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Metallica - Kill 'Em All CD (album) cover




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3.46 | 557 ratings

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Petrovsk Mizinski
Prog Reviewer
4 stars While many metal bands had become very mainstream and almost pop-ish, and while NWOBHM was busy dominating the metal scene as well, other developments were happening underground. Sure enough, there was also progression happening on the musicianship of singular bands members (such as Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads taking guitar virtuosity to new heights), but what about the band front? Well, as it happens, this is what was happening in the underground. Underground, you ask? Well where else could they be? Metal was hardly popular at the time and even veterans on the scene at the time like Ozzy Osbourne were struggling to make ends meet, what with punk, disco and various other genres being commercially successful to some extent or another.

Many were not happy with the situation and decided to go completely against the mold. The most extreme genre of metal at the time was developing. It was called thrash metal, a genre with characteristics like fast tempos, many tempo changes, heavy percussive low register riffs, fast (sometimes shredding) guitar solos, influenced by punk and hardcore punk and with an overall level of aggression never before seen in any rock music genre, even more so than the aggression found in hardcore punk.

When exactly thrash metal became a genre, is not really known, but it is known a band called Leather Charm, wrote a song in 1981, called Hit The Lights. One of the more important aspects of the band, is that one member was in fact, James Hetfield. Around this time, thrash metal was fully up and running, with many bands having formed already, with the Bay Area Thrash scene being a particular focal point. Leather Charm was just one of these bands, heavily influenced by NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden, Motorhead and Diamond Head. While very much in the style of NWOBHM, the band had wrote an arrangement of the song Hit The Lights, which is of particular importance.

The band was short lived and out of its ashes, a band called Metallica, which formed in late 1981. A drummer, Lars Ulrich, placed an advertisement in a classified newspaper called the The Recycler that stated he was looking for other band members and James Hetfield answered that advertisement. The band now had a singer and rhythm guitarist and the hunt for a lead guitarist was on. Guitarist Lloyd Grant had a very brief time in the band (legend has it, his contribution consisted of a single guitar solo and nothing more), so the band would have to keep looking. Another ad was placed in The Recycler, and this time around, a 20 year old Dave Mustaine answered. He had some great gear and was subsequently hired by the band. Ron McGovney was the bassist for a while, but clashes with Ulrich and Mustaine resulted in the band wanting to replace him. Hetfield was amazed by the bass solo Cliff Burton performed (at the time, Cliff was in a band called Trauma) and asked if he wanted to join. Cliff said yes.

Now with a full line up, the band would play many shows and obliterated audiences with their hard hitting brand of thrash metal. The band would also record the seminal demo tape, No Life 'Till Leather with this line up. All was not well though, with Dave Mustaine abusing alcohol and drugs and having occasional violent outbursts. He was replaced with a guitarist from Bay Area Band Exodus, the guitarist in question being Kirk Hammett.

History lesson over.

The album begins with Hit The Lights, with a crazy opening of smashing guitars and frenzied drumming before it goes into the main riff. At this point, we know we are in for thrash metal thrill ride. Straight into a speedy riff accented with palm mutes, it's a riff more technical (like many riffs on this album) than much of what other metal bands were doing at the time. The riffs just seem to blend into each other, rather than sound incoherent next to each other. While the song isn't particularly complex, the way the riffs tie in together give the song a evolutionary feel, if you will and certainly The tempo changes too, don't seem a bit out of place at al. Kirk's leads soar and demonstrate a different take on what can be done with the pentatonic scale, but indeed, as this was a song that has Dave Mustaine writing credits on it, the solo is very much in the vein of the solos Mustaine wrote for some of the songs on the record.

Onto The Four Horsemen now. Perhaps the proggiest piece on this album. While many metal bands at the time would stretch out songs by placing in extra riffs that didn't display much development over the prior riff, The Four Horsemen flows like a river free of all obstacles. Each E Minor riff just seems to tie into each other and we even get a taste of the Phyrgian scale (although perhaps not intentional, so chromaticism may be the word here) too, but it flows so effortlessly that it only really becomes obvious when you hear that F note (during the riff that begins around 2:04)

One of the most amazing and beautiful moments of the song for me, is the melodic instrumental section beginning about 3:28. Cliff Burton's bass comes a bit more during this part, and of course, we get perhaps the best guitar solo on the record. Even during the faster moments, I never feel a loss of soul during this solo. After much twisting and turning, we finally return to the first riff of the song. We then get another blistering Mustaine solo before the song concludes.

