Metallica were the gateway band for me. My older brother and his bad influence ways pushed Master of Puppets on me like some greasy punk passing me my first joint in the middle school basketball courts. We drove on US 33 on our way to the mall one hot summer afternoon and he pushed a cassette into the tape deck of his 1977 Cutlass Supreme. What hit my ears was an onslaught of power chords, double kick bass drum, and a howling James Hetfield singing “Master! Master! Where’s the dreams that I’ve been after/Master! Master! You promised only lies!” It was one of those eureka moments for my 13-year old self which led to a leap into the world of thrash/speed metal. For my birthday that year I was given a Ride The Lightning songbook, which helped me learn “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, “Trapped Under Ice”, and “Fade To Black”.
My brother bought me that book, natch.
From that point on I was a Metalli-nerd(it was a small group of just me, the neighbor kid that wasn’t allowed to listen to Metallica for Tipper Gore reasons, and my dog Klaus.) …And Justice For All was in my possession the day it came out in August of 1988. I was 14-years old and heading into my freshman year of high school. I was awkward and stocky with a weak mullet and wore too many button up striped shirts that were purchased at JC Penney. But I could half ass play “Eruption” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” and in my head I thought it was gonna be my year. Turned out it was just another “meh” school year, with the exception of seeing Child’s Play on my 15th birthday with two pals, snagging a pretty cool Megadeth t-shirt at some point, and my uncle gifting me a 70s DOD flanger pedal. Oh, and Metallica premiered their first video ever with “One”. Stayed at a friend’s house on a Saturday night so I could see the premiere on Headbanger’s Ball since my parent’s didn’t want to pay for cable.
I stuck with Metallica clear through high school. Metallica was the soundtrack to my senior year, along with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger. I gotta say, though, after “The Black Album” I felt the guys got a little too complacent. Load, a song on the MI:2 soundtrack, Bob Segar covers, and short, gelled hair styles? “Metal up your ass” turned into something far less violent or deviant. Soccer moms were singing along to “Enter Sandman” and “Fuel”. I’m not dissing this San Bernadino Godfathers of speed metal for making bank, but by the mid to late 90s Metallica were dabbling in arty rock and southern rock and I just couldn’t board that train with ’em. In 2003, when everyone turned against Metallica for St. Anger I sort of dug that record. Where most folks seemed to think it was middle-aged men trying to fit in with the kids they influenced I saw it as a band attempting to have fun being a band again. Taking risks(that snare sound, anyone?) and getting out of their comfort zone. I felt that, but the doc Some Kind Of Monster confirmed it to me. Whiny rock stars? Nah, they’re just human like you and me. Foibles and all, man.
So where am I going with all of this? Well I started going back to the old albums and I’d realized that I never really got into Kill Em All. I knew most of the songs, but never really dug into that record. I sort of bypassed that initial debut and went right for Master of Puppets. Last year Metallica started re-releasing their albums in remastered form, done from the original master tapes. The first two releases were Kill Em All and Ride The Lightning. Of course I bought them.
They sound amazing, but the big surprise was how much I love Kill Em All. For some reason I always just figured it was more of a hard rock album. It never came across as speed metal to me. Well I hadn’t hit the right songs. “Motorbreath”, “Phantom Lord”, and “Metal Militia” are as thrash and speed as they come. “Hit The Lights”, “Whiplash”, and “Seek and Destroy” are classic metal tunes. “The Four Horsemen” has a breakdown in it that sounds like Peace Sells-era Megadeth, like something off “Wake Up Dead”(I’m wondering if Mustaine was still in the band when that one was written.) “Jump In The Fire” is catchy as hell, but sounds nothing like Nilsson. There’s even a pretty killer instrumental highlighting the late great Cliff Burton’s bass playing called “Anesthesia(Pulling Teeth)”. This record actually seems like the perfect place for Metallica to being their trek into “Metaldom”.
What this album really sounds like is four barely drinking age California buds getting buzzed in the garage and making their own brand of NWOBHM tuneage. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Venom, Diamond Head, and Black Sabbath all play a part in molding the sound of Metallica, and Kill Em All is their first foray into the world that made them what they are today. I now realize Kill Em All is one of the most important metal records of the 80s. Ride The Lightning was when the speed came into prominence for the band, but Kill Em All was their street record. This was the ball bat and bike chains record. Street level tunes, man. There would be no Master or Justice without Kill Em All.
My son now requests “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Not because he heard me spinning it, but because of its use in an excellent indie horror movie we watched called The Devil’s Candy. But now that I mentioned that “The Four Horsemen” was used in X-Men: Apocalypse, he’s now asking to hear Kill Em All.
I guess I’ve become the bad influence now. My older brother would be proud.