by Dan Johnson
Master! Master! All the carbs that you’ve been after. Master! Master! Adding to my thighs.
I have a hardwired trigger in my brain that interprets the word “master” from whatever context it appears into a custom riff on Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” Especially at the brand spanking new Master Burger location at Broadway and Olympic Ave where fast food cuisine and aesthetics transport me back spiritually to the heyday of Metallica one chorus at a time.
It’s a tick. One that afflicts a good segment of my generation. We have been quietly conditioned to a Metallican world view through constant repetition.
Metallica is the only band (including the Beatles, Stones, Zep and Floyd) to bogart a segment of dedicated daily programming on dozens of radio stations across the United States.
Out in the hinterlands and minor markets and hate ovens where Americans struggle with clinical depression like privileged Angelenos struggle with sunburn in January, Mandatory Metallica is a sort of church-bell by which we measure the passage of miserable time.
I grew up within radio broadcast distance of Baltimore, Maryland where that city’s fine-honed anger sublimated itself into a nightly 10pm broadcast of three (or more if they were feeling saucy) Metallica songs on 98 Rock.
Every night, we got the heavy shit—“Battery,” “Seek and Destroy,” “Hit the Lights,” “Fight Fire With Fire.” Exactly the sort of monstrosity that got everyone from cranked out truckers on route 15 in Frederick to basement drunks in Dundalk banging their heads.
I, for one, am glad to have received such a high dose of pre-Black Album Metallica in my formative years. My familiarity with Metallica’s early work has helped prepare me for a lifetime of disappointment. They are truly America’s band, because their catalog is a microcosmic slog downwards toward diminishing returns and constant compromise.
They’re the band that told the Sunset Strip and glam metal to go fuck itself. They made a brutal collection of albums that inspired a generation sonically while offering up enough live videos to instill an aesthetic of skinny black jeans and cut off t-shirts that still inspires visually.
Promising beginnings were not enough to stem a tide of ego and greed that have brought incredible fortune and fame to Metallica at the cost of their fundamental legitimacy. It all sounds suspiciously like the country of my birth.
There are people who still adore Metallica. Mostly, these are individuals who have strong opinions about the AFC West, like to tinker on classic muscle cars (or imagine themselves doing so one day) and have some sort of demon they need to confront via repetitive broadcasts of Re-Load.
These fans would support Metallica no matter what.
Case in point: I used to know a guy named Frank who paid good money to be part of the Metallica fan club. This entitled him to backstage access at Metallica shows. At one such soiree, Frank encountered Lars Ulrich sitting naked in a bathtub full of beer that fans were scooping out with a cup.
Frank gets a beer, tastes it and then comments to Lars, “Man, this beer tastes like piss.” To which Lars says, “that’s because I pissed in it.” And. The. Fans. Still. Drank. It.
Master Burger isn’t quite there yet. They can’t brazenly urinate in a twenty ounce cup without heavy complications. Still, it’s safe to say that someone is really into them because this is the fourth Master Burger location. There are others at Slauson Ave and Crenshaw Blvd, Western Ave and Vernon Ave, and Adams Blvd and Crenshaw Blvd. Think of their Downtown establishment as the chain’s … And Justice For All.
It’s too early to tell, but the place has more of a Load feel. There’s nothing to really take my breath away at first encounter like a culinary “Blackened.” No single dish is going to rip like the second solo on “One.” My body will not be galvanized into rhythmic head-banging on the merits of a revolutionary meal that does to my gut what “The Shortest Straw” does to my soul. I will not receive a grandiose helping of mind-blowing foods that commands my attention like all nine minutes and forty nine seconds of “To Live Is to Die.”
No, the picture menu attempting to reconcile burgers and tacos with a whole other Italian food subplot feels like Metallica’s ill-advised 1996 full length fool’s errand, which found the quartet trying their best to stay metal while selling fans on what amounted to a grunge knock off album.
Even with the strips of bacon, the seven dollar half pound Master Burger tastes like a “Hero Of The Day” or a “Bleeding Me.” It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It just doesn’t captivate me like I wish it would. I’ve had this same product elsewhere. In a pinch, it will do. But I’m not getting anything new out of it.
So too, the french fries have a quality to them that feels as if Bob Rock were a line cook lurking in the back of Master Burger. Yeah, these are Sysco generic medium gauge fries, but they have celery salt all over them to give it a little kick. They are undercooked, but damn it if they don’t have just enough sodium to pass muster.
For the record, it could be a lot worse. We’re still in decent territory here. Were it smaller or drenched in mayonnaise, I might have to call bull shit and compare the burger to “Fuel.” If the bun were stale and the pickles tasted like they were marinated in the fermented rectum of a dead cow, I would have to say Master Burger’s food has a culinary kinship to the masturbatory freak show of whiny entitlement that was Some Kind of Monster.
What’s tough for Master Burger is that they’re situated across from Dune and next to Mega Bodega, which is a bit like having to listen to Hardwired…to Self Destruct in between Cowboys From Hell and Ashes of the Wake. Discerning palettes will know the difference.
Still, there’s this bit of hope: Metallica’s latest stab at relevance is currently Number 2 on the Billboard album charts despite having been released in November of 2016. Maybe Master Burger will experience a similarly perplexing stroke of good fortune.
Personally, I’m hungry for a hamburger Kill ‘Em All or Ride the Lightning, but that’s never going to be Master Burger’s forte. Maybe they had their own proverbial Cliff Burton working the kitchen once, but now he’s dead. The best we can hope for is some sort of seasoning savant on par with Robert Trujillo. More than likely, when it comes to Master Burger, we’ll have to content ourselves with a flavor profile more akin to Jason Newsted, which is fine.
I award Master Burger a “1” on the binary and hope that some intrepid customer digs real deep into the menu and discovers that far from a “King Nothing,” Master Burger is, in fact, “The Thing That Should Not Be.”