For quite a while I’ve been wondering if I should pick up the Deluxe Box Set of Kill ‘Em All, but as with the other deluxe releases in Metallica’s back catalogue, I haven’t found a compelling reason to do so. That isn’t to say that the box sets aren’t magnificent. They’re certainly worth the money for the most dedicated of fans and while I’ve always thought of myself in that regard, I am starting to question my dedication to the band that helped get me through the tumultuous teenage years. The 90s, not the 80s. Yes, I came to be a fan of Metallica following their 1991 Self-Titled Black Album and while I also enjoy the Load and Reload era, I respect that a divide exists between fans. That said, I find myself thoroughly enjoying both Metallica’s early thrash albums and their mainstream 90s style that makes so many fans accuse the band of selling out. Hence, I don’t really have a favourite album, they’re all great. Well, maybe not that LuLu collaboration with Lou Reed, but I’m sure we can forgive Metallica for that deviation, can’t we?
What I would like to see, however, is a box set encompassing all the studio albums, with a lovely hardcovered book detailing Metallica’s career. See, I’m an album guy and while some of the additional content, in the Deluxe Box Sets are interesting, I find that when it comes down to it, I just want to listen to the album as it was originally released rather than listening to everything that was ever recorded. I’ve stayed away from the recent Guns N’ Roses Appetite For Destruction Super Deluxe Edition for that same reason. That said, I would love that 5.1 surround sound High Fidelity Blu-Ray Audio disc to be released separately. I’d buy it in a second. Of course, that isn’t the way the music business wants consumers to consume. They will re-issue Ad nauseam, encouraging us to get the latest edition because it has a new demo that has never been heard before. Look, I’m the first to fall for these gimmicks and truth be told I thoroughly enjoy them, but there’s no denying that being a music lover and a collector is one very expensive hobby. Thankfully, I don’t go to concerts so the money that would have otherwise be allocated to that experience can be repurposed for every new re-issue that I simply must have. Yes, dear reader, it is an addiction.
While I haven’t made a final decision about the Kill ‘Em All Deluxe Box Set, I’ll probably pick up the 2016 vinyl re-issue as the 2014 Blackened vinyl pressing I own is far from the greatest pressing and is sonically lacklustre. Basically, it just doesn’t sound right. One may wonder what turntable and needle I’m using and if that could be a factor. Well, I can assure you it isn’t. My Pro-ject Debut Carbon is fitted with an Ortofon OM20 needle that otherwise sounds marvellous. Unfortunately, not all vinyl is created equal and this release reminds me of my copy of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell. The music may be there, but the emotive energy isn’t. I swear terrestrial radio would have more life in it than these two pressings.
What I find even more disappointing is that these were released via Metallica’s own record label and I seriously question how they got the sound so wrong. The sound is so concealed that it sounds as though thick sheets are covering the speakers. Even if you pump the volume, the entire soundstage is lost and the elemental aspects of the recording, that are present on the TIDAL Hi-Fi stream, are sadly absent from this pressing. That all said, reviews of the 2016 remastering sounds promising, hence my thought of upgrading the edition I own.
The visual presentation of the 2014 re-issue is a little more appealing, however, but the record is housed in the lousiest rice paper sleeve that could ever be used. I had a similar complaint when I reviewed …And Justice For All. Yes, they are both from the same re-issue era, but it is infuriating to love an album and a band this much and be disappointed by what they are prepared to issue to the fans. Sadly, they’re not the first to allow substandard products to be released and they certainly will not be the last.
All my quibbles aside, the music is of paramount importance and subsequently as my vinyl edition is flawed, I’ll be basing the rest of the review on the TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music (Mastered for iTunes) streams as both sound incredibly good. Yes, the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality stream sounds more dynamic with greater midrange and bass definition in comparison to the Apple Music stream, but both are significantly better than the 2014 vinyl counterpart.
Hit The Lights has that wonderful live feel to it and is the perfect song to open the album with. The revolving drum beat is spacious, and the soundstage is impressive and thoroughly enjoyable. The intensity of the thrashing guitars never lets up and Hetfield’s vocal cords must have been bleeding following this performance. Exceptional!
The Four Horsemen has an incredibly good grinding guitar rhythm that I’ve always enjoyed. While the song is exceptional, I really wish it was an instrumental-only track as I feel Hetfield’s vocal, while superb, gets in the way of the musicality and is too forward in the mix, thereby masking elements of the soundstage that captivate me when his vocal isn’t present. Regardless, The Four Horsemen is one of my all-time favourite Metallica songs and that mid-song tempo shift is masterfully done with a beautiful bass track and a guitar solo that just sings. Spectacular!
Motorbreath isn’t a bad song but I’d class it as a B-side as it lacks rhythmic impact. Yes, it is a quintessential thrash song, but it feels more like a demo and less evolved than many of the other songs on Kill ‘Em All.
Jump In The Fire is another favourite of mine. Grab your air guitar if you haven’t already, you’re going to need it. Interestingly, I often mistakenly associate Jump In The Fire with Ride The Lightning. Perhaps there is an underlying correlation between this song and those which appear on Ride the Lightning, but I’ve always found this connection fascinating as this incongruity doesn’t happen with any other Metallica tracks.
(Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth is a solid tune but one that I wouldn’t generally listen to outside of the album format. I think, in many respects, this song has had more relevance to fans following Cliff Burton’s passing. That isn’t to diminish the song itself, but if I’m to be completely honest, (Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth doesn’t add any intrinsic value to Kill ‘Em All. If anything, it acts as an intermission that may have been better suited as the final track on Side One or the opening song on Side Two.
Whiplash is a killer song. That drum beat and bass tracking are superbly deep and the perfect accompaniment to the higher pitched vocal and guitar tuning. While I don’t intend to harp on about the 2014 vinyl re-issue, the aforementioned praise is sadly missing from that release. Thankfully, the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality stream more than adequately makes up for the absence of depth and dynamics.
Phantom Lord is sensational. From the very first note, you know you’re in for something special. From my perspective, Phantom Lord has a Motörhead vibe that I truly appreciate. Whether intentional or not, it works extremely well and is one of the most memorable songs on Kill ‘Em All. Plus, that mid-song slowdown is remarkably appealing, as is the guitar solo and hook. What a great song!
Seek & Destroy is one of the greatest thrash metal songs of all time. Enough said!
Metal Militia is a solid speed metal song to conclude the album with, but I think I would have preferred it if Seek & Destroy was the final song on the album as Metal Militia plays like a B-side by comparison and while it leaves me wanting more, it just isn’t as good as Seek & Destroy.
Overall, Kill ‘Em All is a must-own album, just not the 2014 vinyl reissue. The 2016 reissues, however, are well reviewed and if the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality edition is anything to go by, they’re likely the ones to own. Kill ‘Em All, as an album, is non-compromising and rhythmically perfect thrash metal. As far as debuts go, this one Kills ‘Em All!
The Deluxe Editions are also available via all the aforementioned formats.
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