This month will see the 30th anniversary of Metallica’s debut release, Kill ‘Em All. Widely considered to be the birth of “thrash metal”, its’ sound was born out of taking the stripped down, no frills, in your face attitude of Punk and adding the more skilled musicianship of the burgeoning “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” scene. Humorously, the ingredient which pushed it over the edge was the on-stage nervousness of a young Lars Ulrich, causing him to play faster than intended and forcing the other members of the band to speed up with him.
The album was originally going to be called “Metal Up Your Ass” complete with a cover image of a steely blade emerging from a toilet bowl, however record execs deemed this to be too offensive. In a moment of frustration, bassist Cliff Burton, referring to said record execs stated “Why don’t we just kill ‘em all?” and thus the album’s new title was born.
Tracks such as “The Four Horsemen”, “Motorbreath”, “Whiplash” and “Seek & Destroy” all remain regular staples of Metallica sets to this day. The latter having become the official closer to all modern Metallica concerts, where the houselights are raised and the whole crowd is beckoned to join in and shout from their top of their lungs the rallying cry chorus of “Searching…….. SEEK AND DESTROY!”
The most surprising and notable stand out of the album however is late bassist Cliff Burton’s four minute bass solo track, “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)”. What Hendrix did for guitar, Burton did for the bass. Taking influences from classical, psychedelic rock, blues and heavy metal, he crafted a unique “lead bass” style all his own that remains unparalleled to this day. Featuring heavy distortion, liberal amounts of wah pedal and bends so extreme you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a guitar. In fact it was this distinct sound that caught James Hetfield’s and Lars Ulrich’s eyes while watching him play with his former band Trauma in San Francisco. They too believed that what they heard was a guitar until they got closer, counted the strings and exclaimed “Dude, that’s a bass!”. It was then they knew they needed him for Metallica. Tragically his brilliant career was cut short in September of 1986 when the band’s bus flipped over while touring in Sweden. He was only 24.
30 years later Kill ‘Em All is still a classic of the genre and snapshot of an unassuming bunch of snot-nosed 20 year old punks, years before they were poised to define and conquer the world of Heavy Metal. This past month in Detroit where Metallica headlined their own Orion Music & More festival, the band surprised audience members with a mid-day set under the fake stage name “Dehaan” and ripped through the whole album in its entirety. It reminded fans where it all began and that these 50 year old men can still thrash as hard as ever.