Ahhh, to be 18 and naive. Nearly 20 years before they even heard of Napster, Metallica were just an up-and-coming thrash metal band trying to make it big in the jam-packed, dog-eat-dog scene of San Francisco’s Bay Area. After releasing a couple of self-financed EPs, and firing original members Dave Mustaine and Ron McGovney, the four dudes in ‘Tallica set out for their first big adventure: the release of a full-length album.
And so James Hetfield (18), Lars Ulrich (18), Kirk Hammett (19) and Cliff Burton (19) were signed to indie thrash mogul Megaforce records (later home to Testament or Exodus), and in a few weeks recorded their debut, Kill ‘Em All
. Slowly but steadily, the album grew on thrash fans around America, and eventually became the first of many successes for one of the world’s biggest bands. 23 years later, it still proudly stands its ground.
Kill ‘Em All
comprises 10 songs, some of which were taken from previous band demos (Hit The Lights
, The Four Horsemen
). It is, therefore, unsurprising to find Dave Mustaine credited as co-author in some of them. The sound on offer is, of course, thrash metal, with very prominent punk/core influences. The riffs are mostly fast and shredding, the drums often go for a double-bass approach, and James Hetfield’s voice is shouty and aggressive. However, even as early in their career as this, Metallica already showed the will to be something more than just your average thrash metal band. Songs like the seven-minute epic The Four Horsemen
or the whacky Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)
stray a little from the no-life-til-leather, let’s-f***ing-thrash posture of the rest of the album. Not that these songs are soft; far from it, in fact. But they show some variation, and strive to include different sections and details within the same song.
However, the best moments on the album are those in which the band devote themselves to full-blown, out-and-out thrash. With their sound sitting somewhere in between early death metal and classical heaviness, songs like Jump In The Fire
, Metal Militia
or Seek And Destroy
became huge hits, and are requested on the band’s concerts to this day. In fact, this album has contributed at least two famous riffs to the Metal Hall of Fame: the harmony at the beginning of Seek and Destroy
and the crushing midtempo riff of The Four Horsemen
. These are the kind of riffs any informed metal fan will hum upon mere mention of the song in question.
But to every upside, there must be a downside. In this case, the band fail to keep the same level of quality on every song in the album. Although different, Anesthesia
is quite boring, consisting basically of a convoluted Cliff Burton bass solo, with some guitar and drums thrown in towards the end. As for Phantom Lord
and No Remorse
, they’re purely filler, creating a two-song low point towards the end of the album. In fact, Kill ‘Em All
suffers from a strange particularity: the whole is actually worse than the sum of the parts. That’s right, if you play the songs on this album in a different order, or if you skip your way around the tracklist, you’ll actually enjoy the album more
than if you just listen to it in one go. I have made this experience, as have a few of my friends, and the results confirm my statement.
Before I conclude this article, I must also mention the album’s terribly outdated production. The bass and drums sound is fine, but some of the guitar work comes across exceedingly thin, and the voice is buried too deep into the mix, causing a perceived lack of punch. Oddly enough, the successive remasters this album has been subject to throughout the years have done nothing to improve its sound quality, which is still a major quirk among ‘Tallica fans. But then again, what would this album sound like with a production make-over? Would it still sounds as pure, as honest, as...raw
? Maybe not.
All things considered, it would be unfair to bash Kill ‘Em All
. Sure, it’s primitive, it’s flawed, and so on. But above all, it is the sound of a band growing, trying to find their place in an equally growing music scene. By 1984’s Ride The Lightning
, all the elements were in place, and the band were set for a long, illustrious career. This, like Sepultura’s Morbid Visions
or Nirvana’s Bleach
, remains a document of their infancy, of the time before they were spoken of the world over.
Jump In The Fire
Seek And Destroy