Metallica's "Kill 'Em All" 30+ Years Later...

Metallica 1983: (L-R) Kirk Hammett, Cliff Burton (R.I.P.), Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield
Metallica 1983: (L-R) Kirk Hammett, Cliff Burton (R.I.P.), Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield | Source

Once Upon A Metal Time...

Hard as it may be to believe, there actually was a time when Metallica did not exist. I should know, I was there. Even harder to believe: Metallica's debut album, the mighty Kill'Em All, celebrated its 30th (!!) anniversary in 2013. Where were you when you first heard this game changing, genre defining masterpiece, this ten-megaton nuclear device that jolted metal out of its mainstream doldrums and kick-started the Thrash Metal craze which went on to rule the scene for the remainder of the '80s? Were you even born yet? I was (Yes, I'm that old!), and I still remember the fateful day that Kill'Em All first hit me like a brick upside the head, just like it was yesterday. Sherman, set the Way-Bac Machine for suburban New Jersey circa 1983....

Bang that head that doesn't bang!
Bang that head that doesn't bang! | Source

I was 13 years old and just starting ninth grade when Kill'Em All began making waves in mid-1983. At the time I had identified myself as a "headbanger" or "metalhead" for about two years, but I had no idea that there even was such a thing as "underground metal." I was into most of the popular MTV-driven hard rock acts of the day like Def Leppard, the Scorpions, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, and Quiet Riot, but my eyes would soon be opened thanks to a couple of upperclassmen who were way hipper than the rest of us when it came to obnoxious music. I honestly forget their names after all these years but they were a couple of scary lookin' long-haired dudes who wore ratty denim vests or leather jackets studded with patches and pins, walking the halls sporting t-shirts of mysterious bands nobody had ever heard of before (Raven? Anvil? Slayer? Venom? Mercyful Fate?). They read strange looking photo-copied metal fanzines in class and proudly toted their obscure records around school in plain sight so everyone would see them and know just how gosh-darn metal they were. These guys protected their metal knowledge better than they guard the gold at Fort Knox -- they never told anyone where they discovered these strange bands or where they found their records, and naturally neither one would ever let lowly underclassmen like me borrow their albums -- oh no, these LPs were far too precious for that. However, they'd gladly dub you a copy of anything you wanted to check out as long as you gave them a blank cassette tape and a couple of bucks. That's how my buddy John first came into possession of a copy of KIll'Em All, the debut album by some no-name band from California called Metallica. John admitted that he'd had no idea what the band sounded like when he paid our local Metal Gurus for a tape of it, just that he'd "heard that they were good." The day after he took that tape home, however, John returned to school a totally different person. He was possessed with an evangelical heavy-metal fervor, grabbing me by the shoulders, shaking me and practically screaming "You have GOT to hear that band! They're awesome! They're like nothin' you have EVER heard before!" My friend's sudden fanaticism definitely piqued my curiosity about the band, though I admit that I was still so clueless about "the scene" at the time that I probably said something along the lines of, "Well geez, okay, if you say so. But dude, if they're not on MTV, how good can they really be?" It wasn't long before I found out for myself, as my pal quickly purchased his own copy of the Metallica LP (released on a tiny independent label from South Jersey called MegaForce Records) and he was gracious enough to let me borrow it for a weekend. I didn't know it at the time, of course, but I was holding a piece of history in my hands.

"Seek and Destroy"

Just Press 'Play' ... or should that be 'Detonate?'

I didn't know quite what to expect as I carried Kill'Em All home on that fateful afternoon. The blood-red graphics on the album cover frightened me just a little, as did the back-cover photo of the band members, who resembled a pissed off, pimply-faced street gang. These guys looked like they could beat the crap out of any of the spandex-clad Hollywood bands that I was used to, without even breaking a sweat. I was filled with trepidation as I laid the needle into the groove for the LP's first spin, and before long I found myself totally pinned to my basement rec-room wall, entranced by the sounds of musical destruction that were emanating from my stereo. If memory serves, my reaction was something along the lines of:

"Holy @#$%!!!"

