#35: Metallica, ‘Kill ’em All’ (1983) vs. Wilco, ‘Being There’ (1996)


One thing I love about these battles is that they force me to listen to albums I used to love but rarely listen to anymore. Metallica’s debut album Kill ‘Em All is that for me.  This album introduced me to metal and for a brief 2-year period in my teens, I was a full blown metal head because of it. To me, this is authentic metal.  I F$%&ing love this album. It’s a hard high tempo metal experience filled with overdrive baselines, scorching guitar licks and anthemic vocal renderings. You can hear elements of punk music influences throughout, which weirdly adds a structured element to the songwriting and marries well with the lyrics’ rhythm and subject matter. I can see why Kill ‘Em All was a very influential album for metal bands to come. This album is an anger cry built for the masses. Its musical violence delivered in a way most had not heard before. Kill ‘Em All was groundbreaking.

Kill ‘Em All introduces itself to us as a building wave of drum rolls and guitar flourishes. A squealing guitar leads to a barrage of fast riffs and catchy metal verse.  “Hit the Lights”!!! Listen to us muther-f#$%ers.  We are on the scene and the scene won’t ever be the same.  We are like Sabbath on speed!!! Many may not agree with this, but I think the second track “Four Horseman” sounds a lot like Rush’s early records.  Good thing I love Rush! Just like that Canadian power trio, these polished thrash metal pioneers are so tight with their musicianship.  Its unrelenting musical beat down continues all through the album with songs like “Jump in the Fire”, “Whiplash”, and “No Remorse”.  This album is a heavyweight contender, completely ready to go toe-to-toe with any opponent.

It’s just too bad that Kill ‘Em All is up against one of my all-time favorite albums written by one of my all-time favourite bands.

Wilco’s Being There gets better for me with every listen.  I am so glad this battle gave me an excuse to listen to it over and over and over and over again. Being There is a gorgeous alt-collage of rock n’ roll, folk, country, grunge, pop, psychedelia and traditional Americana. The whole album is a love-hate letter to their fans, their band mates, and themselves.  “I want to thank you all, for NOTHING!!!” It’s that nothingness that they embrace.  It’s that nothingness that releases them and allows them to reflect on the beauty inherent in everything.  This contradiction threads throughout the album. I hear it even in their choice of song order, where they alternate from loud-outward expressions to soft-inward introspection. every song is a perfect reaction to what they just made as well as what I just heard.  After the steaming noise of “Misunderstood”, I need to simmer down with the calmness of “Far Far Away”.  After the tension has abated, I am ready to rock out with “Monday”.

Being There is perfectly arranged and listenable all the way through. There is no blunder here. Kill ‘Em All is perfectly listenable all the way through too. So if I am able to be as unbiased as I can be to even the playing field (which I can’t), this is a really close call. I think what Being There has that Kill ‘Em All doesn’t is a maturity and willingness to explore variations in tone and feel.  Of course we know that Metallica can show this maturity.  We see it in later albums.  Just not in this one.  Being There edges the win by a small margin.


WINNER: Wilco, Being There (2 points)


80s: 7

90s: 9

80s: 9
90s: 13

Next week’s battle – #34: Rolling Stones, Tattoo You (1981) vs. Oasis, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory (1995)

#40: U2, ‘War’ (1983) vs. Neil Young, ‘Harvest Moon’ (1992)

War is the third album by a band that was, at the time, young and raw and hungry, and it opens with the words “I can’t believe the news today/I can’t close my eyes and make it go away”. Harvest Moon is the 20th studio album from an established legend with nothing to prove and opens with the words “She used to work in a diner/never saw a woman look finer”. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about this battle: youthful outrage trying to change the word versus aging comfort contentedly observing it.  

In a post-U2 360 world, it’s hard to believe there was a time when U2 were young and raw and hungry – and Bono had a last name (Vox, in case you’re wondering) – but that’s how it was when the band got down to business in the fall of 1982 to record what was a “do or die” album after the sophomore slump of October.

They went with “do” in a big way. While even better things were still to come, War let the world know this was a serious band with something to say and a desire to say it with stadium-sized anthems. A concept album of sorts, most of the songs are about the horrors of, you guessed it, war, and it’s great. It rocks and it preaches with the spirit of kids who believe that music can change the course of history. Of course we’ve all heard “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “New Year’s Day”, “Two Hearts Beat as One”, and “40” enough times for them to be seared onto our brains, but every other song is pretty much just as good. I especially like “Seconds” – an oddball track that juxtaposes a playful beat and melody with a dark warning about nuclear war.

The whole band sounds energized but let’s give a special shout-out to the rhythm section, and particularly drummer Larry Mullen Jr. who, from the military march of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to the rave-up ending of “Like a Song”, sounds like he’s banging his kit to save his life.

Neil Young had no such anxiety or eagerness to please when he called forth his crew of perfect country-rock session players (also known as the Stray Gators) and choir of big-name back-up singers (Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Nicolette Larson), and ushered them back into the studio to make a sequel to his biggest-selling album – 1972’s Harvest.

The result, I would argue, is quite possibly better than Harvest. At its best, Harvest Moon is unbeatable. “Harvest Moon”, “From Hank to Hendrix” and “Unknown Legend” are absolutely marvelous (side note: you have to love how director Jonathan Demme used “Unknown Legend” in Rachel Getting Married). Like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, it’s the kind of album you can put on in any situation and everyone in earshot will be glad you did – though you’d be well advised to skip the nauseating treacle of “Such a Woman”, as well as “Old King”, a goofy tribute to a dog he admits to kicking once. No one needs the line: “But that hound dog is his..tor..eeeeee.”

Overall, this battle is close but since we’re talking about rock n’ roll let’s go with youthful outrage over aging comfort.


WINNER: U2, War (2 points)


80s: 6

90s: 5

80s: 7
90s: 5

Next week’s battle – #39: ZZ Top, ‘Eliminator’ (1983) vs. My Bloody Valentine, ‘Loveless’