Kill 'Em All is the debut studio album by the American heavy metal band Metallica, released on July 25, 1983, by the independent record label Megaforce Records. Kill 'Em All is regarded as a groundbreaking album for thrash metal because of its precise musicianship, which fuses new wave of British heavy metal riffs with hardcore punk tempos. The album's musical approach and lyrics were markedly different from rock's mainstream of the early 1980s and inspired a number of bands who followed in similar manner. The album did not enter the Billboard 200 until 1986, when it peaked at number 155, following Metallica's commercial success with its third studio album Master of Puppets; the 1988 Elektra reissue peaked at number 120. Kill 'Em All was critically praised at the time of its release and in retrospect, and was placed on a few publications' best album lists. It was certified 3× Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1999 for shipping three million copies in the United States. The album generated two singles, "Whiplash" and "Jump in the Fire".
Metallica began by playing shows in local clubs in Los Angeles. They recorded several demos to gain attention from club owners, and eventually relocated to San Francisco to secure the services of bassist Cliff Burton. The group's No Life 'til Leather demo (1982) was noticed by Megaforce label head Jon Zazula, who signed them and provided a small budget of $15,000 for recording. The album was recorded in May with producer Paul Curcio at the Music America Studios in Rochester, New York. It was originally intended to be titled Metal Up Your Ass, with cover art featuring a hand clutching a dagger emerging from a toilet bowl. The band was asked to change the name because distributors feared releasing an album with such an offensive title and artwork would diminish its chances of commercial success. Metallica promoted the album on the two-month co-headlining Kill 'Em All for One tour with Raven in the US. Although the initial shipment was 15,000 copies in the US, the album sold 60,000 copies worldwide by the end of Metallica's Seven Dates of Hell European tour in 1984.
Metallica was formed in 1981 in Los Angeles by drummer Lars Ulrich and vocalist James Hetfield. Before settling on a definitive lineup, Metal Blade Records owner Brian Slagel asked Metallica to record a song for the first edition of his Metal Massacre compilation. Hetfield and Ulrich chose "Hit the Lights" from Hetfield's previous band Leather Charm, and recorded it with Hetfield's childhood friend Ron McGovney on bass, and temporary guitarist Lloyd Grant. The band's first lineup featured Hetfield, Ulrich, McGovney, and guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was acquired through a newspaper advertisement. The band practiced in McGovney's garage and inquired to play gigs at local clubs. Metallica's first show was on March 14, 1982, at the Radio City in Anaheim. The nine-song setlist consisted of two originals ("Hit the Lights" and an unfinished version of "Jump in the Fire" from Mustaine's earlier band Panic) and covers of new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) bands such as Diamond Head, Blitzkrieg, Savage, and Sweet Savage. The gig was notorious because Mustaine had problems with the guitar distortion pedal and broke a string during a song. Metallica's second gig was March 27 at Hollywood's Whisky a Go Go, opening for Saxon. Although Mötley Crüe was originally scheduled to open the show, the group canceled because of its growing popularity. Metallica recorded a three-song demo to persuade the venue's management to allow the band to open for Saxon. Metallica's third concert was in April, at which was premiered "The Mechanix", written by Mustaine during his tenure with Panic. Mustaine interacted with the fans at Metallica's earliest shows because Hetfield was shy.
To get attention from club owners, Metallica recorded the Power Metal demo which featured "Motorbreath" in addition to the already-performed originals. The logo, displaying the band's name with the first and last letter drawn larger with sharp serifs and italicized, was designed by Hetfield. The No Life 'til Leather demo was recorded in July 1982, and it created a buzz in the underground tape trading circles. No Life 'til Leather featured a re-recorded version of "Hit the Lights", which appeared on the second pressing of Metal Massacre, in addition to new songs such as "Phantom Lord", "Seek & Destroy", and "Metal Militia". The recording and mastering was financed by Kenny Kane, owner of the punk label High Velocity, and distributed by Ulrich and his friend Pat Scott. Because of tensions with Mustaine, McGovney left the band in December. Ulrich was impressed by Cliff Burton's performance with Trauma at The Troubadour and offered to let him join the group. Burton joined on the condition that Metallica would relocate to the San Francisco area. Moving to El Cerrito in February 1983, the band stayed and rehearsed at Exodus manager Mark Whitaker's house, which they called the "Metallica Mansion". Metallica intended to record its debut in Los Angeles on Slagel's independent label on an $8,000 budget. Slagel could not afford the record, and Ulrich contacted Jon Zazula, a New Jersey record store owner and promoter of heavy metal bands on the East Coast who had already heard No Life 'til Leather. Metallica rented a U-Haul truck and drove to New Jersey in late March, and upon arrival, allowed Zazula to sell copies of No Life 'til Leather to help him found Megaforce Records, because no label wanted to finance the album's recording.