From the ominous fade-in and blitzkrieg speed of album opener "Hit the Lights" to the hills and valleys of the epic "Four Horsemen," through the crushing bass solo "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)" and skull crushing "Whiplash" and "Phantom Lord," right up until the bullet-riddled fade-out of the closing "Metal Militia," I was utterly blown away by Kill'Em All. John was right, I had NEVER heard anything like this before. It was loud, fast, and skin-peelingly intense, and I knew immediately that not only had I discovered something new and dangerous, but that I had a new favorite band as well. When the needle finally lifted off at the end of side 2, suddenly Quiet Riot and Def Leppard didn't cut it anymore. ("Motley Who?") Now it was my turn to rush upstairs and call out to my brother, "Dude, you GOTTA hear this!" He was quickly assimilated after only one spin of the record. And so the disease began to spread...

"The Four Horsemen"

Seek and Destroy!!

The Rest of the Story...

My brother and I pooled our allowance money so we could go halfsies on our own copy of Kill'Em All, and within weeks we'd learned every lyric and air-guitared to every precious riff dozens of times. (Hell, I'm still doing it 30 years later!) We may have been easily converted to the cause, but my brother and I quickly learned that being a Metallica fan was like being a member of an exclusive club. The "mainstream" metal fans in my high school didn't know a thing about the band and for quite a while, it seemed like they didn't WANT to know about'em either. (Common complaints were "They play too fast," or "You can't understand what he's saying.") Despite our best efforts at talking Metallica up to our friends, we couldn't pay any of 'em to give this weird new band a try for almost a year. However, by the time the follow up album Ride the Lightning appeared on the racks in 1984, Metallica had apparently built up enough "buzz" that people were finally becoming curious. We dubbed tapes of Ride the Lightning for dozens of our friends, usually putting Kill'Em All on the flip side. Before long we started seeing more and more Metallica t-shirts as we roamed our high school halls and the Metallica machine was clearly beginning to gather some steam. Complete World Domination for the band would still quite a few years away, but it was a cool feeling knowing that we were helping to spread the word in a small way.

Tr00 arcane steele such as this can only be listened to on vinyl! Ehehehehehe...
Tr00 arcane steele such as this can only be listened to on vinyl! Ehehehehehe... | Source

"WHIP-LAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSH!"

If you've read this far, then you know how things turned out for Metallica. For the rest of the 1980s, they owned metal, plain and simple. Not only was every new album from the band a shared experience that caused metalheads the world over to rejoice, but it provided a blueprint for nearly every up-and-coming band around the world to follow. More importantly, they prompted millions of teenybopper headbangers to look beyond the watered-down, radio-friendly crap that the major labels were trying to pass of as "metal." After Kill'Em All, I went on to discover albums by many other "below the radar" bands like Anthrax, Raven, Mercyful Fate, and Metal Church. I learned where all the cool record stores were that stocked such treasures, combed through metal magazines for even the slightest mention of these and other "underground" bands, sought out stores that sold their t-shirts and patches, and basically became an all around, full time Metal Dork. Metal became my lifetime drug, and Kill'Em All was my gateway.

The first three (or four, depending on who you talk to) Metallica records are still universally worshipped to this day, though the cracks in their armor began to appear around the time 1991's self titled "Black Album" finally brought them to the mainstream and caused massive division within their fanbase. Sadly, it's pretty much all been downhill since then, as the band have seemingly become a little too used to their positions as Enormo-Dome filling, stadium busting Rock Stars and consistent multi-million sellers. I know I probably sound like a cranky old man, but Metallica were more fun when they were "our little secret" and we didn't have to share them with anyone outside of the headbanger fraternity. I won't begrudge Metallica their success -- they definitely earned it -- but sometimes I yearn for those exciting early days. As irrelevant as the band may be to me nowadays, nothing will ever take away the rush I felt when I first heard Kill'Em All. To this day, whenever I hear "Whiplash" or "The Four Horsemen" I'm immediately transported back into the body of the scruffy 13-year old on the day that he had a life-changing experience thanks to those deadly grooves. May Kill'Em All go forever platinum, and Bang That Head That Doesn't Bang!

