Kill 'Em All and the Origins of Thrash

kill em all.jpg
Not some of them... ALL of them.
Twenty-nine years ago today, Metallica released their debut album on Megaforce Records, Kill 'Em All. It wasn't a smash success initially--Mötley Crüe were the reigning kings of metal on the West Coast in 1983, and Kill 'Em All wouldn't go gold for another six years. By that time, of course, Metallica had proven to be just as influential as the glam godfathers in the Crüe, spearheading a worldwide metal movement known as thrash or speed metal.

Kill 'Em All was basically the first thrash album that everyone agrees is a thrash album. Songs like "Whiplash" and "Phantom Lord" featured hyperspeed riffs and solos that blew people's hair back, inspiring an entire subgenre of copycats. Bands like Exodus, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax were soon pulling the Kill 'Em All formula in all directions, leading to a competitive atmosphere that produced some of the decade's best music.

That's not to say Kill 'Em All was totally revolutionary, however. It was merely the culmination of a trend toward increasingly extreme explorations of volume and fury in underground rock. In fact, the roots of thrash date back much further, to 1974.

To celebrate the birth of the headbanging-est strain of heavy metal, Rocks Off has prepared a look back at the tunes that inspired a bunch of addled California teenagers to pick up a guitar and shred. None of these songs are thrash, exactly --They're more like the first mutant fish to grow legs and crawl out of the ocean and into the mosh pit. The influence of each can be heard on Kill 'Em All and the early thrash records to follow.

Bass drum-roll, please...

10. Queen, "Stone Cold Crazy"
November 1974

Never afraid to explore new musical territory, Queen recorded a few songs in their career that seemed to spin off entirely new rock genres. "Stone Cold Crazy" was one of them. The song lacks the hyper-aggressive attitude on display on early thrash releases, but the rest of the formula is here: The rapidfire riffing, the dramatic dynamics and the crashing drums. Pretty heavy for the guys that wrote "Radio Ga Ga."

9. Motorhead, "Overkill"
March 1979

Motorhead were primary innovators of a style soon to be known as speed-metal, and few of their songs had more impact on what was to come as "Overkill." Drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor pioneered a pummeling new drumbeat on the track, blasting out sixteenth notes on his kick drums that sounded like a heavy-metal Gatling gun.

Within five years, every thrash drummer on the planet was practicing the beat in a quest to be the fastest. For our money, the title was eventually claimed by Slayer's Dave Lombardo, who took double-bass drumming to brutal new heights.

8. Misfits, "Bullet"
January 1980

The Misfits wouldn't fully develop their speedy crossover sound until late 1982, the relentless riffing on earlier tracks like "Bullet" had already pricked up the ears of metal dudes from coast to coast. It wasn't just the band's ferocious speed that inspired the thrash bands to come, however. Their shock-rock imagery and unfiltered lyrics helped push a young generation of headbangers in extreme new directions.

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