Review Summary: So, it all starts here...
Metallica is, without any second guessing, the most important band of my childhood. I could argue that Metallica, and maybe another band or two, singlehandedly got me into the genre of metal and perhaps all of music in general. What was it about the band that got me, TheSonomaDude, an at the time 5th grader in the heart of conservative Texas with little to no understanding of music or what makes it good, into the person in which music would later become the sphere I revolved around? Perhaps Metallica’s 1983 debut Kill ‘em All has the answer, as it is often debated to be the pinnacle birthplace of American thrash metal and the starter of the thrash scene that controlled the metal scene for some years. If this was the album that got an entire scene into thrash, how much more could it offer for a single impressionable child?
Just looking at this record makes it obvious that something new was about to begin. I remember my mom hated the album cover; a puddle of blood and the dark silhouette of a hand grasping a mallet, and that “vile” album name Kill ‘Em All. It must have been pretty brutal in 1983 amongst all the Motley Crue’s or Def Leopard’s or even Black Sabbath albums. The first time I saw it, actually tried finding another picture to use as the cover art on my iTouch so people wouldn’t look at me with a perplexed gaze and utter “...what kind of Satanist music are you listening too, dear boy?” But the cover perfectly gets the soon-to-be listener into the right mood, especially in 1983; heavy, balls-to-the-wall, fast as *** thrash metal with no repercussions or regrets. *** the pansies, you bought this from the store, now grow some balls and put this *** on till the bass blows out and tell your neighbors to go finger themselves cuz this is Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All. Hell yah.
Right from the beginning, Metallica displays the fact that they are in control. Opener “Hit The Lights” serves as the perfect introduction to the album and gets everyone in the mood for the album. Fast, loud, heavy, and awesome, with blasting riffage and shredding solos, and it doesn’t cease until the album ends. The sheer speed of riffs from “Whiplash” and “Motorbreath” are perfect fuel for the headbang. “Metal Militia” really brings out the cannons with a blazingly fast 210 BPM during the main riff and solo riff. Sure, speed doesn’t make things automatically awesome, but Metallica manages to pull it off with such energy that most other bands even today cannot match. “Whiplash” is one of the most hypnotizingly headbangy songs I’ve ever heard; every time that open E string riff rips onto the scene and Lars’s snare fill introduces the main riff, all *** breaks loose.
Lars Ulrich has become a laughing stock in metal music, with most calling him a terrible drummer with zero creativity and even less skill, though some would argue that he was an amazing drummer at the start of his career and that he has progressively gotten worse as the years have stretched by. The truth is: Lars has never been an amazing drummer. His signature “kick, snare, kick, snare, hat, snare, kick, snare, snare fill” did not start on St Anger or Load or even The Black Album, as it can be heard on pretty much every single riff on Kill ‘Em All. With that being said, Lars hides it pretty well and actually uses this to his advantage. The high-speed thrash of the guitars mask the drums and actually make them awesome.
The guitars, as a kid, were a huge turn-off. Although I loved the record, I hated the recording quality. That buzzy sound from an early 80’s studio really got on my nerves, and I vastly preferred the crispness of later albums like …And Justice or The Black Album. I now appreciate the staticky fuzz of the distortion and I think it really adds on to the raw sound that thrash was really all about. An album called “Kill ‘Em All” with this kind of speed and destruction wouldn’t quite be the same with good 1080 HP quality sound, in the same way that brutal death metal wouldn’t quite sound the same with clean or sung vocals. Either way, the guitars riff hard. “No Remorse” has a hell of a main riff, and the intro riff to “Seek & Destroy” is probably in my top 25 favorite main riffs of all time. Kirk Hammett is another nowadays laughed at man in the metal scene, but his immense ability to shred is undeniable. God damn, 19-year-old Kirk Hammett was a monster! The shrieks and squeals he commands his guitar to make are nearly inhuman, as showcased on the jawdropping end solo to “Jump In The Fire”. Hell, this album has three solos that could possibly be considered to be the best solos in thrash today: “Jump In The Fire,” “The Four Horsemen,” and “Seek & Destroy” all have legendary solos. Many wonder how on earth Kirk Hammett was even possibly picked to replace Dave Mustaine, but after listening to his work on Metallica’s debut, that’s a pretty dumb question to ask. Hetfield probably has the least ability on out of all of the musicians, in terms of his vocals at least, though that isn’t to say he doesn’t offer some awesome work. His screaming gets pretty annoying at times, but once again, I think it fits raw and unedited style of the album and more melodic vocals probably wouldn’t mix as well, and that fact doesn’t bother me a bit. If you have to do to it to make it work, then just do it. And trust me, it works.
Above all is one thing that doesn’t often get mentioned about Kill ‘Em All, one thing that shameless imitators and modern-day wannabes completely miss in their sound: this is one hell of a catchy album. Just about every riff gets the head bobbing, not only because of the awesome speed, but because they are memorable riffs that get stuck in your head after a while. Sitting in 6th grade math class tapping my pencil to “Phantom Lord” or quietly singing “meytahl mulisha!-sha!-sha!” are stark reminders of the mega ear worms Kill ‘Em All conceives. “The Four Horsemen” illustrates this in a collection of catchy riff after catchy riff after catchy riffs. Even the non-heavy moments, such as the clean bridge in “Phantom Lord” or the monolith bass solo known as “Pulling Teeth” by the legendary and deceased Cliff Burton, kick a rather large amount of glute. Briefly speaking of which, Burton plays excellently and demonstrates his fantastic ability to soothe the beast called the bass guitar, but most of his riffage is buried under miles and miles of heavy guitar buzz. When he does have his chance to come out though, oh boy, he does come out.
Oh, don’t get me started on the covers. “Am I Evil?” and “Blitzkrieg” may or may not be featured on your copy of Kill ‘Em All, but they are two of the best covers I’ve ever heard regardless. “Am I Evil?”, a cover of the, at the time, not even a year old song by Diamond Head, has become one of Metallica’s iconic tracks and I was torn apart when I found out that it was a cover. “Blitzkrieg” covers Blitzkrieg’s hit song “Blitzkrieg” off of their debut demo Blitzkrieg, and it is amazing to the say the least. The track has a very catchy main riff, a very awesome solo, and one of my all-time favorite post-solo riffs. Even as the track ends with Hetfield belching into the microphone and Lars replying with “great man, you ***ed up, you dumbass!”, the atmosphere of complete badassery doesn’t cease. While others may disagree, I’d consider both songs to be far superior above the original songs, though the original songs are quite good as well.
All of the above factors helped shape the thrash genre. If another album had been in place of Kill ‘Em All, the thrash scene may have turned out completely differently and many of our favorite kickass metal acts may not be here to *** *** up on stage or on our iPods, and perhaps I wouldn’t have picked up the guitar or drumset, nor would I have ever learned of how music can truly shape a man. Even with my current metal tastes in bands like Death, Atheist, Gorguts, Opeth, and such, I always find myself going back to Metallica again and again. Sure, Metallica may be a modern laughing stock in metal music or in just general music period, but we all need to remember that these guys shaped the music industry in an unforgettable way, not just with The Black Album or Master Of Puppets, but with Kill ‘Em All. Just as the lyrics of “Metal Militia” go:
We are as one as we all are the same
fighting for one cause
Leather and metal are our uniforms
protecting what we are
Joining together to take on the world
with our heavy metal
Spreading the message to everyone here
Come let yourself go
On through the mist and the madness
We are trying to get the message to you