Review Summary: "Metal Madness," Mosh Pits, and...leather?
Only thirty seconds in and Metallica come roaring out the gate with Hit the Lights, a pure shot of adrenaline that stays with you all the way until (Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth, where the band deigns to give the listener a moment to catch their breath. These are not the tired, wealthy forty-somethings of modern-day Metallica but teenagers, a group of guys ages 18-20 trying to make it by playing bars and demo tapes. They bring to this album an overflowing sense of youth and spirit - every track is overflowing with energy and a vibrant quality of life. “We know our fans our insane/We’re gonna blow this bitch away!” Hetfield barks, his sharp yells practically leaping from the speakers to grab you by the throat. At the end of the song, Hammett’s continuous and slightly over-long solo comes across not as masturbatory but almost earnest – the band waving you over and saying hey, check THIS out!
Structurally, most of the songs on Kill Em All are relatively simple. Some tracks, like Jump in the Fire and Motorbreath, rush along at a breakneck pace before taking a short break and settling into a repetitive chorus. Others, like The Fourth Horseman and Seek and Destroy, find themselves built up around strong, catchy riffs – while The Fourth Horseman chugs along with staccato riffs, Seek and Destroy maintains a rising, fast-moving, and insidiously catchy guitar line. Ultimately, however, it is not the songwriting so much as it is the performances that truly sell this album. While Hammett lays the groundwork for the iconic riffs and solos that would dominate their next three albums, Hetfield’s relentless barks and yells overpower the entire record, high pitches sticking out like stalagmites from the cave floor of Hammett’s perpetually busy guitar work. Beneath it all Burton and Ulrich work tirelessly behind the scenes – Ulrich’s drumming sharp, tight, and fast; a style he would struggle to maintain in the band’s later years. Burton’s bass lines are, as one would expect, technical and intricate, carefully interlacing every song – although he isn’t the most audible member of the band on this record, he gets four uninterrupted minutes to show off his chops on Pulling Teeth – Anesthesia (a bit of trivia: Ulrich decided to hire Burton after hearing him solo at a local club – that improvised song was eventually re-recording as Anesthesia).
Overall, Kill Em All is very much a mood album. While technically inferior to its thrash successors Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice for All, Kill Em All remains my favorite Metallica album because of the sheer volume of energy pervading the record. The entire album feels alive, and I’ve always found it exhilarating to listen to. After seeing Metallica make so many missteps and odd decisions later in their career, it’s a relief to sit back and crank the volume on Kill ‘Em All – a dumb, fun, joyous thrash metal record made by a couple of talented kids extolling the virtues of “metal madness,” mosh pits, and…leather.