Kill ‘Em All was Metallica’s first full length release that came out way back in the summer of 1983 when the foursome were young, long-haired, beer-swilling louts. They hadn’t considered playing filled arenas to an aging mainstream audience and lining their pockets. It was well before they made a documentary featuring a psychologist with questionable fashion sense whose job was to get their collective head in the game in order to prolong the life of the money-making machine that their band has become. It was all about beer, metal and pissing people off; the way it should be.
Kill ‘Em All has gone three times platinum and sold over three million copies in the United States alone. Of course, it is far from their most successful album; but it is special in that it was their first. But it makes you kind of wonder what would have happened to the band career-wise if they were allowed to go ahead and call the album by its original title and use their desired artwork.
You see, Kill ‘Em All was originally intended to carry the title, Metal Up Your Ass. It isn’t the most subtle album title ever but in saying that, metal was never meant to be a subtle or thinking-man’s genre; at least not in the 1980s. The artwork was perhaps even more ridiculous. It basically just featured a hand protruding from a toilet brandishing a knife. Whilst it later featured on a few Metallica t-shirts, it never saw the light of day as an album cover, and was shelved by the record company along with the title. It might be interesting to note that the lyrical themes within the album were not so immature and grotesque. But it appeared that the boys just wanted to prove a point with the title and artwork. For exactly what that point was you might have to speak to them
The music itself contained elements of what had been manifesting itself throughout the time since Black Sabbath first played a note, but it took things to a new level. The songs were written better than what came before it and they were played with such intensity that the record company no doubt knew they had a game-changer on their hands. So they made James Hetfield and his mates change things a bit. What resulted was a still-quite-metal, hammer with blood all around. Interestingly, on the album title front, ‘Kill ‘Em All’ it has been suggested, was what the boys came up with as a response aimed at the record company executives.
They could not have known then what the band would become; almost an industry unto itself. Metallica has long transcended the genre from which it was spawned to be placed firmly in the mainstream with its underground roots of 1983 a distant memory. But at the time, youth and immaturity almost gave the world one of its most remarkable pieces of musical art packaged in one of its most ridiculously ill-conceived covers. I bet the guys are happy the record company did intervene.