Motorbreath continues this onslaught and again, the development that was shown during the last two songs doesn't stop. The song being in predominantly B Aeolian certainly gives it a unique, especially wen you consider how popular it was at the time to write metal riffs that bounced off the open E and A strings which would then usually result in a E or A Aeolian tonality. While they may not be long, there is some cool instrumental sections to keep the song going. It's a fairly short song, but it excites me nonetheless.

I've always felt Jump In The Fire was a fairly weak spot on this album and it's really the only track I would consider skipping from time to time. It's definitely more 'speed metal' than thrash metal in feel, although that isn't the reason I may tend to skip it. The song seems to drag on a bit, and the riffs don't seem to excite me as much as the previous songs. The solo sections are not bad, and the lyrics are somewhat amusing too, erring on the sexual side.... funny to imagine a young pimply faced James Hetfield singing that kinda stuff in his gruff and rough voice.

Fortunately, (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth comes to save the day. An all instrumental track (essentially a bass solo), Cliff Burton's playing is a bass tour de force and perhaps represents some of the most virtuosic bass playing in heavy metal up until that point in time. He utilizes a heavily distorted bass tone (it sounds somewhat 'unnatural' leading me to believe he used guitar distortion pedals instead of a bass distortion pedal), while not a new thing, was certainly unusual at the time. Demonstrating the use of picked arpeggios, right hand tapping, use of a wah wah pedal and string bends (pretty tough to do on bass guitar) , it certainly was a fresh and unique sounding approach to bass. While a few players like Steve Harris of Iron Maiden adopted an approach to bass that helped to push bass more towards the center stage (so to speak), Cliff Burton managed to not only do this, but did it in a virtuosic way that left people slack jawed. I still remember when I first heard this album back in 2004, I was absolutely floored by this bass solo. And it's a pretty good composition to top it off.

Now onto the second half the of the album. Whiplash. The riff that comes in at about 30 seconds.... pure unadulterated thrash metal to the core. Palm muted tremolo picked with a chromatic descending line and hitting the open E string. So what? you say. Well it was the stuff that pretty much helped define the genre and it made the riffs feel like they were literally thrashing. Challenging to play, but it doesn't fail to stick in your mind. Like many of the other songs thus so far, it strays from the pop formula of verse/chorus and throws in a cool instrumental/guitar solo section to boot.

Phantom Lord has that little swirly sound thing going on at the start, but soon goes into melt down metal. Again, it has that evolutionary feel to it. One thing that I found to be really cool, was the use of the right hand tapping technique in the first solo, which sure enough was nothing new, but it helped to cement the use of shredding in more styles of metal. Kirk's other solos in this song have this hellbent sense of urgency, almost as if they are telling you to get away from the Phantom Lord, before he catches you.

No Remorse, is absolutely thundering. From the heavy crushing riff in F# minor in the intro, with Kirk's wah wah pedaled solo, straight into the punishing E minor riffage. One thing that always felt really cool to me, was that clever tempo change and use of Mixloydian riffing at 3:48. I can just imagine that would catch any first time listener of the album completely off guard and leave them thinking Where the hell did that come from?. But hey, it works. From Hetfield's mighty scream of LET'S GOOOO! it's balls to wall, no-compromise thrash riffage. And what a way to end the song it is.

Seek and Destroy. Some really bad lyrics here to be honest, but I can overlook that if only because everything else is done so well. One thing that is immediately obvious, is that it's a mid tempo song for the most part. But have no worries, the tempo change section you are waiting for does in fact exist, coming in at 3:11. Kirk demonstrates some fairly challenging alternate picking chops for the time in his solos, even if the solos themselves aren't the best on the record.

The album closes with a more straight forward thrasher. But it's a thunderous closer anyway, with a torrent of riffs. Perfect for unleashing the Metal Militia onto the world.

A few things that bother me, are perhaps Jump in the Fire being a fairly weak track and some of Kirk's soloing.... because let's fact it, he wasn't a virtuoso and certainly was not up to the level of Randy Rhoads (who had died a year before this album was released) and Eddie Van Halen.

A seminal record in the history of metal and one that changed the way people saw metal, and the way metal would be composed.

Petrovsk Mizinski | 4/5 |


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