If I was talking to you and mentioned the word ‘Metallica’, what pops in to your head? Screamed vocals? Or speedy, distorted guitars? How about fast, thumping drums? That, of course, is the mainstream reaction to Metallica, and indeed metal in general. The problem is that most people can’t hear past the exhilaratingly speedy heaviness of it all to realise the true musical genius it has to offer. My name is Tom, and welcome to my music review series in the Penny Post.
This week we are starting it all off with their debut album, Kill ‘Em All. Some background information: Metallica were formed in 1981 by drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist James Hetfield via a Los Angeles music paper, The Recycler. At this point the boys had already established that they wanted to create the heaviest sound possible… In 1982 they recruited bass player Ron McGovney (now 62) and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine (who formed Megadeth) and recorded two highly sought after demo cassettes, Power Metal, and No Life Til Leather. Recorded in McGovney’s garage with James Hetfield on vocals, they made early versions of Hit the Lights, The Mechanix (which was used by Megadeth later and used on Kill ‘Em All under a different name which we’ll come on to later), Motorbreath, Seek and Destroy (a fan favourite to this day), Metal Militia, Jump in the Fire and Phantom Lord. This demo was circulated round San Francisco’s Bay Area and is now very rare.
In 1983 the boys from LA recruited bass player Cliff Burton (who was an absolutely amazing songwriter and musician who later on brought the band’s songwriting to a whole new level) and got signed to Megaforce Records. From here they kicked out Dave for being a pain in the neck and replaced him with Exodus’ Kirk Hammett. With the new lineup of James Hetfield (vocals, rhythm guitar), Lars Ulrich (drums), Kirk Hammett (lead guitar) and Cliff Burton (bass), they went and recorded with producer Jon Zazula what would become a genre inventing and defining record…Kill ‘Em All
The songs on the finished album were:
Hit the Lights (written by Lloyd Grant, a friend of the band when they formed)
The Four Horsemen (written entirely by Mustaine as ‘The Mechanix’ and also used on Megadeth’s album)
Jump in the Fire
(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth (an instrumental bass solo to show off Cliff’s songwriting genius and talent)
Seek and Destroy
If you are already a Metallica fan you will understand this was ground breaking stuff. The album was produced to create a raw vibe and on the back of the record there is a photo of the band. You have honestly never seen so many spots between a group of people on a record as good as this. The intro has a fade in rainfall of power chords punctuated by Lars and James (some people have reported to hear Cliff jumping around in the background), then it evolves into a fast-tempo,solo riff by James and then he screams in his newly matured voice “No life ‘til leather, we’re gonna kick some ass tonight!” And that intro, to an aspiring 13 year old (and many other people) is enough to open up a whole plethora of music.
As we can gather from the intro to Hit the Lights this is a pretty heavy album, it invented the thrash metal movement of the 1908s for goodness sake! The raw heaviness aside, this does have some classical influence to it as well. (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth is an instrumental bass solo written and performed by Cliff Burton. He as a songwriter was heavily inspired by the works of Bach and Mozart and showed this by use of melodic ideas and triplets. Other standout tracks include Jump in the Fire, Whiplash and Seek and Destroy. Jump in the Fire is one of the more poppier, catchier Metallica tunes (until the 90s) that shows the range of vibes the Metallica aimed for, Whiplash is easily the most memorable track on Kill Em’ All. Heavy guitar power chords in 16th notes kick it off into a frenzy of notes until James in his juvenile thrash metal voice yells “Bang your head against the stage like you never did before, make it ring, make it bleed, make it really sore!” to really show what they’re all about. Moving on to Seek and Destroy, this again is heavy and all that, but they added something. A call-and-response chorus. This makes it a song that’s popular with the fans and it is played live at every show.
I saw them at Sonisphere this summer. It was so electrifying hearing James sing “Searching!” and the crowd go “SEEK AND DESTROY!” in a unified spirit that reflects the influence this album had on millions of thrashers.
My name is Tom Sherrin. Thanks for reading.