This week marks the 40th anniversary of Metallica’s classic 1983 debut album, Kill ‘Em All. I can’t say I’ve been down since “day one” — I wasn’t aware of Metallica in 1983, sadly. But I do remember exactly where I was when I first heard them: in my bedroom, listening to a syndicated radio show called “Metalshop.” It was in 1984, and they played “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” from the upcoming album, Ride The Lightning. I was hooked. I got my copy of the album, and became a massive fan. Metallica became my new band. They hit a bit differently than the other bands that I loved. They were heavier than Iron Maiden (who I thought was the heaviest band ever before I’d heard Metallica). Metallica’s memebers were younger than the guys in my other favorite band, Rush, who’d been around for ten years by that point. And when I heard “Fade To Black,” it stopped me in my tracks. It just seemed to cut deeper than nearly anything else I’d listened to at that point.
Interestingly, I’d soon learn that some metalheads didn’t like “Fade To Black”: the slower pace and the acoustic guitars meant that they were “selling out.” No matter that Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rush, and all the other best bands occasionally had mellow jams. Even Iron Maiden had some laid-back tunes (“Strange World” and “Prodigal Son”). This would become a pattern that repeated itself for decades. Anytime Metallica tried anything different or veered from the path of metal orthodoxy, it was seen by some as a “sell-out.”
Enter Master Of Puppets
Cut to 1986. By the time Master of Puppets was released on March 3, I was ready. Ride The Lightning had been out for a few weeks when I’d heard “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” But this time, I was going to buy the new Metallica tape (my preferred format at the time) as soon it came out, like a real fan. I don’t even think that I’d heard any of the songs before buying it – radio didn’t play them back then. And at this point, they were still against doing music videos (if you can imagine that), so MTV wasn’t playing them either.
I remember listening to Master Of Puppets with a crew of leather, denim, and t-shirted friends on a boombox in a field. It was cold, but we might have been warmed by beverages we were too young to legally obtain. I remember being blown away by the album, from the first seconds of “Battery” (which began on a — gasp! — acoustic guitar!) to the end of “Damage, Inc.” In the parlance of our times, there were no “skips.” To be fair, “skips” were a lot more difficult on cassette. (IYKYK – and that may have led to more patience when listening to music.) At this point, I was all-in, and ready to see them live. My friend and I decided to get tickets to see them the next time they came through the area, and that turned out to be just a few weeks away.