Background and recording
(pictured in 2008
) founded Metallica through an advertisement in The Recycler
. He picked the band's name from his friend Ron Quintana's list of names for his upcoming magazine. Ulrich suggested Metal Mania
, secretly wanting to use Metallica as the band's name.
Metallica was formed in 1981 in Los Angeles by drummer Lars Ulrich and by vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield. Before settling on a definitive lineup, Metal Blade Records owner Brian Slagel asked Metallica to record a song for the first edition of his Metal Massacre compilation. Hetfield and Ulrich chose "Hit the Lights" from Hetfield's previous band Leather Charm, and recorded it with Hetfield on vocals, his childhood friend Ron McGovney on bass, and temporary guitarist Lloyd Grant. The band's first lineup featured Hetfield, Ulrich, McGovney, and guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was acquired through a newspaper advertisement. The band practiced in McGovney's garage and looked for gigs at local clubs. Metallica's first show was on March 14, 1982, at the Radio City in Anaheim. The nine-song setlist consisted of two originals ("Hit the Lights" and an unfinished version of "Jump in the Fire" from Mustaine's earlier band Panic) and covers of new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) bands such as Diamond Head, Blitzkrieg, Savage, and Sweet Savage. The gig turned out to be notorious, because Mustaine had problems with the guitar distortion pedal, and broke a string during a song. Metallica's second gig was on March 27, 1982 at Hollywood's Whisky a Go Go, opening for Saxon. Although Mötley Crüe was originally scheduled to open the show, the group canceled because of its growing popularity. Metallica recorded a three-song demo to persuade the venue's management to allow the band to open for Saxon. Metallica's third concert was in April 1982, at which was premiered "The Mechanix", written by Mustaine during his tenure with Panic. Mustaine interacted with the fans at Metallica's earliest shows because Hetfield was shy.
To draw attention from club owners, Metallica recorded the Power Metal demo in April 1982 which featured "Motorbreath" in addition to the already-performed originals. The logo, displaying the band's name with the first and last letter drawn larger with sharp serifs and italicized, was designed by Hetfield. The No Life 'til Leather demo was recorded in July 1982, and it created a buzz in the underground tape trading circles. No Life 'til Leather featured a re-recorded version of "Hit the Lights", which appeared on the second pressing of Metal Massacre, in addition to new songs such as "Phantom Lord", "Seek & Destroy", and "Metal Militia". The recording and mastering was financed by Kenny Kane, owner of the punk label High Velocity, and distributed by Ulrich and his friend Pat Scott. Because of tensions with Mustaine, McGovney left the band in December. Ulrich was impressed by Cliff Burton's performance with Trauma at The Troubadour in West Hollywood, and offered to let him join the group. Burton joined on the condition that Metallica would relocate to the San Francisco area. Moving to El Cerrito in February 1983, the band stayed and rehearsed at Exodus manager Mark Whitaker's house, which they called the "Metallica Mansion". Metallica intended to record its debut in Los Angeles on Slagel's independent label on an $8,000 budget. Slagel could not afford the record, and Ulrich contacted Jon Zazula, a New Jersey record store owner and promoter of heavy metal bands on the East Coast who had already heard No Life 'til Leather. Metallica rented a U-Haul truck and drove to New Jersey in late March, and upon arrival, allowed Zazula to sell copies of No Life 'til Leather to help him found Megaforce Records, because no label wanted to finance the album's recording.
(pictured in 2005
) was an early member of Metallica, and co-wrote several songs on Kill 'Em All
. His erratic and violent behavior led to his expulsion from the band prior to recording the album.
Hetfield and Ulrich fired Mustaine on the morning of April 11 after a gig in New York, because of his drug and alcohol problems, overly aggressive behavior, and clashes with bandmates. On Whitaker's recommendation, Metallica recruited Kirk Hammett, who played in Exodus and was a one-time student of Joe Satriani. Hammett learned the songs on his flight to New York, and started recording the album with Metallica barely a month later. Metallica met producer Paul Curcio at Music America studios in Rochester, and recorded the album in two weeks. Unable to afford a hotel during the recording sessions, the band members lived in people's houses in Rochester and at the Music Factory in Jamaica, Queens, where Anthrax held rehearsals. Curcio had set the studio equipment as if he were recording an ordinary rock band. He thought the initial tapes sounded very distorted, and tried to compensate by turning down the knobs. Metallica resented Curcio's involvement, because he seemed uninterested, and had little impact on the sound. Although Zazula wanted Hammett to replicate Mustaine's solos, Hammett's guitar solos on the album were partially based on Mustaine's original solos, with the first four bars of most solos written by Mustaine before his departure. Despite their differences, Mustaine's contributions to the early years of Metallica were still acknowledged, and he received four co-writing credits on Kill 'Em All. Zazula was not satisfied with the initial mix because he thought the drums were too loud, and the guitars were too low in the mix. The remix was done by sound engineer Chris Bubacz, according to Zazula's instructions. The final cost for the record rounded to an estimated $15,000, which nearly caused Zazula to go bankrupt. "This was mortgage money I'm spending, not something I've got put by I'm going to invest," he said later. Zazula had a hard time finding a distributor for the record, but he eventually convinced Relativity Records to distribute the album in the U.S. and Canada, and Music for Nations in Europe.
The band initially intended to title the album Metal Up Your Ass with the cover featuring a hand clutching a dagger emerging from a toilet bowl. However, Zazula convinced them to change this as he thought distributors would not stock it as it was too explicit to display. The final cover featured the shadow of a hand letting go of a bloodied hammer. Burton was credited with coming up with the name Kill 'Em All—referring to timid record distributors, saying, "Those record company fuckers ... kill 'em all!"—as a response to the situation. Ulrich thought Kill 'Em All was a good name, and Zazula agreed. Burton suggested to Gary L. Heard, also responsible for the Metallica photograph on the back cover, to feature a bloodied hammer on the album art. According to Hammett, "Cliff carried a hammer with him everywhere he went. He always had a hammer in his luggage, and he would take it out occasionally and start destroying things." Even though the original title was unused, the band did later release a "Metal Up Your Ass" T-shirt with the proposed artwork. A live bootleg recording of a 1982 performance at the Old Waldorf, titled Metal Up Your Ass (Live), featured the original cover artwork. Original pressings of the album came with an inner sleeve that included pictures and lyrics as well as a silver label on the vinyl. Subsequent pressings had a blank white sleeve and standard album label. The 1988 reissue re-introduced the lyrics and photos. The original release can be distinguished by the words "Bang That Head That Doesn't Bang" at the top of the back cover. This was dropped from the reissue. The phrase "Bang That Head That Doesn't Bang" was dedicated to San Francisco fan Ray Burch, known for his headbanging at the band's early shows.