Why I Love: Kill 'Em All

Mick Strong celebrates an iconic album's 30th birthday...

Thirty years? Is it really thirty years since Jaymz first intoned the immortal ‘No life til Leather’ line at the start of Hit the Lights and changed the world? According to MaF editor Scott Adams it is, and so I’ve been charged with the colossal task of summing up this epoch-starting album… so here goes.

I’m not gonna lie to you and say I was at one of Metallica’s legendary Marquee Club shows in London in the early eighties. I wasn’t that cool. As a sixteen year old punk I was sitting in someone’s garage drinking White Lightning Cider and listening to Discharge when Kill 'Em All first saw the light of day, and I was still in that garage when somebody – I wish I could remember who so I could pay my respects to them in this piece – put on a cheap Music for Nations Sampler called Hell on Earth. After sitting there being subjected to the likes of Manowar, Ratt and Virgin Steele for twenty minutes I was on the verge of wrenching the bloody thing off the stereo and launching it out of the window when the last track on side one started. That track was Metal Militia, and a young thrasher was born.

The next weekend I headed into the only record shop in the small market town where I lived to buy Kill ‘Em All. Of course they didn’t have it in stock – the shop was run by an old jazz buff and his Style Council-loving, much younger girlfriend, and he couldn’t be bothered to order it in for me. It’s hard to believe now but in the days before the interwebs, people had to make a bit of an effort to obtain music sometimes, and here was me, having to get on a bloody train to the big city to find this mythical slab of vinyl.

When I did finally get hold of it, I wasn’t disappointed. Jeez, what a record, from the first hellish barrage of Hit the Lights to the last marching boot footslog of Metal Militia, I literally couldn’t believe what I was hearing. While people used to go on at length about how Iron Maiden had fused punk and classic metal together, I could never see it myself. Where’s the snot and glue sniffing in Prodigal Son? Or Hallowed be Thy Name? ‘Kin nowhere, that’s where; yet here, before my very own ears, was a band playing a song called Phantom Lord that seemed to be the very essence of what a true marriage of street punk GBH/Exploited mayhem and classic Motorhead everything louder than everything else strut should sound like. Pure nirvana in sonic form, that’s what it was.

And still is. I’m listening to the album as I write this now – for the first time in years, all the way through, as it goes – and it truly has lost none of its rabid, alcohol-fuelled fire. Sure, the band matured quickly and pulled a couple of bona fide thrash classics out of the hat with their next two releases, but for me Kill ‘Em All will always be the best, and the Hetfield-Ulrich-Burton-Hammett lineup that recorded it the absolute godhead of thrash troupes. The album has aged remarkable well too – put it up against any other release from a band at a comparable stage in their career in 1983 and chances are Kill ‘Em All will wipe the floor with them sonically – ansd every single song on the album – from the melodic Motorbreath to the super chugging, relentless Seek and Destroy – can stand proud in 2013 as a timeless slab of heavy metal goodness.

But perhaps more than any of this, Kill ‘Em All, for me at least, was a world-changing release, a template for all the great music that I was to discover over the next couple of years under the thrash banner. A truly uniting album before crossover had even been thought of properly, Kill ‘Em All blazed a trail through the previously distant and ever more complacent worlds of punk and heavy metal in such a way that neither genre would ever be the same again. And that’s why I love it.