10 Jul 2022 17:56:PM
E5 — D5 D♭5 C5
According to data, since making its live debut on December 31, 1985 at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium, this gut-rumbling, adrenaline surge-inducing and blood-pumping intro of four power chords has been played once every seven or eight days for a live audience over the course of the past 37 years. And that’s by the band that originally wrote it; this doesn’t include the reportedly 1,367 times (at last count) other bands and artistes have covered Master of Puppets live.
The title track from Metallica’s 1986 opus Master of Puppets recently featured in the season finale of Stranger Things‘ Season Four Part Two titled ‘Chapter Nine: The Piggyback’. The portrayal of the song, as performed by Joseph Quinn’s Eddie Munson atop a trailer in the Upside Down to attract a cauldron of deranged bats (out of hell… sorry, couldn’t resist), earned the band’s appreciation that was expressed in an Instagram post:
A post shared by Metallica (@metallica)
And yes, much as the first part of the fourth season of Stranger Things gave Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) a shot in the arm in 2022, all signs point to Master of Puppets getting the same sort of love a little under 36 years since the record was released. That’s great for the Gen Z (or zoomer if you prefer) crowd that gets its music from TikTok and Instagram Reels, but (and these aren’t meant as pops at Ms Bush) Master of Puppets has neither ever needed this reinforcement, nor is this its first onscreen rodeo. I’ll elaborate on both those points in due time.
First though, it goes without saying that an appropriate piece of music can elevate any scene from a film, a show or a video game and push the emotion into stratosphere. Think back to Star Trek Beyond and how Beastie Boys’ Sabotage turned already intense scene up to 11, or the way the solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird imbues the brutality of Kingsman: The Secret Service‘s church massacre scene with a balletic grace.
The list is long, but I shall do my best to provide a sprinkling of some of my personal favourites. Refused’s New Noise was used to great effect in Crank to really capture Chev Chelios’s (Jason Statham) frustration at the very start of the film, Marilyn Manson’s Fight Song in Mean Machine (showcasing Jason Statham again) and Prodigy’s Firestarter in The Condemned (Vinnie Jones) compounded the absolute batshit craziness of the characters in question, and sticking with Prodigy, the group’s Omen was a fantastic accompaniment to one of the most awkward fight sequences in Kick Ass.
But it’s not all action sequences. Remember Alien Ant Farm’s cover of Smooth Criminal in American Pie 2? Or how about the triumphant use of Scorpions’ Rock You Like A Hurricane in Little Nicky? As a matter of fact, the third season of Stranger Things also used the Scorpions track to introduce Billy and Max. And before this turns into one never-ending list, my final entries are the moving use of Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me (made famous by The Breakfast Club) at the end of Futurama‘s ‘Luck of the Fryish‘ episode and the absolutely heartbreaking use of I Will Wait For You from the musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the end of its ‘Jurassic Bark‘ episode.
Sure, some songs are overused and fail to elicit the same impact as a less commonly used one — I’m looking at you, Immigrant Song — but that’s probably just me. With Robert Plant’s vocal gymnastics and Jimmy Page’s elastic riffage, you can see why this high-energy track off Led Zeppelin III is such a popular track. Then, of course, there are those tracks that fall utterly flat — read: Something in the Way in The Batman. And that’s the last we shall speak of that.
Returning swiftly to Master of Puppets, Stranger Things is far from its first onscreen appearance. My personal favourite use of the track in film or television until very recently was in the abduction scene from the film Old School.
The scene truly is a work of art, starting right from what a surprise it is to hear a thrash metal classic thrown into a film that predominantly features Whitesnake’s Here I go Again. Then there’s the way the E5 power chord and the cymbal choke (grabbing the cymbal right after striking it) kick in. For the uninitiated, the segment that precedes what is shown above has the characters of Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn discussing their plans to start a college fraternity. Ferrell’s endorsement of the plan kicks us off as the song begins to unravel. Then the volume drops while the trio finalises its plan, but the song is still lingering in the background, ratcheting up the tension. “It’s go time,” declares Vaughn, hurling us into the business section of the plan and the track.
After featuring another fantastic Metallica song — For Whom The Bell Tolls — in its first outing, the sequel Zombieland: Double Tap utilises Master of Puppets quite nicely over its opening credits, with the four protagonists approaching the White House laying waste to zombies in glorious slow motion. All the while, Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus deadpans his way through survival tips. It’s not the most thought-provoking use of the song, but it does what it’s meant to in terms of setting the scene for what’s to follow.
No analysis of Master of Puppets in film and television would be complete, however, without mentioning this appearance:
From going “splitsies on a cab with Metallica” to the insinuation that Lars Ulrich could be a descendent of Hans Moleman, the Metallica cameo was typical The Simpsons fare, and it too ends with a taste of Master of Puppets. Not all that blood-pumping a use of the song, but fun nonetheless. It was, at the very least, vastly superior to the manner in which the film The Big Short and the television show Billions (although the relevant episode was named ‘Master of Puppets’) wasted the song on scenes featuring characters just listening to it in the background. That’s no way to waste this song, but different strokes for different folks, I suppose.
That the song works so well on screen is testament to what an excellent and multi-textural song it is. James Hetfield’s high-speed jackhammer-like downstrokes, coupled with the intricacy of the guitar parts (including the synchronised leads), the shift in time signatures, the shift in guitar tones, the gang chants in the fourth quarter of the song, the near singalong “thish thish” of the cymbals and the massive urge to headbang no matter when or where you hear it — all of these come together to make the eight-and-a-half-minute-plus beast that is Master of Puppets. It’s why the song has been ever-present on Metallica’s setlist, nearly always gets the loudest cheers and crowd participation, and frequently finds itself on Metal playlists compiled by various streaming services. It’s no surprise then that the album’s producer Flemming Rasmussen counts the title track among his favourites on the album.
The song may not have needed this boost in popularity, but it doesn’t hurt. That said, here’s hoping I don’t have to see Instagram and TikTok “creators” turn the track into a meme the way they do with any song that gains popularity these days. And that brings us neatly back to Stranger Things. In case you missed it, here is Eddie’s performance again in its entirety:
Oh the difference being actually able to play a musical instrument (or looking like you can actually play one) makes! The Hindi film industry could learn a thing or two, especially Hrithik Roshan. My only criticism of this entire sequence is the manner in which the song was cut to fit into the scene — it makes Master of Puppets seem very peculiar structurally.
Aside from the fact that Eddie appears to actually be playing the track, it’s the section of the episode during which Master of Puppets appears that is worth noting. Just as with the aforementioned Star Trek Beyond, the track kicks in just as smelly brown stuff is about to hit the spinny thing. In doing so, it builds on the adrenaline of the scene and pulls you closer to the edge of your seat… if you weren’t there already. There are also the metaphorical layers the song adds to the scene — whether that’s a reference to Eddie summoning the mental bats or Vecna ‘pulling strings’ to create chaos at the hands of the meat puppets of Hawkins, Indiana.
Or it’s just the nice closing of a circle that saw Eddie get into all this trouble because of drugs (he was selling drugs to Chrissy Cunningham when she was killed) and save the day by playing a song about drugs (cocaine, to be precise). What else did you think “Chop your breakfast on a mirror” referred to?
PS: In the list above of songs that elevated films, I didn’t feel the need to mention Eye of The Tiger for the same reason I didn’t mention that water is wet.
The placement was for its four regular programmes- PGDM, PGDM International Business, PGDM Retail Management and PGDM Insurance Business Management.
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