On through the mist and the madness: “Aural Amphetamine: Metallica & the Dawn of Thrash”

By on June 5, 2018

Aural Amphetamine: Metallica & the Dawn of Thrash tracks Metallica from their earliest days as a Bay Area thrash metal band right up to the release of their self-titled fifth studio album (the Black Album), which the UK’s Kerrang! magazine later claimed “propelled them out of the metal ghetto to true mainstream global rock superstardom.”

Watch the 2008 UK documentary — which also delves into bassist Cliff Burton’s tragic death on tour in 1986 — on Night Flight Plus.

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Outside the Metallica Mansion on Carlson Boulevard, El Cerrito, in 1984 (photo by”Banger” Bart)

Aural Amphetamine — anchored by a rarely-seen 1997 interview with Lars Ulrich and James Hetfieldalso features interviews with Diamond Head’s Brian Tatler, Megadeth’s Chris Poland, Machine Head/Testament’s Chris Kontos, Lääz Rockit’s Aaron Jellum, Neurosis’s Dave Edwardson, and Sean Smithson from the legendary Sacrilege B.C.

The film’s soundtrack contains music by seminal British hard rock forefathers like Led Zeppelin (“Communication Breakdown”) and Black Sabbath, and some of those pioneering New Wave of Heavy Metal bands — including Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Diamond Head — as well as a few Metallica’s contemporaries, like Venom, Exodus, Slayer, Mötley Crüe and Anthrax.

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The main musical focus here, of course, is on thrashy early tracks recordings by Metallica themselves, songs fusing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal riffs with hardcore punk tempos, like “Metal Militia”:

“On through the mist and the madness / We are trying to get the message to you, Metal Militia.”

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In addition to early film footage of Metallica, there’s also footage here of Megadeth, Machine Head, Diamond Head, Elixir, Neurosis, Lääz Rockit, Sacrilege BC and many others.

There’s also supplementary review and re-assessment from journalists Malcolm Dome (Kerrang!), Lonn Friend (RIP Magazine), Metal DJ Jeff Duran and an surprisingly insightful interview with Metallica band photographer Harald “O.”

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Read more about Metallica and Aural Amphetamine below.

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In 1980, Danish émigré and former teenage tennis prodigy Lars Ulrich and his family moved to Newport Beach, CA.

That same year, Ulrich, a drummer,  became so intrigued by the then-burgeoning New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound that he flew to England to track down some of the hard-to-find records. He ended up spend a few months on the road with Diamond Head and Motörhead’s Lemmy.

What he really wanted, though, was his own band, and so he began placing “Musician Wanted” ads in the Recycler:

“Drummer looking for other musicians to jam with, Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head, Iron Maiden.”

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In April of 1981, guitarist James Hetfield, who lived in Downey, a suburb thirteen miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, answered his ad.

The two became friends, and before long, along with a guitar teacher named Lloyd Grant, who played the guitar leads, they were contributing a track (“Hit the Lights”) to a compilation of unsigned L.A. bands, Metal Massacre, being released by Ulrich’s friend, Brian Slagel, on his Metal Blade Records label.

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For their band name, Ulrich came up with Metallica, the name his friend, radio DJ Ron Quintana, had chosen for a metal fanzine he’d planned to publish.

Ulrich and Hetfield, bassist Ron McGovney and lead guitarist Dave Mustaine were soon playing their first show at a small club, Radio City, down in Anaheim, CA.

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By the spring of ’82, Metallica recorded their first four-song demo, but their second demo collection, No Life ‘Til Leather, ended up becoming a sought-after collector’s item on the underground tape-trading circuit, which is how Scott Ian of Anthrax found out about them.

Before the end of ’82, Metallica were making a personnel change, asking bassist Cliff Burton to join after they saw his band Trauma at the Whisky a Go Go (Metallica had opened for Saxon there), but Burton had just one condition: he wanted to relocate to his hometown of San Francisco.

That was fine with them, as Metallica had been struggling in L.A. anyway because club owners and bookers thought their thrashy metal sound was either too heavy metal or too punk.

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Metallica set up residency for awhile in San Francisco’s El Cerrito neighborhood in February of 1983, and it became their home base for awhile.

They would end up moving again, this time to Queens, New York, and lived and rehearsed in Anthrax’s rehearsal space in the Music Building.

After Mustaine continued showed up for their gig at a Brooklyn club called L’Amour shit-faced drunk and acting obnoxious, they made the decision to replace Mustaine with their friend Kirk Hammet, the lead guitarist in Exodus.

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In late July of 1983, Metallica became the first thrash metal act to release a full-length vinyl LP when their Kill ‘Em All was released on the Megaforce label.

Originally they’d wanted to call it Metal Up Your Ass, but when their manager told them that half of the record outlets in the country would refuse to carry it, Cliff Burton came up with the new title when he said “You know what? Fuck those fuckers, man. We should just kill ‘em all!”

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Their debut’s huge success led to opening slots on tour with Venom and Twisted Sister and soon they were recording a second album for Megaforce, Ride the Lightning, released in late July, 1984.

Within a few months, they were signing with Elektra Records, becoming the first thrash metal band to be picked up by a major label.

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Watch Aural Amphetamine — along with other music documentaries like Inside Metal: Pioneers of L.A. Hard Rock & Metal, Inside Metal: The L.A. Metal Scene Explodes, and Heavy Metal Meltdown — over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.