Well, I suppose I’m not making a good first impression by waiting a month to do my first review. The main cause for delay was trying to get good pictures. I should have realized when I started that I don’t own a scanner and I suck at taking pictures. Oh well.
After much deliberation over what album should be the focus of my first review, I decided not to do my favorite compilation or my rarest, but the one that I think is the most important in the history of metal. This is of course the very first record on Brian Slagel’s Metal Blade Records label. In 1982, Slagel was publishing an underground ‘zine known as the New Heavy Metal Revue and decided to make an album showcasing several of the bands he wrote about. It started a series of compilations that exposed several huge bands to the world (Metallica, Slayer, Overkill, etc.) and continues today. Metal Massacre isn’t an obscure compilation by any means, but some people might not be aware of the differences between the original release and the reissue, or between these songs and their album versions (if any).
Also interesting to note is that the center label did not yet have the familiar "bloody axe" logo.
1. Steeler – "Cold Day in Hell": The album starts off well enough with this song from Ron Keel’s (and later Yngwie Malmsteen’s) first band. This appears to be the same version as the A-side to their 1982 single which had all different members aside from Keel. Malmsteen, Rik Fox and Mark Edwards would join the band to record their 1983 LP which includes a rerecorded version of this song with added guitar twiddling. I actually think I prefer the original. I’ve never been a fan of that kind of musical exhibitionism.
2. Bitch – "Live for the Whip": I’ve always thought of Bitch as one of the prototypical Metal Blade bands, combining NWOBHM influences with the emerging LA sound. In fact, this song actually sounds a lot like an early Girlschool song to me, with the addition of Betsy’s usual BDSM themes. A different version appears on Bitch’s 1983 Damnation Alley EP with more whipping and moaning, plus a new bass player.
3. Malice – "Captive of Light": With the exception of the vocals, Malice sounds much less like a Judas Priest clone than on their later works. This track was also released 7 years later on their Captive of Light EP. The EP featured 2 different vocalists in place of James Neal, but I believe they didn’t even rerecord this song, instead opting to include it as is.
4. Ratt – "Tell the World": Looking back on this now, it seems strange to have glamsters Ratt on a Metal Massacre album, but in reality it doesn’t stand out that much from the other songs. On the off chance that there’s a Ratt collector reading this, this version is slightly different from the version on their 1983 self-titled EP, featuring a different bass player and a different drummer.
5. Cirith Ungol – "Death of the Sun": Brian Slagel has always said he is a big fan of 70s rock, so it’s no surprise that he picked up these legendary 70s-influenced metalheads for his label. Unlike most of the bands on this and future Metal Massacre compilations who were making their debuts, Cirith Ungol already had one LP under their belts when they recorded this song. A new version of "Death of the Sun" would also appear on their first LP for Metal Blade, King of the Dead.
6. Demon Flight – "Dead of Night": Following up Cirith Ungol is another good band marred by an irritating vocalist. This song is also one of 3 on their sole, self-titled EP. According to the EP sleeve that one is a new version, but it sounds exactly the same to me. It’s worth mentioning that of the other 2 songs on their EP, one features much better vocals and the other is an instrumental.
7. Avatar – "Octave": Not the same Avatar that would later become Savatage, I actually have no idea what became of this band. This, their only recording, is a pretty interesting instrumental. It would’ve been nice to hear what they could have done if they had a singer.
8. Pandemonium – "Fighting Backwards": The best metal band featuring twins from Alaska! And even that couldn’t save them from mediocrity. It’s not stab-a-pencil-in-your-ear bad, but it won’t inspire you to buy one of their 3 LPs that Metal Blade mysteriously decided to release. Exclusive to this album.
9. Malice – "Kick You Down": While Bitch and Warlord were afforded the opportunity to appear on more than one Metal Massacre compilation, only Malice had 2 songs on the same one! "Kick You Down" is slightly more memorable than "Captive of Light" and also exclusive to this album.
10. Metallica – "Hit the Lights": The production on the rest of this album is typical indie metal fare: bad, but in a good way. "Hit the Lights" still sticks out like a sore thumb, the production is that bad. They would rerecord this one twice (once for the Metal Massacre reissue and once for the 1983 Kill ‘em All LP) before getting it right. Compounding the amateurism is the fact that Metallica is misspelled "Mettallica" and bass player Ron McGovney is listed as "Ron McGouney". It’s not even clear who really played on this track as there are five members listed but I’ve read it was just Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, and Lloyd Grant. As the story goes, Ulrich was friends with Slagel when he had the idea to make the Metal Massacre LP. Ulrich wanted to be on it, so he got in touch with Hetfield and thus Metallica was born.
Available Formats: This album has a bit of an interesting history. The original 1982 LP was limited to 4,500 copies which sold out immediately. Brian Slagel was on a tight budget so later that year he had a repressing done by the Metalworks label who, according to Slagel, ripped him off. I’m not certain of the exact tracklist but I believe it is the same as the first, minus "Octave". The cover is plain silver with just the words "METAL MASSACRE" rather than the familiar skulls picture. In 1984, after Metal Blade Records was established as a serious label, they made another reissue on vinyl and cassette with a different tracklist. The Steeler track was replaced with Black and Blue – "Chains Around Heaven", Ratt’s contribution was removed altogether, and the old version of "Hit the Lights" was replaced with a new one (which is also different to the version on Kill ‘em All). This version was also reissued on cassette and CD in 1994. Then there’s the 1984 picture disc box set with Metal Massacres 1-5 (limited to 1,000 copies), and in 1998 all 12 CDs (at the time - now there are 13) were reissued as part of another box set called Grim Harvest.
Value: $40-$60 (LP), $20-30 (Metalworks LP reissue), $20-$30 (1984 LP reissue), $5-$8 (1994 CD reissue)