Remember The First Time You Heard…Metallica?


The late, great, Cliff Burton of Metallica

After three incredible albums in the ’80’s Metallica were still only rock music’s most popular cult band.

Alongside Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth they had spearheaded a movement (thrash metal) that, like the Olympics’ Beach Volleyball, had yet to convince the mainstream that it should be taken seriously. Yes – that’s it. Metallica were the beach volleyball of rock. What a perfect analogy. Brilliant. Pulitzer prize material, is this.

What do you mean “Rubbish”?

The band had more serious matters to deal with than strained metaphors however as a tragic coach crash on 27th September 1986 resulted in the death of bass player Cliff Burton – for many the heartbeat of the band. Burton was the cool one in the band – a bit like One Direction’s Harry. He showed just how cool he was by wearing bell-bottomed trousers way sooner than it was fashionable to do so, and topped off the look with a fetching line of cowboy hats. His bass playing was immense (he used a Wah Wah pedal in his bass solo) and he exuded an authenticity and coolness that couldn’t be faked. Like a cross between Neil Young and a young Clint Eastwood, which isn’t bad by any means…

So it was all the more unexpected that in the face of this adversity, Metallica went out and accidentally made what might just be their best record.

It was certainly the record that convinced all my friends that Metallica were the genuine article. My friends had, until that point, stuck closely to their Deep Purple, Rush and Iron Maiden albums.

This was because twenty five years ago there was still a divide between traditional rock fans – the Deep Purple and Uriah Heep brigade, (with their long unwashed mousey coloured hair, dirty faded denim jackets and laissez faire attitude to personal hygiene) and their younger brothers, who liked comic books and surf shorts. Thrash was noisy and tuneless, the older brothers complained. The guitar work lacked feel or emotion, unless that emotion was “Very Very Angry All The Time”…

“We hear you” said the younger brothers…”But if it’s too loud, you’re too old”. And then they danced around those new mosh pits things in an annoying way.

In the case of an outfit like the UK’s Venom or Anvil, thrashers were seen almost as comedy bands. They played fast because that’s all they could do – said the older brothers. Where were the tunes?

Alongside less pressing issues such as O level exams and adolescence this was a thought process I also went through. The first Metallica song I heard was Battery, on the Friday Rock Show. Gentle Spanish guitars gave way to stunning power chords and were instantly appealing. But then…what was this? Noisy tuneless guitars like buzz-saws. Weird drumming where the rapid snare seemed out of synch with the guitars. I wasn’t sure I really liked “thrash”…

I told a friend about the new “thrash metal” phenomenon and played him a recording of Battery that I had taped from the radio. I said “This is apparently the best thrash metal band. Imagine how bad the rest are”. Yes I did.

But then I played it more, and after a while it clicked. Iron Maiden suddenly sounded a bit slow and ploddy. The mosh pit seemed more fun and welcoming. Quietly, I bought the Puppets album and then ones by Anthrax, Megadeth and Helloween…then Slayer.

I still remember telling my friends that I’d succumbed to the dark side and bought a “thrash record”. They wore a pained expression when I told them, like the look a father might reserve for his son when catching the latter sneaking a biscuit from the cupboard.

And then I played them a couple of tunes. They soon changed their minds. I’ll tell you which record I played another time….

Record #85: Metallica – Battery

Speaking of Deep Purple, Metallica are one of the bands that feature in an official re-recording of Deep Purple’s classic Machine Head album. The album also includes covers by Iron Maiden, The Flaming Lips, Jimmy Barnes and Chickenfoot. Re-Machined – A Tribute To Deep Purple’s Machine Head is on sale via Classic Rock Magazine on 4th September with a general release on 25th September.

Categories: Heavy Metal

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23 replies

  1. OH I DO! I came to it a bit late but Enter Sandman totally just bowled me over. And as I adore ballads (a bit of a hard rock softie, me), Nothing Else Matters is totally on my hitlist (in fact, love the lyrics too–so this qualifies as all-time fave) Great post, thank you.


  2. Van Halen’s Monsters of Rock, Spring of 1988. I didn’t have the words to describe them, but they rocked ferociously.


  3. Excellent write-up, as always. I came to Metallica pretty late. Even though I grew up enjoying a lot of heavy music, the whole speed metal thing wasn’t for me. Even when they appeared on The Grammy’s performing “One,” I just didn’t get it. I thought the songs I heard from the Black album were really good, but still never bought any of their albums. It was sometime in the mid-to-late-90s (when I was already in my 30s), probably when most of their old fans had lost interest in them, that a light went on and I finally “got” them. My favorite album would probably be “…And Justice For All” if not for the bass-less mix. Being a huge prog-rock, those are the songs that spoke to me the most. I also love “Ride The Lightning” and “Master of Puppets” (how did I not get into those when they came out?), but because I had no preconceived notions about them, I also enjoyed the two “Load” albums (although I could barely get through “St. Anger”). I still don’t consider them one of my favorite bands, but when I’m in the right mood their music sounds amazing.


  4. Great post again! I first heard them on the BBC2 Arena – Heavy Metal special that was on in… ’88? It was a short live clip of Seek and Destroy which was interrupted briefly by a superb Hetfield belch. This being my first encounter with them meant that the first record I picked up was Kill ‘Em All but I wasn’t hugely taken with them until a friend played me Master of Puppets. My love of Kill ‘Em All has increased over the years though.

    That Arena episode deserves a blog post all to itself, it was crucial!


    • Nice.
      That arena show was amazing – I remember if well. Jimmy Page playing Kashmir on acoustic guitar especially… I’ll have to give that some thought…


      • Yes, I was about 12 or 13 then. I had no idea who Jimmy Page was! I was watching it wondering who the old drunk busker was. Oops.

        That program was a big deal for me back then, introducing me to many bands for the first time. I didn’t really get the full impact of Kill Em’ All because, at the same time, I was also discovering Slayer and Napalm Death so Metallica’s debut already seemed a bit old hat by that point. Once I started picking up on the NWOBHM bands it made perfect sense though.


  5. Where was I? I was in the car and my friend played Master of Puppets on the car stereo, I was hooked. Battery is by far my favourite Metallica song. It should be law that they start every concert with this song as it simply reaches out and grabs you by the throat and says, “You’re Gonna listen to us.”

    My first intro into thrash was the Stormtroopers of Death. Another friend introduced me to them and I was blown away. I saw them open for Motorhead and Wendy O Williams in New York in 1985 and they blew both acts away.


  6. Orion was a melodic enough song to get me hooked and then into their heavy stuff.


  7. I am not (yet?) a Metallica fan. (Then again, I never thought I would listen to Iron Maiden. Musically and lyrically they are a cut above most metal bands. In my case, it was the whole Eddie image which kept me away.) However, the scene in Some Kind of Monster where they audition bass players is priceless. I don’t want to spoil anything; the film is worth it just for that scene. It involves “Battery” but also other things.


  8. I still occasionally conjure up the visual image of how I stared at the spinning vinyl record, “Kill ‘Em All”, as I was in jaw-dropping disbelief at how heavy and awesome “Hit The Lights” sounded the first time I put it on. It was if I couldn’t believe what was coming off of that turntable. it was the first time I had ever heard their music. The album had just come out and I had never even heard of the band. My friend took a chance at a record store and bought the album but he didn’t like it so he gave it to me to try out. I was so blown away by it, that I started to dislike my friend for not liking this album!


  9. I’m not a Metallica fan, but they’re quality rockers. I like your recollections of them. Succumbing to the dark side is really a very good thing, at least in music fandom.


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