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Comments 39 comments

cryptid profile image

cryptid 4 years ago from Earth

Kill 'em All was the album that changed everything. Definitely not my favorite Metallica album, but historically it is certainly the most important. Looking at what Metallica has done over the past 20 years, it's hard to believe they are the same band.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

I agree, Cryptid. I sorta ignored the bulk of their post-Black Album work (I own the CDs, but rarely listen to 'em) but I cannot deny the impact that the first album (and the three that followed it) had on my life.


hotwebideas profile image

hotwebideas 4 years ago from New York

Yeah, Kill Em All was cool, but so was Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets. I did not like And Justice For All too much, but when I listen to Whiplash off of Kill Them All, I know Cliff Burton was one of metal's best bassists!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Right on! Cliff Burton was The Man. In my book, he (and Steve Harris of Iron Maiden) raised bass playing in metal to an entirely new level. It boggles the mind to think of what his playing might have sounded like today if he'd lived. (SIGH)


FreedomMetal profile image

FreedomMetal 4 years ago from Somewhere In Time

Great album!!!!! Metallica was my "Gateway Drug" as well to world of underground metal! Ride The Lightning was my first Metallica album (a cassette dub, sadly the last minute of Call Of Ktulu didn't fit on it) followed quickly by Kill Em All. My listening rotation quickly went from Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, Ratt to Metallica, Slayer, Mercyful Fate, Anthrax, Exodus. Great memories!


Steve Orion profile image

Steve Orion 4 years ago from Tampa, Florida

Certainly an influential band and album, and a great story you have to go with it! I think their later albums surpassed the quality of Kill 'Em All by quite a bit, but the album was still ground-breaking for its time!

Rated up and awesome! Another interesting metal Hub from FatFreddysCat, keep them coming and keep banging your head!


Georgie Lowery profile image

Georgie Lowery 4 years ago from Slaton, Texas USA

I didn't hear Metallica for the first time until Master of Puppets. A local radio station played metal every Thursday night late, and Leper Messiah came on just once, but it was enough. It is amazing how four goofy looking guys (Kirk looks like he's 12 in that picture!) can manage to set something in motion that is still being played out thirty years later.

Your Hub is awesome. I love seeing how music affects people, and you did an amazing job letting us in to your thirteen year old world for a minute. Thank you!


SkySlave profile image

SkySlave 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

A great ground breaking album by Metallica. This album had some iconic thrash metal songs; Seek & Destroy , Metal Militia etc. Classic sound from an amazing band.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Thanks, all.


hotwebideas profile image

hotwebideas 4 years ago from New York

Georgie Lowery said, "you did an amazing job letting us in to your thirteen year old world for a minute."

Hey FFC, does George mean you are 13 or George, were you 13 when he first heard Metalica? LOL


wmgmetalchris profile image

wmgmetalchris 4 years ago from Kent State University

I came into metallica way late. I wasn't even born4 until 8


wmgmetalchris profile image

wmgmetalchris 4 years ago from Kent State University

sorry, new phone. I wasn't born until 84 but when I heard Kill 'em all for the first time, I knew I had to learn to play every song! Good page.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Thanx, wmg - now I feel old! Haha. But seriously, it doesn't matter when you came on board, if Metallica inspired or moved you in any way, no matter how old you are, then it's all good. Thanx for stopping by.


Joe Baca profile image

Joe Baca 3 years ago

When I first put on Kill 'Em All and when Hit The Lights faded in, I was like yeeeeeaaAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! It was raw, dirty, fast and (more importantly at that time) LOUD.

The only thing other music that I heard that was like that was Fast As A Shark from Restless and Wild (that I dubbed from my library around that same time period..........probably just slightly before).

I was lucky enough to know someone who wanted these albums transferred to cassette:

Armored Saint - EP

Metallica - Kill 'Em All

Raven - Break The Chain 12"

Mercyful Fate - Melissa

So, it was either late '83 or early '84 which would make me either 14 or 15.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Cool, man. Great list of classic albums there too, all of which were instrumental in my metal evolution as well. Thanks for stoppin' by!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Updated!!


Reality Bytes profile image

Reality Bytes 3 years ago from Freeman On The Land United States of America.

I was in high school when Kill Em All was released. It blew my mind. Especially compared to the mainstream garbage that was getting airplay at the time.

