30 years ago today, a little known heavy metal band from Northern California released their debut album on a fledgling independent record label run out of a New Jersey flea market. The album, Kill ‘Em All, was the opening salvo of the nascent thrash metal movement and the band, Metallica, had a profound effect not just on heavy metal itself, but the music industry as a whole. To mark the album’s 30th anniversary, we’ve asked fellow musicians and Metallica fans what they thought when they first encountered one of the music’s most groundbreaking albums. These include metal gods like Rob Halford from Judas Priest, fellow thrash titans Kerry King from Slayer and Anthrax’s Scott Ian, our trio of That Metal Show hosts, as well as a few people with personal ties to the band like longtime bassist Jason Newsted and Kirk Hammet’s former guitar teacher, famed guitar shredder Joe Satriani.
Mainstream heavy metal was on the ascent in the early ‘80s thanks to flashy music videos and the watered down sound of bands who did whatever was needed to succeed. Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All took aim at those who would dilute metal’s brute strength and delivered hard and heavy anthems at tempos rarely heard before. Like the hardcore punk bands whose t-shirts they sported, the band represented a rebellion within the rebellion. Their dressed down image and defiant attitude was the same as the scruffy, suburban longhairs who had been proselytizing about the band since their No Life ‘til Leather had become the rage in metal tape trading circles. Their ensuing success proved a metal band didn’t have to put on makeup or write power ballads in order to sell records.