long track. A great opener for this album. Next comes the legendary opening riff of “Master of Puppets” and its head bang inducing intro with start/stop drum hits and downstroke-heavy riffing throughout the whole song. The drums match Hetfield’s intensity during the chorus and add impact to every verse. The solo near the end of the song is legendary as well as a lot of the solos on this album showcase what made Metallica’s sound so impactful.
Some of the songs on the record have a more traditional heavy metal sound. Songs like “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “Leper Messiah” showcase more of a sound you might have heard in 80’s heavy metal at the time but with Hetfield’s young and aggressive vocals over it, which unfortunately hinder the impact as some of the other stronger songs on this record like “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”. The end of the album ends strong, with two strong tracks. The instrumental “Orion” showcases the late Cliff Burton’s bass playing. Also showing off their more emotional guitar solos with almost dueling guitar solos near the end of the song, which is a nice take on the track. The album closer “Damage, Inc.” brings the record to an end like a runaway freight train. Starting off with building hints of guitar and bass before the song kicks the door in with fury and aggression with pounding drums and guitar. To me, this is the heaviest song on the record. The guitar solo is on point with a unique stop/go mentality during it, trying to shred as fast as possible before riffing again and then back into the solo. Overall, this is a strong record that cements Metallica's legacy and a milestone in thrash metal.
In the other corner, we have Megadeth and their 1990 record Rust in Peace. The record was nominated for a Grammy in 1991 for Best Metal Performance at the 33rd Grammy Awards. The band went into the record with a lot of struggles and turmoil. Down a drummer, the band hired Nick Menza, previous drummer Chuck Behler’s drum tech, to join the band. Megadeth were also in need of a new guitarist as well. Mustaine had tried out Dimebag Darrell of Pantera (which Darrell was offered the job but declined), Slash of Guns N’ Roses, and Jeff Waters of Annihilator. The band got Marty Friedman to join the band and the lineup was set to record what would be their legendary thrash metal classic.
The album starts with one of the heaviest and driving opening riffs in metal history on “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due”. With a driving rhythm section after the opening, the record starts out strong and keeps going fast with Mustaine’s snarling aggressiveness which is on point on this record. The listener gets a short break from the thrashing fury with a flamenco-style guitar break which leads into a nice mid-tempo riff and sound the band would showcase more of on their next record, Countdown To Extinction, before ending with a strong thrash/speed metal riff until the end of the track. Follow up track “Hangar 18” brings a more mid-tempo track and build into the verse and features great dual harmonies on the main riff with nice guitar solos throughout the main rhythm. The song almost has an 80’s thrash feel to it with 90’s era production. “Take No Prisoners” brings us back to the driving speed and intensity that Megadeth continues to bring on this record. David Ellefson showcases his driven bass more on this song as well as on “Five Magics” and “Poison Was The Cure” while Mustaine and Friedman show how well they shred together in not only the riffage but also in the soloing throughout the entire record which makes them one of the proficient duos in thrash metal to ever existed.
Another current live staple of the band, “Tornado of Souls” shows the band know how to write a great opening riff. The backing vocals mixed well on the song and impact hard with the mix of the guitar on the track. Mustaine’s vocals are strong too, showcasing his young, aggressive snarl very well and make his voice recognizable in metal today. There are unfortunately two songs to me, don’t really fit or mix with the record. “Lucretia” has a good strong opening riff, but I feel like it would be a track that fits better on the next album Countdown To Extinction more than this record. And the short “Dawn Patrol” has a good strong opening bass riff again by Ellefson and Menza’s drums hit hard and set a good intro and build with the track but I feel the song was too slow for the record and just doesn’t seem to mix well. Almost every track is driving 70-80 miles an hour and this song is driving 50, it just doesn’t work.
The album does end with a strong closer in “Rust in Peace…Polaris” bringing back strong drums and guitar riffs that builds off the similar feel and vibe of the album’s opener. Vocals hit hard and have the same power of the riff and is a strong closer to this album.
After both records come out swinging with their own take on thrash. With impressive musicianship, great production and amazing vocal deliveries from both bands. I would have to declare Rust in Peace the winner. Granted it does have two songs that don’t really work on the record, I feel like if I want to listen to a great thrash metal record, and I had to choose between these two, i'd have to go Rust in Peace. Puppets has its standout tracks and some are legendary tracks don’t get me wrong, I think it just doesn’t have the same impact, intensity and aggression that Rust has. If this was against Kill ‘Em All or Ride The Lightning, I think we might have a different outcome in this match.
WINNER: Rust in Peace
Do you agree with my decision? Please post your comments and opinions in the comments section below and also your suggestions on who should we have battle next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this was Versus.