40 Years Ago: Metallica Release Their First Song on ‘Metal Massacre’ Compilation
Back in June 1982, one of history's seminal heavy-metal compilation albums, Metal Massacre, came out.
That record spawned a franchise that's extended to more than a dozen volumes and launched a record label, Metal Blade, that's still proudly flying the heavy metal flag today. That compilation also happened to feature the first appearance on record by a young Los Angeles-based band called Metallica.
Calling them a band at this point would be stretching the truth. Singer and guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich had yet to recruit lead guitarist Dave Mustaine or bassist Ron McGovney (Hetfield played bass, and a friend named Lloyd Grant handled the guitar leads), let alone play any shows. In fact, if not for Ulrich's friendship with an entrepreneurial local record-store employee, Brian Slagel, who personally spearheaded the Metal Massacre album (and later the Metal Blade label), there may not have been a slot reserved on the LP for the fledgling group (incorrectly spelled "Mettallica") to knock a song called "Hit the Lights" into shape.
But the Metal Massacre collection wasn't just about Metallica. Eight other bands contributed nine additional songs to the original pressing, which came with the tagline "The New Heavy Metal Revue presents ... ," a reference to Slagel's fanzine. These bands' career paths in later years couldn't have turned out more differently, running the gamut from stardom to obscurity.
Some—like Avatar, Demon Flight (who recorded an EP for Metal Blade) and Pandemonium—were mostly never heard from again; others—like Malice (who had two songs on Metal Massacre), Bitch and local veterans Cirith Ungol—found some underground success with later records (most of them issued by Metal Blade).
But then there was Steeler, who spawned two future headliners in singer Ron Keel (of Keel) and Swedish guitar phenom Yngwie J. Malmsteen (newly arrived on U.S. shores), and San Diego transplants Ratt, who made a strong impression with their submission, "Tell the World."
So strong, in fact, that they soon signed to Atlantic Records. So when overwhelming demand convinced Slagel to produce second and third pressings of Metal Massacre, he was forced to remove Ratt and the Shrapnel-bound Steeler from the track listing on the third and second pressings, respectively. Luckily, there was no shortage of hard rock and heavy metal talent bubbling across the American landscape, and a replacement song was readily obtained from Portland, Ore.'s Black 'n Blue for the second pressing, while the third simply made due with just nine cuts.
But there was one final wrinkle to the Metal Massacre story, because Metallica's friendship with Slagel afforded them the rare opportunity to re-record "Hit the Lights"—now with Mustaine performing his parts—and it is this second version of song that can be heard on the compilation's second and third pressings. That sonic improvement has had an inverse impact the on album's collectibility, and anyone seeking an original vinyl copy of Metal Massacre will immediately know the pressings by the price tag: $30 or $40 for the latter, literally hundreds of dollars for the rare first edition.
None of the subsequent Metal Massacre volumes could match the crucial importance of that first installment, but they did continue to introduce fans to notable bands in years to come, including familiar names like Slayer, Overkill, Armored Saint, Lizzy Borden, Voivod, Trouble, Fates Warning, Metal Church, Flotsam and Jetsam, Virgin Steele and even the short-lived Trauma, featuring a pre-Metallica Cliff Burton.