Review Summary: One of the most impressive freshmen efforts ever, Kill Em All was a significant, innovative outing at its time, and still stands as exceptional listening today. Though I slightly prefer Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets, Kill 'Em All is an essential
Kill ‘Em All by Metallica- Review
Kill ‘Em All Personnel:
James Hetfield- rhythm guitar, vocals
Lars Ulrich- drums
Cliff Burton- bass guitar
Kirk Hammett- lead guitar
Imagine if you combined the punk flare of Motorhead, the extreme play of Venom, and the raw aggression of Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden, sped the music up to insanely fast levels, and weighted the sound to thrash metal standards. Then you might have something that looks like heavy metal colossus Metallica’s 1983 debut album, Kill ‘Em All. Influenced heavily by punk rock, extreme metal, and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Kill ‘Em All not only proved to be one of the select freshmen efforts in metal history that achieved greatness, but also arguably spawned two new metal subgenres- Thrash metal and speed metal. It also began the career of today’s biggest metal band, attracted some controversy for some guitar riffs contributed by Megadeth front man Dave Mustaine, and gave metal heads their first American band to head-bang to. Anyway you stretch it, Kill ‘Em All is a monumental album, and after its release, metal would never be the same again.
Ask for band members’ performances, not much more could be asked of them, considering their age and the fact that this is a freshmen effort. James Hetfield is capable of taking his voice quite high in this album, which does not stand true for later releases, but he still has a bit of trouble controlling his voice. His rhythm guitar is terrifically distorted and speedy. Kirk Hammett’s solos are ridiculously fast to put it simply. Cliff Burton provides a cutting-edge solo in the middle of the record on bass. Lars Ulrichs’s drums are not exceptional, but at least serviceable and fitting.
One must remember that Kill ‘Em All was created by four fresh youths bursting at the seams to play their hearts out. This means that the record is empty of any sappy material. Virtually every song on the album focuses on two things- Rebelliously rocking out or committing acts of evil. Combining these lyrics with songs that actually sound fairly upbeat instrumentally gives the album a very interesting, original feel. Now, guitar riffs can make or break any rock album, and Metallica more than comes through big in this category with some relentless, catchy, Diamond-Head-esque guitar work. This is thanks in part to some excellent riffs contributed by Dave Mustaine, who currently fronts Metallica’s thrash brothers Megadeth. Considering the excellcence of his riffs, Mustaine definitely deserves an honorable mention for the success of the album. It is obvious that the band is trying to play as fast as possible on this record, which can be a bit overwhelming at first, but ends up adding to the original sound of this LP.
Kill ‘Em All does contain two possible turn-offs to the close-minded: The first is its raw production. Kill ‘Em All was made within two weeks under a budget of $1,500. This is quite obvious throughout the LP. Hetfield’s voice is plagued by reverb, and the instruments’ recording was not all that cleaned up. Very little editing or effects were used on this one. In fact, you can even still hear the words “Bass solo, Take one” being uttered on “Pulling Teeth”. Some people might enjoy the rawness of this album, though, for it feels reminiscent of the first Iron Maiden album. The other possible turn-off on this record is the mixing of a few punk elements with metal. Because of this, metal purists might find the band’s work like Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets more desirable. However, one man’s trash is always another man’s treasure, so some might adore the punk feel in Kill ‘Em All. After all, punk-metal is a quality that worked very well for Motorhead, as well as a number of New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands. Personally, I think that these arguable faults in Kill ‘Em All help it gain an edge, and the record is excellent either way.
The track list on this album is quite simply tight. The partying-oriented “Hit The Lights” kicks things off as one of Metallica’s more accessible tracks, but still maintains brutal heaviness and lightning-quick solos. “The Four Horsemen” is driven by one of Mustaine’s great riffs. “Motorbreath” proves to be the most concise and punk-inspired track on the album, while “Jump in the Fire” shows a hint of funk and a whole lot a of catchiness. Cliff Burton’s bass solo “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” should please more than just aspiring bassists, and “Whiplash” still stands as one of Metallica’s fastest, most exciting songs ever. Another brilliant Mustaine riff pops up in “Phantom Lord”, followed by a brilliant Hetfield riff in “No Remorse”. “Seek and Destroy”, the most popular track on the album and one of the band’s greatest hits, is another treat near the end of the record. Now, Metallica’s closers are consistently strong anchors, and “Metal Militia” is no different. Epic, riff-driven, and the ultimate head-banger anthem, “Metal Militia” is quite possibly my favorite track off of the record. The track list is as consistent as it is impressive.
Is there anything in this set that I find lacking? Well, I must admit, though I do enjoy the aforementioned “Whiplash”, I have always been kind of annoyed over how it’s chorus does not rhyme. I also found “Seek and Destroy” to be good, but a bit overrated. And this is the type of album where if you hate one song, you hate them all, but I doubt many metal fans will think that way. This also means that if you do enjoy the first track on the record, there are tons of more gold waiting for you on the rest of the LP.
Kill ‘Em All is an extremely small cut below its two immediate successors, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. However, it is still a must-have metal album. Being Metallica’s debut, it is obviously one of the more significant LPs in metal history. On top of that, it’s one of the strongest debuts in metal history. There might be a minority against this album, so I would recommend that you demo one of the tracks on the album. If you like it, and you probably will, do not be reluctant to pick this one up, for Kill ‘Em All is a special one.
-Fast, Heavy, Furious, Aggressive etc.
-Very consistent song list
-Nice variety of influences
-Rawness might turn some off
-Added punk elements might turn some metal purists off