Book Review: Metallica: Back To The Front: A Visual History Of The ‘Master Of Puppets’ Era
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Metallica: Back to the Front
A Fully Authorized Visual History of the Master of Puppets Album and Tour
By Matt Taylor
Foreword by James Hetfield
Afterword by Ray Burton
Publisher: Insight Editions with Moonrise Media
Released date: September 13, 2016

In 1986, Metallica went from local San Francisco Bay Area garage band to support act for part of the U.S. leg of Ozzy Osbourne’s Ultimate Sin tour, as well as headliner of their own European tour. The four very young men “” singer/guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Cliff Burton “” had only been playing together for three short years, but in that time, they released their first three albums, all of which eventually went on to be regarded as some of the greatest in all hard rock and heavy metal. It was their third album, though, Master Of Puppets, which put them on the map and skyrocketed them to fame. But, with success and popularity also came a devastating blow when they lost Burton when he was killed in an accident after the band’s tour bus skidded off the road in Sweden. The respected bassist, who had been like a big brother to his younger bandmates, was only 24 years old.

Another band might have fallen apart and never gotten past such a heartbreak, especially if they were that young and just starting out. But the unyielding musicians in Metallica knew no other life but the road and no other destiny than with music, so with the blessing of Burton’s parents, they persevered. They continued to create. They went on pounding out aggression all across the land on every stage they hit, until they became not only the kings of thrash metal, but one of the top rock acts of all time… and they’re still on top today. Although a lot has been written and documented about the band over the last 30-plus years, including those early days, there’s never been any personal memoirs. And while the members of Metallica have always spoke highly of Burton throughout the years and have tearfully relayed the events that occurred on the early morning of September 27, 1986 when they saw their brother killed in front of them as they and their devoted crew stood injured and freezing on a Swedish highway, they’ve managed to keep some details about that time private. Now, the surviving members have joined with Insight Editions, in association with Moonrise Media, for Metallica: Back To The Front: A Fully Authorized Visual History Of The Master Of Puppets Album and Tour, written and compiled by Matt Taylor.

[Page preview courtesy of Insight Editions. Used with permission.
Click for image for larger view.]

Band leader James Hetfield supplies the Foreword to this 276-page full-color hardcover edition, which is packed with rare and never-before-seen photos of the band’s early days, while Cliff Burton’s father Ray Burton provides the Afterword, which includes a photo of the elderly man wearing his son’s skull rings while striking one of the poses Cliff was most remembered by.

After the brief Foreword, the book takes off with a text-heavy, poignant Introduction by author Matt Taylor that is definitely not to be skipped over. Taylor, who also penned Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard (which I now definitely have to read), crafts a narrative of the day of that fateful tour bus accident interspersed with biographies of each band member, how they got together to form Metallica, and what those first few years of grouping, writing, recording, and performing had been like for them. There’s also plenty about their own musical influences, their family backgrounds, and what motivated them to do what they did, including sleeping on studio floors and in the backs of U-Hauls, and going without food just so they could record and tour during those lean early years. This is incredibly moving stuff, all of which is supported by direct quotes and anecdotes from those involved, including new ones from the band given exclusively in interviews with Taylor for this book.

The bulk of Back To The Front — the name in which is taken from a lyric from the song “Disposable Heroes” from Master Of Puppets — is six photo-filled chapters, divided up by milestones: the major events that led up to the writing and recording of Master Of Puppets; mixing, releasing, and touring for this breakthrough album; their strange yet wonderful experience as opening act for their musical hero Ozzy Osbourne; their triumphant homecoming; and finally, the European headlining tour that saw their final curtain call with the influential Cliff Burton.

Their story is a compelling one because it has a lot of heart, ambition, and talent behind it, as well a tragedy that they had to overcome. While the Introduction sets the stage for the Puppets era and how it concluded the Burton years, the numbered chapters are a visual compendium of the time. The captioned photos include early images not only of the band, their crew, their friends, and fellow musicians at home and on tour, but also of old memorabilia, concert flyers, touring schedules, set lists, handwritten lyric sheets, postcards/letters, and more. And, of course, there’s the obligatory “on the toilet” shots as well. (Can’t have band photos without someone holding their guitar while sitting on the toilet!) The photos show a lot of how these young men struggling to make it in music and in life lived “” quite poorly and difficultly, yet always partying and surrounded by lots of booze and friends “” as well as how fierce they were once they hit the stage. Accompanying the images are lengthy quotes and stories from the band and those who were involved with them during that era, including family, close friends, crew members, producers, promoters, managers, and fellow musicians, such as childhood friends Mike Bordin and Jim Martin of Faith No More, and thrash comrades Anthrax. These accounts are not just lip service “” there’s a lot of revealing details, little-known facts, and behind-the-scenes activities being put out there.

[Page preview courtesy of Insight Editions. Used with permission.
Click for image for larger view.]

