Review Summary: A great debut, certainly good for the band's age and considering it created its entire genre, but not perfect.
The year was 1983, and the stage was set for a phenomenon. An up and coming band had just fired their guitarist Dave Mustaine and called upon the services of former Exodus man Kirk Hammett for the recording of their ten song debut. The band was Metallica, taking their influences from the brash style of Venom and Judas Priest, they were to push the boundaries of what was acceptable in heavy music of its day to the absolute limit, creating a raw, powerful debut album that is generally considered to be the absolute birth of thrash metal.
Kill Em All was a fast album, more aggressive than anything that had been released to date, garnering the band a fair amount of attention in the Bay Area scene, building them a nice following. The album was something entirely fresh for its day, with songs such as Hit The Lights showing exactly how fast and heavy music could be played, without ever sacrificing its musical integrity. Hit The Lights was the original thrash metal song, a blueprint for everything else that was to follow, opening with the sound of the band jamming, before diving headfirst into a fast series of riffs that demolish everything in their path. Whilst not quite as mature musically nor lyrically as the albums that would follow, this was more than an adequate song, standing the test of time as one of the bands best songs, with the immortal sound of James Hetfield's tortured shriek of "hit the lights".
Hit The Lights is not the only great song found on Kill Em All, with reworked song The Four Horsemen (originally entitled The Mechanix during the time Dave Mustaine was part of the band) standing tall, along with Metal Militia and pure speed-metal brilliance Whiplash. Phantom Lord, however, proves to be the meatiest track on the album, being another Mustaine-written song, but a great track with some powerful riffs, particularly the first riff in the song. The guitar lines across the majority of this album are really well written and played, despite the speed they are played at and the age of those responsible for them. Whiplash has an incredibly fast riff that thunders along at a marvelous pace, whilst Motorbreath has some riffs that hint at a punk influence going into the writing.
The vocals on this release are completely chaotic, with Hetfield using a rather juvenile screech throughout much of the release, which isn't the best of vocal deliveries, but suits the unrefined nature of this album really well. The best vocal song on this album is found on Seek And Destroy, the most well known song from the album, being one of the only songs in which Hetfield sings in a normal tone for the majority of it, only occasionally letting out the shriek found on the rest of the album. The bass is audible throughout the album, which is rare for a Metallica album, and sounds decent enough. The extended bass solo, Anasthesia Pulling Teeth is a well written piece that showcases Cliff Burton at his finest.
However, there is also a very ugly side to this album, with the production being right at the forefront of it. This was recorded on a tiny budget of $1,500 and it definitely shows, with a huge amount of reverb on the vocals being more than audible, and the album having a very unprofessional sound to it, particularly on the recording quality of the guitars. This is a really poor production job, and whilst not being as bad as some early thrash acts, it certainly hinders the album. The other weakness of this album is the lack of memorability found on this record. Many of the songs are not catchy enough, and feel too long, without enough high quality riffs to carry them across their lengths. When the album works, it is fine, but the weaknesses on this album are unavoidable.
This is a solid enough release, but is marred by the production found on here and the crippling lack of many moments that stick in the listeners head. Purchase this for historical value and the The Four Horsemen, Whiplash, Phantom Lord and Hit The Lights definitely, but do not expect the finest album of all time.