Sunday, March 29, 2009

March 29: Metallica, "Kill 'Em All"

Artist: Metallica
Album: Kill 'Em All
Year: 1983
Label: Elektra

Since mentioning them as an aside the other day, I've been able to listen to little except early Metallica. That's not a bad thing, as their first few albums are some of their best work to date. Metallica have become a household name throughout their career and have been vaulted to the upper echelon of bands. They are easily one of the most respected rock bands in history, and they can be credited with creating a new genre with their early records. They've been making music for nearly thirty years, yet it is their 1983 debut, Kill 'Em All that still stands as their shining moment.

Kill 'Em All truly marks the birth of the genre of "speed metal." Combining the ethos of the punk movement with heavy influences from UK bands like Motorhead and Judas Priest, Metallica constructed a sound that countless bands would attempt to (unsuccessfully) duplicate over the years. The sheer speed found on many of the songs automatically placed Metallica far away from their ppers as songs like "Hit The Lights" and the legendary instrumental "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth" showed an entirely new, break-neck speed, approach to metal. Though the album may lack in "variation," the formula that Metallica presents on Kill 'Em All is a focused musical assault the likes of which had never before been heard. Though it lacks some of the grandeur that would become part of Metallica's trademark sound, the foundation for everything that would make the band world famous can clearly be heard throughout Kill 'Em All.

When it comes to musical precision, few albums and artists come anywhere near the perfection that is found on Kill 'Em All. Throughout the record, James Hetfield's crunching, lighting-fast, yet steady rhythm guitar is the driving force. Lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett, provides spectacular solos, even on the songs written by former guitarist, Dave Mustaine (who would go on to form Megadeth). The shear length of many of the songs on Kill 'Em All also make this album stand out from the rest. Metallica places many "jam" sections into their songs, making many of them clocking in at over six minutes. Such long songs were unheard of in any genre outside of jazz and psychedelic music, and it is another example of how Metallica paved the way for a new genre. The fact that many of these tunes are still the most enjoyed songs of their live performances is a testament to how brilliant the songs are on Kill 'Em All.

Lyrically, Kill 'Em All is where the "dark" themes for Metallica began, much to the dismay of parents throughout the world. With songs that seem to be written from Satan's point of view ("Jump In The Fire,") to songs about war and death ("Phantom Lord" and "The Four Horsemen") the content of the record was just as intimidating as the music itself. Taking these themes, and adding the distinctive vocal sound of James Hetfield solidified the bands' dark, badass image that has stuck with them for an overwhelming majority of their career. Hetfields vocals often define the words "evil" and "dark" and often are nothing short of downright scary. Though it would take a few years for him to perfect his spoken sound, as Hetfield sings and screams, he is, in the process, turning his voice into a true iconic sound of heavy metal.

In modern times, Metallica are as big a band as you'll find anywhere on the planet. Though some might argue that they have mellowed out in their age, the fact remains that they were the pioneers of speed metal and turned heavy metal into one of the most influential sounds of the 1980's. Playing as speeds that few had yet achieved, and creating lengthy masterpieces that were nowhere to be seen at the time, Metallica pushed into uncharted musical territory, and in the process, became rock legends. Though most will go for their early 1990's releases as an introduction to the band, there is no doubt that their debut release, Kill 'Em All, shows Metallica in their purest form, and the record is an essential for every fan of music.

Standout tracks: "The Four Horsemen," "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth," and "Seek And Destroy."

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