Album Review – Metallica – Kill Em All

April 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

Metallica – Kill Em All (1983)

“Why don’t we just kill em all?” – Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, on obnoxious record distributors

“What’s the point of writing ten songs if they aren’t good enough to go on your debut album?” – Lars Ulrich

The journey of the world’s most successful metal band starts here, with a raised hammer against a classic black background and stark red logo.  A transparent hand clutches the weapon above a pool of blood, and bear in mind this is an EDITED album cover (originally it was supposed to be called “Metal Up Your Ass” with a more graphic cover involving a toilet and a knife.  No wonder Cliff was pissed at the distributors in the above quote).  Causing a stir in the underground upon release, Kill Em All is Metallica at its earliest, most untested stages, but the raw hunger and aggression are all present.

This was where thrash metal began to break free of its roots in hardcore/punk and started to come into its own.  Metallica went the majority of the way towards that end with “Kill Em All,” but not quite all the way; those pieces would all come together on the follow-up, 1984’s “Ride the Lightning.”

Metallica would never sound exactly like this again.

1. Hit The Lights
2. The Four Horsemen
3. Motorbreath
4. Jump In the Fire
5. Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)
6. Whiplash
7. Phantom Lord
8. No Remorse
9. Seek & Destroy
10. Metal Militia

“But if they were aiming at becoming one of the most successful rock bands of all time, they sure were going about it in a kooky way,” Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea writes in Rolling Stone. “Maybe they were thinking they were going to break into Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown with their debut record…They were definitely going for a hit single with the song “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth.” A five-minute-long bass solo is a sure ticket to commercial success.”

Although the speed/thrash metal sound they came to embody wasn’t “all there” yet, seminal Metallica songs here still feature in the band’s live set.  “The Four Horsemen” and “Whiplash” are the most popular, but it is “No Remorse” that finds the rookie band’s best performance on the record.  A six-minute dose of proto-thrash with a big finish, the song has even been covered by Cannibal Corpse.

Cliff Burton’s bass heroics take center stage for an instrumental take on “Pulling Teeth” (yes, that is a bass guitar).  And “Seek and Destroy” stands as one of the top thrash metal songs ever recorded; I have a friend who insists he will die happy if the San Francisco 49ers used it as their entry music to take the field.  Its chugging groove is well suited to the purpose.

Metallica fans who are familiar with the band’s history also will note that 1983 was when Dave Mustaine was dismissed from the group, leading him to eventually form his own successful band, Megadeth.  Nevertheless, a few songs, including “The Four Horsemen” (originally titled “The Mechanix”) are properly credited to Mustaine, as well as a few solos.  Gotta give credit when credit is due.

Bursting with the raw energy of a new band eager to prove itself, Kill Em All is a very good (and very important) milestone in the history of metal. For all the intensity of opinion and navel-gazing about every single other decision Metallica has made over the years, I still don’t know anyone who dislikes Kill Em All.

There would be many, many more thrashterpieces–from Metallica and others!–to come. But this is the subgenre’s first great joy, and it could–and did–get even better.

James Hetfield

Kirk Hammett

Cliff Burton

Lars Ulrich

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