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.Rob Halford (Judas Priest)
“In the UK, there was already a big buzz going around and I got hold of a cassette to check out what all the groundswell was about. I was impressed and excited that an American band had grabbed a hold of metal and forged their own style and sound in a fresh and fierce way. Kill ‘Em All put world focus on U.S. metal and the attack and arrangements of the songs made everyone sit up and listen. Each track does it for me, even now. It stands the test of time. This is how to make a record that lasts forever.”Jason Newsted
“I bought (Kill ’Em All) on first sight/listen at Zia Records in Tempe, Arizona the week of release. I was floored. Flotsam and Jetsam (Newsted’s band) was already playing fast but this was otherworldly speed metal. We were instant fans. It set in motion what I consider the blueprints of our genre along with the first Slayer and Exodus albums. ’Whiplash’ and ’Anesthesia’ are timeless masterpieces in my opinion. ’Whiplash’ for its raw appeal and Cliff opening up the sky for young aspiring bassists to venture out past the edges of where bass lived previously with ’Anesthesia.'”Scott Ian (Anthrax)
“I was in Metallica’s room at the Music Building in Jamaica, Queens when they were rehearsing those songs for Kill ’Em All. The first time I heard the record was in my car driving around NYC. I loved it. Same as Iron Maiden’s Number Of The Beast, it influenced everything that came after. The songwriting and James’ rhythm playing and tone, those things combined created a new genre.”Kerry King (Slayer)
VH1: Do you remember where you were when you first heard Metallica’s Kill ’Em All?
KING: “That would have been someone’s tape. Yes, I said tape!! In those days the tape trade was huge and was basically how people shared music. I remember thinking it was awesome and couldn’t wait to buy it!! While the rest of us were still finding ourselves musically and creatively, you had the sense that Metallica already knew. They had their sh*t together and knew exactly who they were and what they were about.”Joe Satriani
“I was teaching Kirk at the time, so he gave me a copy of the LP at a lesson. I took it home, put it on and experienced the whole bone crushing album in one listening! It was raw, powerful and full of thrashing energy and was the beginning of a new era in music. It captured and focused what young metal kids were feeling and experiencing at the time and crystallized it. The effect was nothing short of a revolution. I was proud of what Kirk had accomplished. His playing adds a unique energy and tone to each track. It defines what a ripping, thrashing lead guitar is supposed to sound like.”Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne)
“I was in the Quiet Riot tour bus in the midst of our Metal Health tour. We were listening to new releases that we had picked up at a recent in store appearance. My first impression was that they sounded like a young, modern Black Sabbath. While the rest of us where playing good time party music, Metallica was writing and performing socially conscious themed music. My favorite track from the album has always been ’Seek and Destroy.’ In my opinion, this track laid the ground work for Metallica’s future musical direction.”Chris Jericho
“I found Kill ‘Em All at Records On Wheels, remember record stores, Winnipeg, Canada in 1985. After looking at the zit-faced, teenage moustache-endowed scumbags on the back cover, I immediately knew this was my band because they looked exactly like me. It blew my mind how fast and heavy it was. And the opening crescendo of ’Hit The Lights’ was—and still is—the perfect way to start an album and a career. Plus ’(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth’ kicked my ass! It completely changed the entire face of not just metal, but of music as well. In 1983 nobody played music like this, nobody! Now even One Direction has heavy riffs and fast solos. My favorite part of the entire album is when James yells ’ALRIGHT!’ just as ’Seek And Destroy’ kicks in. I want to punch myself in the face every time I hear it, even to this day. And I often do.”Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, The Winery Dogs)
“A friend of mine was a college radio DJ and he got a very early copy of the album from Megaforce Records. I remember him thinking it was the most raucous, noisiest thing he’d ever heard and gave me the album because he didn’t like it. I, on the other hand, was blown away. It was the heaviest thing I had ever heard. At that point Accept and Motorhead were the heaviest bands around and this surpassed them both by a long shot. It had the ultimate chunk that I had been searching for in a band! It was a complete game-changer and single-handedly created an entire genre. It’s just a significant as Nirvana’s Nevermind or The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks. At the time, I was all about the songs, especially ’The Four Horsemen,’ but now that I’ve heard them so many times I find my favorite part of the album is Cliff’s bass solo. It shows what a virtuoso and how unbelievably original he was. I mean, a bass solo on a debut studio album, who does that?”
Eddie Trunk (DJ, That Metal Show)
“I was just starting out in radio doing a metal show in NJ. I knew Jonny Z who owned Megaforce Records from a flea market store he had. He drove to my radio studio one night asking me if I would please take a chance and play this band nobody would touch on my radio show called Metallica. He insisted it would be huge one day and asked me to give it a shot since no radio would touch it. I wish I could say I heard the future, but in all honesty I wasn’t sure what I heard. The music I liked had more melody and it sounded very harsh and extreme for my tastes. I wasn’t so sure about the tempos and vocals but it had an energy I liked. You must remember in 1983 there wasn’t much that sounded like that.
“Today Metallica is mainstream. Back then they were anything but! Along with Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax, it helped usher in and introduce a whole new style of metal. Thrash/speed metal was born with those early releases and Kill ‘Em All was at the forefront. The opening of ’Hit the Lights,’ just this wall of noise and the drums, and then the way it kicks in so intensely to me just screams ’things are about to get way more interesting in metal.’ It forced the established bands of the time to take notice and realize there was an audience for a more extreme style of metal. I think history will show it to be one of the most pivotal groundbreaking albums, for sure.”
Jim Florentine (Comedian, That Metal Show)
“I remember buying the record the first day it came out and bringing it over to my friends basement and about 10 of us got 3 cases of Beer and headbanged to the album until we ran out of beer. I already had the No Life ’til Leather cassette that came out before the album so I pretty much knew what to expect. It formed a whole new generation of metal that was speed metal and now thrash metal. The opening track ’Hit The Lights’ is my favorite part. It’s a great 1st track to hit you over the head.”
Don Jamieson (Comedian, That Metal Show)
“I was at my friend Eddie Van Kuren’s house in NJ and he said I wouldn’t believe how fast and heavy this band Metallica was. I had never heard them before and they blew my mind out. I thought it was insane that a band could play that fast on every song. It was like a musical roller coaster that never stopped or slowed down. It set the bar higher for the new generation of metal bands. After that bands had to play faster with more complex and inventive riffing. To this day, ’No Remorse’ is still one of my favorite Metallica songs. I still get that same feeling when I hear it today as I did when I was a teenager.”