METALLICA's James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich recently spoke to Masa Ito's "Rock City" TV show in Japan about their decision to play the "Master of Puppets" album in its entirety to celebrate its 20th anniversary. A couple of excerpts from the interview follow:
Hetfield: "My gut feeling is… I think 'Master of Puppets' represents a certain time in history. It was kind of the end of the Cliff Burton era in METALLICA, which is sad, but also very important. And maybe 'Master of Puppets' was the record that a lot of the early fans identified with. 'Cause after that Jason [Newsted] joined the band and then the popularity became bigger. And then the 'black' album… It was different after 'Master of Puppets'. So I think there's still an innocence about it and just a real 'fuck you, world' attitude to it still. And we weren't, I think, very influenced by all of the 'bigness' of METALLICA. Plus the songs — they have that energy, that fire; they're still youthful, but we were still growing, and the songs got grander and bigger, and [we added] more character to the songs. I think every song on that record is really good and it stands up to time."
"We had played almost all the songs live before, 'cause they were all, I guess, songs that needed to be played live. 'Orion' was the one song that we never really did live, and that seems to be one of the most fun — maybe because we didn't play it live, but… It's very emotional, even though there's no words to it, and having Rob Trujillo in the band now playing some amazing Cliff-style… it sounds better than ever. But I would say the songs themselves remind of an innocent METALLICA. The word 'innocent' in a… what kind of way?! Not stupid, but in a not tarnished, not ruined by fame. [Laughs] Even though we've tried our hardest to not be touched by popularity, it's impossible to not feel the effects of it. So the honesty and the innocence of 'Master of Puppets' — still sleeping, living at the studio; still roughing it and still having that fire. And only METALLICA on our minds — just METALLICA. Now it's different. There's family, there's a lot of things that are important in our lives. I think 'Master of Puppets' was… that was all we ever though about — ever."
"When we were going to play over in Europe, especially in the U.K., a lot of importance was put on 'Master of Puppets', and they did a CD — Kerrang! put together a CD of all these other bands — AVENGED SEVENFOLD, TRIVIUM, BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE, a lot of the new metal bands — paying tribute to 'Master of Puppets', and that inspired us to do our own tribute. But also, hearing those bands do our songs, it put a little fire in our ass to get back into it and really not be so lazy about playing. Not that we're lazy, but you kind of take for granted that, you know, we've been doing this for 26 years. We're good at this. Yeah, we are, but we can be better. And it helped us step up another level. I think what we were going to do was play 'Master of Puppets' live maybe just at Donington, or just at the indoor shows. But my idea was, hey, we've done the Download/Donington festival five times, six times. Let's do something different instead of the 'best of.' So we did it the whole tour, and it felt really good. It was a long set, but very inspiring, and it felt good to play from beginning to end the whole album."
Ulrich: "It's been fun. It's been really interesting writing the new record and going back and listening to 'Master of Puppets' — reliving it, re-learning it. Over the course of the years, we started playing some of the songs a little bit differently, and we went back and we played all the songs exactly… well, more or less… the same arrangements as on the album. We put a lot of parts back in that we had taken out over the years. And it's been interesting to write new songs while having 'Master of Puppets' kind of [on our minds] because I think it's definitely affecting us a little bit. Some of the new stuff has the same kind of… it's challenging like some of the 'Master of Puppets' stuff and maybe some of the stuff is a little bit inspired by some of it. We've been joking, obviously, in the beginning when we were trying to re-learn all the songs, if we had known 20 years ago that we would be playing the songs 20 years from then, maybe we wouldn't have made the stuff so complicated. But we kind of re-learned it, actually, faster than we thought. When we played the first show in Germany at Rock am Ring, we were very surprised about how effortless it felt, and how natural it felt to be playing the whole record, and obviously the way the fans were responding to it was very positive. They were even more surprised than we were that we could still play it, and still play it well and still feel like we were in control of it, 'cause some of the stuff is kind of complicated and nutty, but… We're all in very good shape and we've been in very good physical energy for most part of the year, so it's been fun.
"But what does the record mean? It's difficult to just highlight that record. You've done enough interviews with me to know how I feel about most of our records. I like most of our records, I have respect for all our records, certainly. I understand that people think that 'Master of Puppets' is a big highlight, but for me, it's just one of many records, and one of many records that fit a puzzle. I don't think that there could be a 'Master of Puppets' without the record before it and the record after it, and that goes for all of them, so it's difficult for me to single that record out as a special achievement, but I understand that for a lot of people it's a very special record, and I'm OK with that. But it's been a very positive experience. We've never done anything like that before — we've never played a whole record, we've never really celebrated a record — and I think we were a little bit hesitant about doing it, because I think we're scared of dating ourselves. We still consider ourselves to be younger than we are, and in our own minds, we feel that we're still much more part of the current generation than the previous generation. IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST and AC/DC, they're still our heroes and they're still our idols, and so I still feel much more… I feel like I have much more in common with TRIVIUM and AVENGED SEVENFOLD and those bands than I do with IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST, because they were my heroes. So it's difficult… When we did this whole 'Master of Puppets', I think we got a little scared of, maybe we were part of the older generation, you know what I mean? But I think it's been OK. And it's actually been a lot of fun to do it. Maybe we'll do it with every record as it hits its 20th anniversary. Who knows?!"