During the May 1983 recording of Kill ’Em All, producer Paul Curcio interrupted a James Hetfield guitar take to tell Metallica’s frontman that the sound coming from his Marshall amp didn’t sound normal. “It’s not meant to sound normal,” Hetfield snarled.
Given that Curcio viewed Def Leppard’s recently released Pyromania album as a sonic reference point, his confusion is perhaps understandable. So ubiquitous has Metallica’s trademark guitar crunch become in the ensuing 33 years that it’s easy to forget just how harsh and discordant the San Franciscan band appeared at the outset of their career, when Hetfield and co-founder Lars Ulrich’s ambitions stretched little further than that they be recognised as the heaviest, fastest metal band in America.
This deluxe reissue package features four vinyl records, five CDs and a DVD, plus assorted ephemera, for Kill ’Em All (8⁄10); and four records, six CDs, a DVD, hardback book and more for Ride The Lightning (9⁄10).
How quickly the quartet’s vision expanded is best evidenced by the most significant disc in this set, a document of the band’s Halloween 1983 show at the Keystone Club in Palo Alto, California. Here, just three months after releasing Kill ’Em All – recorded just six weeks after Kirk Hammett replaced guitarist Dave Mustaine – Metallica chose to air four stunning unreleased songs: three (Fight Fire With Fire, Creeping Death and Ride The Lightning) so new that their lyrics weren’t yet complete; the fourth (When Hell Freezes Over, later retitled The Call Of Ktulu) a nine-minute, classically inspired instrumental.
For a group so unvarnished that just months earlier they wanted to call their debut album Metal Up Your Ass, this was an astonishing progression that spoke volumes of their fearlessness and energy.
When the bold, symphonic Ride The Lightning emerged the following July, it was immediately apparent that the Bay Area band had transcended the ‘Thrash Metal’ scene they helped birth and were now leaders in a field of precisely one.
It’s unfortunate that the price tags on these thoughtfully collated box sets will put them out of the range of all but the most well-heeled loyalists, for as well as containing rarities and feral live sets, there are lessons herein about desire, discipline, aspiration and sheer bloody-minded will that every young musician could value.