Blah blah blah. You all know the story. Drummer Lars Ulrich puts an ad in a Los Angeles newpaper for a guitarist, James Hetfield responds, the two form a band, record a demo tape, No Life 'Till Leather, which blazes through the underground tape trading circuit. They fire lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, replace him with Exodus guitarist Kirk Hammett, and recorded what is the landmark thrash metal release, pre-dating other thrash metal classics like Megadeth's Rust in Peace and Anthrax's Among the Living and hell, even Slayer's South of Heaven by many, many years.
Kill 'Em All fades in with drums and guitars and bass making what sounds like a lot of noise before James Hetfield begins the riff to "Hit the Lights." When you hear this riff, and Hetfield's down-your-throat lyrics "We are gonna kick some ass tonight," you can't help but get excited. Each time I hear the thunderous Ulrich tom-tom runs and the "frantic" guitar solos of Kirk Hammett, I smile. The 2:36 mark of the first track on the debut Metallica CD introduces a trademark Metallica-ism. The band drops out except for a rhythm guitar riff. Classic.
"The Four Horsemen" is another trademark riff with Ulrich punctuating the rhythm in union with bassist Cliff Burton and his cymbal. This is the longest song, clocking in at 7:08. This is a primer for later Metallica songs that would stretch even longer, taken to the extreme with the ...And Justice for All release.
Of all the songs on this release, "Motorbreath" is the song that I come to as my favorite. It's an unlikely choice, especially since this CD also has "Whiplash," "Seek and Destroy," and "Phantom Lord." But my choice is still "Motorbreath." While I don't relate to Hetfield's tale of "Life in the fast lane is just how it seems/ Hard and it is heavy dirty and mean," I do find a connection with the third verse:
Those people who tell you not to take chances They are all missing on what life is about You only live once so take hold of the chance Don't end up like others the same song and dance
These lyrics are my personal favorite on this release.
Reviewing this release would not be complete without mentioning the performance of bassist Cliff Burton. I always get a kick out of the following quote that appeared in the February 2000 issue of Metal Maniacs that summarizes the hero status that Cliff Burton has assumed among Metallica fans. An editorial by Benji Nelson, from Pittsburgh, PA, includes these hilarious words:
"I've noticed a lot of uneducated morons don't know jack about heavy music. Metallica are talented, but they have drastically lost that raw metal edge they had with Cliff Burton. I never liked Newsted, 'cause there will never be a legitimate replacement for Cliff. I'll bet Cliff is turning in his grave. This other band, that calls itself Metallica, needs to change its name."
What I find humourous about this quote is that Burton taught Hetfield music theory and about how to arrange harmonies and melodies - - if anything, Burton refined the "raw metal edge" and made the band more musical. This is evident in his solo bass piece "(Anestheseia) Pulling Teeth." Long ago, I happened across a copy of the sheet music for this 3:27. The multiple time signatures are amazing. The best I can do now, though, is point out a tab version of the song. To top it all off, Ulrich enters with a bombastic yet simple part that elevates the song. Even in 1983, Ulrich knew a simple backbeat would be heavy.
Kill 'Em All stands the test of time for me, its raw sound having won me over after all these years.