Nine Things To Look Out For On The New Metallica Box Sets

On April 15, Metallica will release remastered versions of their first two albums, 1983’s ‘Kill ‘Em All’ and 1984’s ‘Ride The Lightning’ on CD, vinyl and, most excitingly, in deluxe box set formats.

The box sets will feature previously unreleased live sets from the band, demos and rarities plus hardcover books containing rare photos and essays from fans and friends who witnessed their early days. We’ve sifted through the expansive archive material (the Kill ‘Em All box features four vinyl records, five CDs and a DVD, while the Ride The Lightning set collates four records, six CDs and a DVD) to pick out nine noteworthy moments of interest to hardcore fans.

Hear the first ever live performances of Fight Fire With Fire, Ride The Lightning and Creeping Death
Upon the completion of their first ever national tour, the Kill ‘Em All For One tour, Metallica returned home to San Francisco’s Bay Area to work on new material in the garage of James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich’s house in El Cerrito. On Halloween night 1983, they decided to premiere three of their new songs at a club show in Palo Alto, California. So fresh were Fight Fire With Fire and Ride The Lightning that James Hetfield hadn’t even finished their lyrics, meaning that on Ride The Lightning he repeats the first verse lyrics for the song’s final verse, while at the end of Fight Fire With Fire’s second verse the singer simply grunts nonsensical noises in place of actual words.

Metallica performing with Anthrax’s gear
On January 14, 1984 Metallica were forced to cancel a show at Boston’s Channel Club when a blizzard paralysed the city. With the band stuck in New Jersey, their crew checked into a hotel for the night, but awoke to find that their rental truck and all the band’s equipment – including James Hetfield’s first Marshall amp – had been stolen. The quartet completed the remaining dates on the tour – including a January 20 show in Middletown, New York, available for the first time on the Kill ‘Em All box set – using gear borrowed from Anthrax. Onstage at J Bees Rock III, Hetfield dedicated Seek and Destroy to the New Yorkers; his despair at the theft would later inspire him to write Fade To Black.

Cliff Burton proving he’s the finest bass player of his generation
Cliff Burton’s huge impact upon Metallica has been well documented, and one need only check the publishing credits on Ride The Lightning to see how his knowledge of classical music and music theory elevated the band’s songwriting. Hetfield and Ulrich were so in awe of their friend’s talent that they made space for Burton’s solo showcase (Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth on Kill ‘Em All, and indeed in subsequent live shows, but for a previously unheard demonstration of Burton’s abilities, check out his astonishing intro to Whiplash at J Bees Rock III. Yes, that’s a bass guitar.

A full set from Metallica’s first ever European tour
“We’re fucking Metallica, we’re a bunch of alcoholics from California!” is how James Hetfield introduced his band to Parisian headbangers at Espace Balard on February 9, 1984 at show four on the band’s first ever European tour, in support to Venom. With Metallica due to begin recording their second album Ride The Lightning at Sweet Silence Studios on February 20, Hetfield still hadn’t finished the lyrics on that final verse of the title track, as the live version performed here testifies.

Vocal and guitar solo-free versions of NWOBHM classics Am I Evil? and Blitzkrieg
Among the demo recordings and rough mixes pulled from Lars Ulrich’s vaults for these reissues, the ‘Rhythm Track Rough Mixes’ of Diamond Head’s Am I Evil? and Blitzkrieg’s Blitzkrieg – cover versions that would appear on the B-side of the Creeping Death single, released on November 23, 1984 – stand out, because they allow listeners to clearly hear, for the first time, the dynamic interplay between James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich alone. Think there’s a better rhythm guitar player in metal than Hetfield? Here’s proof that you’re wrong.

Metallica circa 1984

Metallica circa 1984 (Image credit: Pete Cronin/Redferns)

Cliff Burton disowning Escape
Written in the studio during the Ride The Lightning album sessions, Escape might be the only genuinely dishonest Metallica song, a track penned with a view to securing airplay for the band. A measure of how much Metallica came to hate the song is evidenced by the fact that they have only ever played it once live, and then only when they couldn’t avoid it, having committed to playing Ride The Lightning album in full at their Orion festival show in Atlantic City on June 23, 2012. As a radio interview segment with Kirk Hammett and Cliff Burton from 1985 proves, Metallica’s bassist – who had no hand in writing the song – was publicly disowning it even as the band were promoting the record. “I hate that song,” Burton told an interviewer at WUSC Cleveland, “that’s the one Metallica song that I really hate.”

Lars Ulrich dissing England!
A committed Anglophile Lars Ulrich may be, but that didn’t stop the Danish drummer having a dig at England when interviewed for Metal Madness fanzine in an El Paso diner on March 2, 1985. Telling his interviewer “England is the place in Europe that’s actually our weakest market” the Dane goes on to say “England is a very conservative place when it comes to music…” The fact that at this point Metallica had played a grand total of three English shows, all of them in London, may perhaps have contributed to Metallica’s sluggish start sales-wise.

The first ever live performance of Disposable Heroes
On September 14, 1985 Metallica took a time-out from recording their third album, Master of Puppets, to headline the Metal Hammer festival in St. Goarshausen, Germany above Venom and Wishbone Ash. After saluting the “fucking crazy fuckers” in attendance, James Hetfield introduces a new song from the album he suggests will be “out around Christmas time” and the band launch into Disposable Heroes for the first time in public.

Metallica’s first appearance at Donington Park
Metallica’s only other European date in 1985 saw them grace metal’s spiritual home, Donington Park, for the first time, on a Monsters of Rock festival bill featuring ZZ Top, Marillion, Bon Jovi, Ratt and Magnum. Sandwiched between Ratt and Bon Jovi on August 17, perhaps the most memorable moment of the day came when James Hetfield introduced the band to the East Midlands crowd ahead of playing For Whom The Bell Tolls. “We’re Metallica,” said Hetfield, “and I have to tell you something from the start: If you came here to see spandex, and fucking eye make-up and all that shit, and the words ‘rock ‘n’ roll baby’ in every fucking song this ain’t the fucking band!” Priceless.

The deluxe box sets of Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning will be available on April 15.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.