Hetfield and Ulrich fired Mustaine on the morning of April 11, after a gig in New York, because of his drug and alcohol problems, overly aggressive behavior, and clashes with bandmates. On Whitaker's recommendation, Metallica recruited Kirk Hammett, who played in Exodus and was a one-time student of Joe Satriani. Hammett learned the songs on his flight to New York, and started recording the album with Metallica barely a month later. Metallica met producer Paul Curcio at Music America studios in Rochester, New York, and recorded the album in two weeks. Unable to afford a hotel during the recording sessions, the band members lived in people's houses in Rochester and at the Music Factory in Jamaica, Queens, where Anthrax held rehearsals. Curcio had set the studio equipment as if he were recording an ordinary rock band. He thought the initial tapes sounded very distorted and tried to compensate by turning down the knobs. Metallica resented Curcio's involvement because he seemed uninterested and had little impact on the sound. Although Zazula wanted Hammett to replicate Mustaine's solos, Hammett's guitar solos on the album were partially based on Mustaine's original solos, with the first four bars of most solos written by Mustaine before his departure. Despite their differences, Mustaine's contributions to the early years of Metallica were still acknowledged and he received four co-writing credits on Kill 'Em All. Zazula was not satisfied with the initial mix because he thought the drums were too loud and the guitars were too low in the mix. The remix was done by sound engineer Chris Bubacz, according to Zazula's instructions. The final cost for the record was $15,000, which nearly bankrupted Zazula. "This was mortgage money I'm spending, not something I've got put by I'm going to invest," he said later. Zazula had a hard time finding a distributor for the record, but he eventually convinced Relativity Records to distribute the album in the US and Canada, and Music for Nations in Europe.
The band initially intended to title the album Metal Up Your Ass with the cover featuring a hand clutching a dagger emerging from a toilet bowl. However, Zazula convinced them to change this as he thought distributors would not stock it. The final cover featured the shadow of a hand letting go of a bloodied hammer. Burton was credited with coming up with the name Kill 'Em All—referring to timid record distributors, saying, "Those record company fuckers ... kill 'em all!"—as a response to the situation. Ulrich thought Kill 'Em All was a good name, and Zazula agreed. Burton suggested to Gary L. Heard, also responsible for the Metallica photograph in the back cover, to feature a bloodied hammer on the album art. According to Hammett, "Cliff carried a hammer with him everywhere he went. He always had a hammer in his luggage, and he would take it out occasionally and start destroying things." Even though the original title was unused, the band did later release a "Metal Up Your Ass" T-shirt with the proposed artwork. A live bootleg recording of a 1982 performance at the Old Waldorf, titled Metal Up Your Ass (Live), featured the original cover artwork. Original pressings of the album came with an inner sleeve that included pictures and lyrics as well as a silver label on the vinyl. Subsequent pressings had a blank white sleeve and standard album label. The 1988 reissue re-introduced the lyrics and photos. The original release can be distinguished by the words "Bang That Head That Doesn't Bang" at the top of the back cover. This was dropped from the reissue. The phrase "Bang That Head That Doesn't Bang" was dedicated to San Francisco fan Ray Burch, known for his headbanging at the band's early shows.
Kill 'Em All features intricate riffing reminiscent of the NWOBHM bands played at high velocity. The album is considered crucial in the thrash metal genesis because it introduced fast percussion, low-register chords, and shredding leads to the genre. Hammett played some pentatonic patterns in addition to his breakneck solos. Ulrich adopted a double time snare pattern that would become a mainstay on Metallica's subsequent albums. Hetfield's vocals evolved from the melodic wail on No Life 'til Leather to a rough-edged bark and the entire band played faster and more accurately on Kill 'Em All. Music writer Joel McIver said Burton's and Hetfield's performances were nearly virtuosic, because of the smooth-sounding bass of the former and the precise picking skills of the latter. According to journalist Chuck Eddy, the juvenile lyrical approach to topics such as warfare, violence and life on the road gives the album a "naive charm". The musical approach on Kill 'Em All was in contrast to the glam metal bands who dominated the charts in the early Eighties. Because of its rebellious nature and Metallica's street appearance, it appealed to fans who were not into the mainstream of hard rock.
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