Review Summary: A great debut that is a bit flawed unfortunately.
'Kill Em All' was the debut album from Bay Area thrash band Metallica and is seen by many as being one of metal's most important releases. Released in 1983 to a fanfare from metal heads, Kill Em All showcases what many perceive to be the first ever incarnation of thrash metal. Tracks such as Hit The Lights are now synonymous with that genre name, and are part of the reason this band is now considered to be among the so-called Big Four of thrash metal. Building off of a range of influences including Diamond Head and Mercyful Fate, Kill Em All brought something fresh and new to the table, paving the way for releases such as 'Show No Mercy' by Slayer in the same year.
Much of the metal that had preceded this album could be seen as being purely based on melody. Not a whole lot of bands had abandoned most sense of melody in favor of releasing something purely speed-based and aggressive. However, Metallica stuck their middle finger up at melody for the most part with their debut and put out one of the most intense releases of its day. Whilst certain riffs of songs like The Four Horsemen retained that factor, this is, for the most part, an example of a bunch of teenagers playing as fast as possible whilst revolutionizing metal at the same time. Couple this with the pre-pubescent-sounding shrieks of then-18 year old James Hetfield and is isn't hard to see where Kreator and Slayer got their influence from.
This is not just senseless noise, however, despite the fact that the fuzzy production is hard for the human ear to penetrate. Does James Hetfield merely strum a few random power chords and then tremolo pick and then scatter some mindless notes that he got off a Random Number Generator in between and call it an album's worth of guitar playing? Nope, this is a fairly refined album. Hit The Lights has a jam section toward the end, but aside from this, this release flows very well.
Vocals are a talking point of Kill Em All. James shouts and wails his way through all of these songs and to be honest its the worst thing about the album. He is completely tone deaf and damn nearly kills some of the tracks. No matter how many of these songs had a vast influence on metal, James really is a bad vocalist. Thankfully he would improve later on in their career.
This is not quite as mind-blowing as albums such as Master Of Puppets. Instead this is an album that definitely has some power to it but isn't quite there. Songs like No Remorse feel like filler and ensure that this album tails off toward the end.
Despite this, the first half of Metallica's debut is chocked full of great songs. The aforementioned Hit The Lights kicks things off in fast and furious fashion with intense riffing and some quick drumming from Lars (surprisingly given his reputation for being a terrible drummer among metal fans). The Four Horsemen then picks up where this song leaves off with its awesome riffs, in particular the bridge riff that carries it through. This was one of the songs infamously stolen from Dave Mustaine. Motorbreath and Jump In The Fire are two other masterful songs that show Metallica definitely had potential even at this early stage in their career.
Metallica's debut is a hugely influential album that every metaller should be listening to.