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Humble Beginnings: the First "Metal Massacre" Compilation Album

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I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

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Metal Massacre (aka "Metal Massacre Vol. I")

Originally released: 1982, Metal Blade Records

Multi-artist compilation albums were a staple of the early '80s underground metal scene. Whenever you rooted through the import-metal bins at your local record store, you were bound to come across at least one of these low-budget collections of mysterious, unknown bands, wrapped in eye-catching sleeves festooned with skulls and grim reapers, with titles like Speed Metal Hell, U.S. Metal, Metal for Muthas, California Metal, or Hot Metal Summer. Nearly every record label that catered to heavy music released at least one "comp" LP, but without a doubt, the Big Kahuna of the craze was the Metal Massacre series, founded by an L.A. based record store clerk, metal fanatic and fanzine columnist named Brian Slagel. The first Metal Massacre LP, released in 1982, is particularly notable for two reasons: it served as the launch pad for Slagel's Metal Blade Records label, which is still in operation to this day; and it also happens to include the first-ever appearance on a "real" album by a then-unknown garage band called... Metallica. Gee, whatever happened to those guys?

I was familiar with the Metal Massacre series (and its legions of imitations) back in the day, even though I never bought any of them when they were current. I was in junior high in the early '80s, and my meager allowance money was barely enough for me to afford one album purchase a month (if I was lucky). Therefore, spending my cash on a collection of no-name bands always seemed too risky —I was afraid I'd only like one song or band and end up stuck with a bunch of duds. Now that it's 30+ years later, of course, I snatch albums like these up whenever I come across them in my travels. Compilations provide a fascinating look back to the pre-internet age of heavy metal, when kids found out about new bands through albums like these, from underground radio shows and fanzines, or by tape trading.

Black N Blue, "Chains Around Heaven"

The Songs...

I picked up a CD version of the first Metal Massacre recently for three bucks, and it took me on a trip down memory lane as soon as the disc kicked off with Black N Blue's punchy "Chains Around Heaven" and "Live For The Whip" by the female-fronted, S&M themed band Bitch. Maybe it's the cheap recording quality, but Betsy Bitch sounds disconnected from her band mates, as if they're performing two different songs at the same time.

The Judas Priest-ish Malice make their first of two appearances on the album with "Captive Of Light," followed by the mysterious Avatar, with an instrumental track called "Octave" that doesn't leave much of an impression. (Contrary to popular belief, this is not the same "Avatar" that eventually morphed into Florida power metal legends Savatage.) "Epic" metallers Cirith Ungol ("Death of the Sun") and Demon Flight ("Dead of the Night") both suffer from irritating, high-pitched vocalists who try hard to reach the helium heights of someone like Rob Halford, but neither one can quite cut it. "Fighting Backwards" by Alaska's Pandemonium is a nice, thudding mid-tempo metal track, then Malice returns for another dose of Priest worship with "Kick You Down" before the disc comes to a satisfactory close with Metallica's "Hit The Lights." I'm not 100 percent sure, but I believe that this version of the track is the same one that appeared on their legendary No Life Til Leather demo tape, which led to their first record deal with MegaForce Records ... and the rest is history, as they say!.

Malice - "Kick You Down"

Fun facts about "Metal Massacre"

The track listing of Metal Massacre Vol. I varies depending on which pressing of the album you own. If you bought one of the original first-press LPs in 1982, the album opened with "Cold Day In Hell" by L.A. shred metallers Steeler. By the time Metal Blade was preparing a second pressing, Steeler had gotten a major label deal and requested that they be removed from future editions. Their slot was filled by Black N' Blue's "Chains Around Heaven." An early version of "Tell The World" by future hair metal titans Ratt was on the first and second pressings of MM I, but was eventually pulled from subsequent editions for the same reason.

Metallica's "Hit the Lights" also went through some changes. The version heard on the very first pressing of MM Vol. I was an extremely rough take, featuring the fledgling first lineup of James Hetfield (on rhythm guitar and bass as well as vocals), Lars Ulrich (drums), and Dave Mustaine (lead guitar). The guitar solo on this version was recorded by local six-string hero/guest star Lloyd Grant. Eventually Metallica cut a better quality version of the track, minus Grant but including new bassist Ron McGovney, and that is the version which appears on MM Vol. I to this day.

Additionally, Metallica's name was misspelled as "Mettallica" (with two "T's") on the back cover of the first printing. According to Metallica biographer Mick Wall (in his book Enter Night), Lars Ulrich was on the phone to Brian Slagel within 30 seconds of seeing the misprint, tearing him a new one! Naturally, copies with this error are rare, pricey collectors' items today.

Metallica "Hit The Lights"

Where are they now?

We all know what happened to Metallica and Ratt, of course. None of Metal Massacre I's other participants became big time rock stars, though a few of them went on to achieve minor-league underground success. Black N' Blue recorded four albums for the Geffen label between 1984-88 and have been sporadically active since then. Former B-n-B guitarist Tommy Thayer has been filling Ace Frehley's "Spaceman" boots in KISS since 2004.

Bitch was one of the first actual "bands" to sign a deal with Metal Blade Records, and they released several albums and EPs through the label during the '80s.

Malice was signed by Atlantic Records for two albums, In The Beginning... (1985) and License To Kill (1987). Their most recent album, New Breed of Godz, appeared in 2012.

Cirith Ungol released a series of acclaimed, fantasy-themed power metal albums during the '80s and the band remains a cult item to this day.

Pandemonium cut three albums for Metal Blade between '83 and '88.

The only bands on MM I who didn't seem to go much of anywhere beyond their appearances on this album were the one-and-done Avatar (bassist Diane Kornarens apparently went on to play keyboards for L.A. power-metal legends Warlord, of Deliver Us fame) and Demon Flight, whose post-Massacre career consisted of a mere three-song EP in 1982. Hey, you can't win'em all...

Get the CD!

Further Listening

Metal Blade released at least one new Massacre volume every year for the rest of the '80s, but the series' output slowed down during the less metal-friendly '90s. Subsequent volumes featured future heavy hitters like Slayer, Armored Saint, Trouble, Lizzy Borden, VoiVod, Metal Church, and many more. The fourteenth and latest Massacre album (released in 2016) was the first new volume in ten years, and it continued the tradition of spotlighting young rookie bands.

© 2019 Keith Abt

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