JRA, reading that would make one think that Lars was some kind of evil mastermind who planned the Black Album from the beginning and manipulated Cliff into slowly changing Metallica into a band that could reasonably make a record like that. Lars was honestly just a spoiled NWOBHM obsessed nerd back then. Did he get greedy around the time of the Black Album? Probably, yeah. But conspiring to tailor Metallica into a radio band by manipulating Cliff from the beginning? I mean seriously, what? ...And Justice for All wouldn't exist if that were the case at all. And honestly, I'm not even gonna bother with whether Cliff living would have been good for the band or not, and frankly it's seriously irrelevant. The Black Album was inevitable, with or without Cliff. Everyone here would probably agree that James and Lars aren't the strongest songwriters around, hell they ripped themselves off two albums in a row. They were bound to reach the end of their capabilities as thrash songwriters sometime, and The Black Album was the result of that.
And yes, compared to about a few dozen other thrash albums, Master of Puppets is mediocre. But you know what? It's also got a ton of really catchy melodies. Melodies that were, and are, a whole lot easier for kids discovering heavy metal for the first time to get into than fucking Angel of Death. Metallica made heavier music palatable to literally millions of kids across the world. I don't know if you've ever watched the news dude, but in case you didn't know, Americans are fucking morons. Like a frightening number of us are total fucking idiots. If something is too freakish or weird, we will ignore and dismiss it without giving it a fair chance. Most of us can't handle or accept shit like Pleasure to Kill, Reign in Blood, or Darkness Descends without something to ease us in beforehand. For a few million kids, that was Metallica. Who honestly gives a shit that Master of Puppets is given a ton of accolades? Seriously, why does anyone care? If anything, I hope that Master of Puppets will continue to get more praise from the mainstream media and that the Black Album sells a buttload of copies every year. If it means that more kids listen to heavier music and think "Hey, I like this, I want to check more of this stuff out," then it is absolutely worth it. So many people I know who are into extreme music connected with Metallica as their first 'heavier than Sabbath/Ozzy/Maiden' band, that alone makes those albums worth their existence in metal history.
"But they don't deserve to be in the top 4 of whatever list!" Who gives a shit dude? Of course there's cooler music out there, there always will be. It's on the music fan to always be seeking and hunting for more interesting and more satisfying music. The more dedicated and open minded folks will be rewarded with cool new sounds; that would be us, the guys who discovered all these amazing bands that make Metallica appear mediocre by comparison. Can't we just be happy with that and allow people to enjoy and praise Master of Puppets if they see fit to do so? In your own words dude, music doesn't exist in a vacuum.