Looking through all the memorabilia photos was a thrill, especially the handwritten lyric sheets. If I were to express one extremely minor disappointment with this offering it would be that I wish they had included more details on the inspiration of the song lyrics. There’s a lot of talk about how they composed the music; how riffs and solos were created; and how they handled production in the studio, but it seems like delving into the meaning behind the lyrics was not a priority here. There was a few mentions, such as how they came up with the line “Blood will follow blood” from “Damage, Inc.,” and when I saw that I really wished there was more tidbits like this. But, I can’t really fault the band or the author here on that, since, like poets, most lyricists often do not care to divulge the meaning and concepts behind every word or phrase, preferring instead that listeners take away from it what they will. They do talk about the concept of the album itself and its artwork, which became the basis for their first major stage set.

Metallica: Back To The Front is an impressive, in-depth written and visual documentation of Metallica’s formative years that focuses in on every detail of the Master Of Puppets era. Fans of the band will undoubtedly flip through this book with delight in all it has to offer.

I have been a fan of Metallica’s since their early years (when I was only a freshmen in junior high school!), with “Seek and Destroy” and “Jump In The Fire” from their 1883 debut Kill “˜Em All being my first taste of them by way of underground heavy metal radio. I immediately ran out and got the album and their follow-up Ride The Lightning, which had just been released that summer, and began practicing drawing their three-dimensional logo in my school notebooks. To say I was blown away by their music would be a major understatement. Although I was already into the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest by that time, Metallica was something new altogether. As a bass player, what I heard from Burton was mind-blowing and caused me to frequently borrow my older brother’s wah-wah pedal so I could emulate the red-headed, bell-bottom-wearing bassist. I remember how me and my fellow metalhead friends eagerly awaited the release of Master Of Puppets when, again, the underground radio station previewed the title track. Holy shit!!! This was going to be amazing, we thought. And it was. It absolutely was. When the news of Burton’s death hit, we all gathered to sit vigil, shocked at how something so terrible could happen to another one of our heavy metal heroes. It was like Randy Rhoads all over again, except this time, it could mean the end of the band that was leading the thrash metal charge.

This was back in the pre-Internet days. In the United States, everything you wanted to know about a band like Metallica had to come from magazines imported from Europe, like Metal Forces, or word-of-mouth from other metalheads, as well keeping your ear to the ground at hard rock and metal venues. This was the underground. If someone in 1986 had handed me a tome like Back To The Front with a behind-the-scenes look at all things Metallica, I would have been drooling over every photo and pouring over every single word. It’s 30 years later, and although I’d read nearly everything there is out there about Metallica, I can honestly tell you that I was still glued to every page, carefully reading every word of this book.

Back to the front
You will do what I say, when I say
Back to the front
You will die when I say, you must die
Back to the front
You coward
You servant
You blindman

— Metallica “Disposable Heroes”

Product Description

Released on March 3, 1986, Metallica’s Master of Puppets album became an instant classic and announced the band as the most electrifying new voice in rock. Thirty years later, this six-time platinum album is considered to be the high-water mark of Metallica’s incredible career, with songs like “Battery,” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” and the title track, “Master of Puppets,” still a staple of their sell-out live shows. Sadly, this hugely successful period for Metallica was marred by a tragedy that shook the band to its foundation: the death of bassist Cliff Burton in a tour bus accident on September 27, 1986.

For the first time, Metallica: Back to the Front tells the fully authorized story of the creation of the Master of Puppets album and the subsequent tour. Featuring new and exclusive interviews with band members James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, and Kirk Hammett, this is the definitive account of the most venerated period of Metallica’s history, from the incredible highs of touring in support of Ozzy Osbourne to the lows of losing a key member of the band and crucial part of the Metallica sound. Metallica: Back to the Front will also feature interviews with other important figures in the band’s history, including managers Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch, Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin, Anthrax band members Scott Ian and Charlie Benante, and many, many more.

Filled with hundreds of never-before-seen images from the band’s personal archives, this deluxe volume will combine an in-depth narrative with stunning visuals, taking fans further into this defining period of the band’s career than ever before. Released to coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the Master of Puppets album and tour, Metallica: Back to the Front is created with the full cooperation and support of the band. The result is a treasure trove of stories, anecdotes, and never-before-seen photographs that legions of Metallica fans will cherish for generations to come.

Preview Pages [Click thumbnails for larger, full view.]

[Page previews courtesy of Insight Editions. Used with permission.]



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1 Comment »

  1. Got my copy yesterday. It’s really cool, and anybody who complains about this wonderful, and totally unnecessary gift to the fans is an idiot.
    I was also surprised how many photos in this are from September 26th 1986. I can only imagine those must have been difficult for them to look at.

    My only totally stupid complaint is that somebody should have told James to take care of his lawn and that El cerrito house. Good god, it’s brown and dead, and 10 inches tall. LOL

    Comment by ob1adobe — September 15, 2016 @ 3:14 pm

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