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Metallica - Kill 'Em All CD (album) cover




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3.40 | 459 ratings

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3 stars I admit it. By all definitions of the word, I am a geezer and have been for quite a while. Therefore, the whole metal movement and the bands that personified it when it arose in the 80s were of only passing interest to me. I assure you, had Metallica appeared on the scene a dozen years earlier I would've gone crazy over them and the gritty music they made but by '83 I had mellowed significantly. It wasn't that I had an aversion to loudness. On the contrary, I'd not only hungrily devoured albums like "Are You Experienced" and "Machine Head" when they appeared but voluntarily had my ears pinned back when witnessing the likes of Hendrix and Deep Purple in concert. It also wasn't that I was offended by the anger and angst in the lyrics because I'd had groups like The Who and The Stones who shared my youthful, rebellious outlook and I'd enthusiastically pumped my fist to their music in my bedroom and when seeing them perform at the local arenas. (When you're so irate you could put your fist through the wall listening to The Hollies does nada for you.) So nothing about metal insulted me, it was just that in that time frame I was more intrigued by what was going on in jazz, world beat and the lighter side of progressive rock. When Metallica's videos started showing up on the infernal MTV network I paid them and their sneering peers bare notice. Yet I could tell that they were most likely going to endure due to the fact that, compared to the pseudo-punk and New Wave acts that dominated that era, the men of Metallica were genuinely talented musicians who knew what they were doing. I was right. Almost three decades later they and their legion of fans are still a force to be reckoned with so it's only fair that I give their product an unbiased assessment. Plus, I wanna do it. So there.

Briefly, after a rocky beginning that involved two of the founding members being replaced, Metallica went into the studio in May 1983 to record their style of raucous, irked mayhem without a trace of compromise. Released in July of that same year, "Kill 'Em All" may not have taken the world or the biz by storm but it did mark the beginning of a welcome drift away from the disturbing triteness of the then-current deluge of vapid pop, back toward the roots of hard & heavy rock pioneered by rough outfits like the original Jeff Beck Group, MC5 and Blue Cheer. Drummer Lars Ulrich, bassist Clifford Lee Burton, guitarist/vocalist James Alan Hetfield and lead axeman Kirk Hammett were only interested in playing sizzling specimens of ballsy rock & roll that sated their souls and got their eager audiences off. They may or may not have realized they were breaking ground on a whole new wing in the planet's music building that the public had been yearning to see constructed for years but it didn't matter. They opened the flood gates.

Debut albums can be dicey deals. The most common ailments that adversely affect a band's first venture are lack of confidence, timidity and too much self-consciousness. Metallica suffered from none of those maladies as exemplified by the raw aggressiveness of the opening cut, "Hit the Lights." You can tell they had visions of SRO concert halls in mind by the grandiose beginning they deliver, setting the listener up for a no-frills metal onslaught. Happily, I detect a solid Deep Purple influence lurking in the song's foundation while Hammett shreds like a madman covered with ants. "The Four Horsemen" follows, a riff-driven rocker that's predictable arrangement-wise but intense enthusiasm can't be overvalued when trying to make an impression and they have plenty to spare. The middle section of the tune turns more adventurous as they guide the number through some unexpected feels and tempos. "Motorbreath" is next, presented at a speed-demon pace and accentuated by tight kicks from Ulrich. I must report that Hetfield's vocal is more shouting than singing at this juncture of his career while acknowledging that years down the road his steady improvement in that area would be nothing short of remarkable. Their na´ve innocence is on full display during "Jump in the Fire" as they make it obvious that their sole mission is to further their boisterous agenda even if the track's fidelity has to take a back seat to sheer ferocity. Kirk's guitar ride burns hot as a Hades summer. Speaking of fiery, "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth" is Burton's baby from start to end. His lone, loud-as-hell bass guitar intro is intentionally anti-Van Halen in nature but intriguing in the unique stance it takes. The group dives in at the halfway point but it's Clifford who's making the strongest statement, proving his undeniable ability to run with the big boys via this nut-busting instrumental.

"Whiplash" knocks you upside your skull with sharp blasts resounding over Lars' heavy toms, then it evolves into a locomotive-on-high-octane-racing-fuel extravaganza that takes no prisoners. As I implied earlier, in the early 70s I would've eaten this stuff up like bon-bons because the band's overall musicianship and tightness is nothing short of phenomenal. The royal intro they attach to "Phantom Lord" doesn't last long as they soon revert to their bread-and-butter, unrestricted maniacal rock. Again they surprise me by digressing into a semi-prog motif briefly before returning to their blazing sprint. I found myself amused during "No Remorse" by how they consistently stick Kirk's guitar leads way up front in the mix as if to say "we don't care about being slick, Dick, just listen to THIS!" It's another road-grader of a tune with no hint of a let up in their aural assault to be found. "Seek and Destroy" exemplifies everything ruthless about metal music due to its unapologetically pulsating, head-banging mindset. This cut, maybe more than any other on the disc, forces their regal roots to the surface and shows Metallica to be an ensemble steeped in the grand tradition of the rock titans that were roaring like lions when they were still pooping their Pampers. "Metal Militia" is next and there's only so much you can assimilate when they're flying by at the speed of light. I just tried to hang on. The much slower, menacing approach they adopt for the start of "Am I Evil" brings to mind the dark aura that Black Sabbath once exuded. But by now the unrelenting sledgehammer effect becomes headache-inducing inside this graying head of mine although Hammett does a fantastic job of imitating Ritchie Blackmore on this song. They close with "Blitzkrieg" and they go out the way you'd expect, riding atop another growling riff like demonic cowboys and relentlessly chewing up the landscape without mercy.

When Metallica was added to this site I, not being all that familiar with their body of work, had reservations about their qualifications. However, now that I've investigated their debut, I clearly see the progressive spirit they possess because, while they may be many things, they're never boring, unimaginative or cowardly and those are essential ingredients to being labeled as prog-related. I remember the excitement I experienced every time bands like Trapeze dug in their claws and produced gut-grabbing hard rock in the 60s and 70s that acted as a necessary pressure-release valve for my pent-up emotions. Now I'm starting to understand why Metallica's music meant so much to so many, especially during the empty 80s. They met the same primal need that must be met in each generation, else the Earth will explode. 3.4 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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