Another band that knocked me over was Slipknot.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Same here, R.B. - like I said, after one spin of Kill'Em All, suddenly Quiet Riot and Def Leppard weren't cutting it with me anymore!!


Moms-Secret profile image

Moms-Secret 3 years ago from Central Florida

This is my all time favorite band! I would even call them legendary in that some of their songs remained at top of their game/genre for such a long time and are still played often on the radio.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Thanx Moms-Secret... it's amazing to think that such a huge band got its start 30 years ago with this album. Humble beginnings indeed!!


newenglandsun 3 years ago

I liked their albums ...and Justice for All as well as Ride the Lightning. I actually didn't care much for this album of theirs.


Moms-Secret profile image

Moms-Secret 3 years ago from Central Florida

Ride the Lightning I think was my favorite!


newenglandsun 3 years ago

Fade to Black was such an awesome song. Some of the different covers of it are by Sonata Arctica, Disturbed, and Apocalyptica.

I like Iron Maiden, Helloween, and Judas Priest more than Metallica though. Iron Maiden was very influential.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

I may have gotten burnt out on Metallica long ago, but their first couple of records still get spins from me. I'm good up till the Black Album, then they started getting a little too slick for me.


newenglandsun 3 years ago

Lol. Most "trve" metalheads I've found on the internet usually like Metallica up until the Black Album so I am definitely not surprised at this. Although Death Magnetic was actually really good IMHO.


newenglandsun 3 years ago

Joe Baca, the song that got me into Mercyful Fate was Emperor's cover of "Gypsy".

"They say you know the secret, secret of

Time

So gaze into your crystal and tell me all

You see

Gypsy woman let me know"


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Yeah, Death Magnetic was quite good...their best in a very long while... saw'em on that tour and they can still kick ass live. I may not be as diehard a fan as I once was but it was still nice to see 'em again after so many years.


FreedomMetal profile image

FreedomMetal 3 years ago from Somewhere In Time

Who would have even guessed that Metallica would end up being one of the biggest bands in the world, headlining not just arenas, but huge festivals and their own stadium gigs 30 years later?


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Indeed, Freedom.... when that first album came out, most people couldn't make heads or tails of it!!


Joe Cogan 3 years ago

Hard to believe that KEA is 30 years old! Their first four albums still rank as some of the greatest and most influential metal ever recorded. A pity that their commercial breakthrough came at the cost of turning them into the proverbial "watered-down, radio-friendly crap" that they initially came to seek and destroy...


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hi Joe - it was a game changer, that's for sure!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Updated!!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

I'm sharing this with my son who is so devoted to Metallica his groom's cake was their logo and he and his bride walked in and out of their wedding ceremony to Metallica songs. I'm sure he'll agree with every word you've written here. Fade to Black . . . .


Snakesmum profile image

Snakesmum 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

I've got quite a few non-commercial Metallica vinyls stashed in my wardrobe, as well as most of their recordings except the most recent one.

One of my favourite tracks is "Call of Ktulu".


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 20 months ago from The Garden State Author

Updated


NonCopyBook profile image

NonCopyBook 20 months ago from NSW Australia

Love this album.. I see you're not listening much post Black album either, love those first five albums- hard to say whether "Master of Puppets" or "And Justice for All" is the best in my view (given I'm a bit iffy on "Escape" and "Trapped Under Ice" on "Ride the Lightning," as catchy as they might be & a great album...). This may lead to revisiting "Kill 'Em All" over the weekend....


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 20 months ago from The Garden State Author

Hi NonCopyBook -- I do own all the post-"Black" album CDs but aside from an occasional spin most of them don't get much play around my house. I will admit that I liked "Death Magnetic" more than expected but even that wasn't quite enough to put them back in my permanent rotation...but those first four records (four and a half if you count the "$5.98 EP") are still solid gold in my book. Thanx for stopping by.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 17 months ago from The Garden State Author

Updated


Rana Pecarski profile image

Rana Pecarski 17 months ago from Texas

I was 18 in 1983 and yeah, I was also listening to Def Leppard, Motley Crue, same MTV stuff you mentioned. I really didn't, I guess, appreciate Metallica until years later.

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