Today in rock history: On this date in 1983, up-and-coming thrash metal band Metallica released its debut album, Kill ‘Em All. Released on the independent metal record label Megaforce Records, the album quickly made waves across the world of heavy metal and was met with overwhelmingly positive reaction. The band’s brand of fast, aggressive rock and roll was branded thrash metal and, in no time, other bands with a similar sound and delivery started popping up. Metallica’s raw and powerful live shows helped bolster its reputation as a fiery, young, powerful band which in turn helped boost record sales. Featuring two songs that were released as singles, “Whiplash” and “Jump in the Fire,” the album’s success led to Metallica being signed to a major label, Elektra Records, and eventually becoming one of the best-selling rock bands of all time. The original working title of Kill ‘Em All was Metal Up Your Ass, but the band was convinced to use a less offensive title for fear that many distributors would not be willing to carry and market the record.
CLIFF BURTON CAME UP WITH THE TITLE KILL ‘EM ALL.
Of course he did. The title came to the Metallica bassist after being upset with “timid record distributors” and saying “why don’t we just kill ’em all?”
Seven of the songs from Kill ‘Em All came from Metallica’s 1982 demo “No Life Til Leather” which they recorded with guitarist Dave Mustaine, and which got them signed to Megaforce. Then, after booting Mustaine from the band and replacing him with Kirk Hammett, they added “Whiplash, “No Remorse” and Burton’s distorted bass solo “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth).” The band also changed “Mechanix” to “The Four Horsemen,” extracting Mustaine’s lyrics about a horny mechanic and replacing them with lines about the Biblical apocalypse.
We were gonna have a hand coming through a toilet bowl, holding a machete, dripping with blood. And the toilet had barbed wire around it. That would’ve gotten everyone squirming uncomfortably.
Unfortunately – or fortunately – that idea was ditched.
“Our record label [Megaforce] told us that record distributors in America had strongly objected to the title and the planned sleeve. And we ran the real risk of not having our product stocked,” Ulrich explained at the time. “That wouldn’t have helped us at all.”
So the band decided to modify their sleeve art concept, but while still making sure the new design retained a certain underground edge.
Ulrich: “We wanted something that would shock everyone – except the fans. The title Kill ‘Em All was our way of getting back to the distributors, who were trying to censor us.”
The design itself was again very much down to the band themselves. While making it acceptable enough to ensure the album was freely available, they were also determined to introduce an element of gore and violence into the graphics.
“Once we had the title, it was obvious to have a sleeve that featured a lot of blood. It didn’t take much to think of having a weapon on there as well.”
Being careful to avoid the actual act of blood-letting, the band hinted at what might have happened, with the outline of a hand releasing a hammer.
“There’s a cartoon element to the whole thing that was element,” admitted the drummer. “After all, if you’re not showing any violence, who was gonna object? So we got our own way – and so did the music industry.”