“Time for some new fucking shit...”
Metallica’s gig at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium on New Year’s Eve, 1985, was always going to be a bit special. It was, at that point, the biggest headline show that the quartet had booked in the US, and they’d roped in Exodus, Metal Church and 6,000 of their closest friends from the Bay Area metal scene to join the celebrations. In what was either a generous gesture to an old pal, or a pointed reminder of their own superiority and seniority, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich invited Megadeth, featuring their former guitarist Dave Mustaine, to open the show after Anthrax were forced to withdraw from the bill. It promised to be quite a night.
Drummer Ulrich had returned to his adopted hometown just 72 hours earlier, having spent Christmas with family in Copenhagen, Denmark. On December 26, he and producer Flemming Rasmussen, returned to the city’s Sweet Silence studio to give the songs which the Californian metal band had been working on for the past three months a final listen, a last tweak. Master Of Puppets, Metallica’s third album, was in the can.
“I would like to say that there was something magical in the air in the summer we wrote Master Of Puppets, something that hasn’t been there before and has never existed since,” Lars Ulrich said in 2006. “But that would be a lie. I guess we just had the right attitude and the right openness to ideas. The whole band was getting more confident.”
“I remember writing the chorus to Master Of Puppets in our living room, and thinking it was too commercial, too obvious,” James Hetfield recalled in Back To The Front, Matt Taylor’s authorised account of the making of the album. “‘If it‘s too easy, something’s wrong’. That was kind of the Metallica mantra. Lars said, ‘No, no, it’s really good, it”s catchy.’ I thought, Well, maybe I'm the melody, catchy guy, and that’s okay’.”
Onstage at the Civic Auditorium, on December 31, 1985, after kicking off his band”s homecoming show with fan favourites Creeping Death, Ride The Lightning and No Remorse, James Hetfield introduced the very first public performance of Master Of Puppets by informing the Bay Area’s ’Bangers that they were about to hear the title track of the next Metallica album.
In the audience that night was local fanzine writer Ron Quintana, from who Lars Ulrich had pinched the name of his band. In Back To The Front, Quintana shares his vivid memories of hearing his friends play Master Of Puppets for the first time.
“I think most fans had bootlegs of the demo,” he said, “but hearing the song live was amazing. The crowd went insane. Six thousand drunken metalheads were swaying and slamming. There was blood, beer and sweat flying everywhere. It was truly awesome - this whole, huge, local scene, filling one of the biggest places around.”
“It was Metallica’s crowning achievement. They’d returned from overseas to rule over their kingdom. The funny thing is, a lot of us saw that show as the pinnacle. No one realised it was just the start.”