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Metallica, Slayer, Ratt, Possessed, and the Massive Influence of the ‘Metal Massacre’ Compilation Series

Fin Costello, Getty Images

Among the many mighty metal milestones of 2012, the 30th birthday of Metal Blade Records stands as an amazing testament to the strength of metal devotion. Label founder Brian Slagel became a businessman almost by accident. He was a die-hard fan first, and editor of the fanzine New Heavy Metal Revue. Scraping together funding from money he saved while working at Sears, and a loan from his aunt, Slagel in 1982 created Metal Massacre, a Southern California-centered compilation to answer the countless label showcase collections of Britain’s NWOBHM.

From that first release, which introduced the world to Metallica and Ratt, Metal Blade Records was born. Over most of the next decade, the next installments of the Metal Massacre compilation series unveiled some of the greatest names in metal, including Slayer, Trouble, Voivod, Fates Warning, and Hellhammer.

Here’s a review of those auspicious debuts, in honor of three decades of Metal Blade.

METALLICA: METAL MASSACRE (1982)

The band that had the least going for it at the time of this record’s release has gone onto become the biggest rock band in the world. When Mötley Crüe bailed on Slagel’s compilation project, he offered his tape trader pal Lars Ulrich the slot if he could scrape together a band in time. Ulrich persuaded James Hetfield to join him, and for the initial release, Jamaican guitarist Lloyd Grant appeared as a guest soloist patched into the mix to play the leads. Future pressings included a different recording of the song with Dave Mustaine handling the trademark over-the-top trills.

RATT: METAL MASSACRE (1982)

A much more typical Southern California metal act than Metallica, Ratt were San Diego transplants to the Sunset Strip. Awestruck by Van Halen but chained down with a lean and relentlessly melodic double-guitar sound, Ratt cruised through a string of multi-platinum, platinum, and gold records and remain a musical and commercial highlight of the glam metal era.

ARMORED SAINT: METAL MASSACRE II (1982)

Like many bands on the L.A. club circuit, Armored Saint relied heavily on image, but their studded leather armor was a far cry from the spandex and mascara of Mötley Crüe. Singer John Bush was openly courted by young Metallica, but he refused to leave his boyhood pals in this band. After Armored Saint’s early record deal with Chrysalis Records went South, Bush joined Anthrax for over a decade, and has since returned to his original armored homies.

SLAYER: METAL MASSACRE III (1983)

Brian Slagel discovered Slayer as a warm-up act for Metal Blade act Bitch. Though “Aggressive Perfector” resembles raw early Metallica and pales in comparison to the band’s debut album, Show No Mercy, released in December of that year, Slayer’s first vinyl appearance is a stand-out alongside true metal obscurities like Sexist, La Mort, and Test Pattern (who were actually a forerunner of L.A. hardcore punk act White Flag.

TROUBLE: METAL MASSACRE IV (1983)

Metal Blade signed Trouble and originally marketed them as “white metal” in opposition to Slayer’s “black metal.” (The two bands were later again labelmates on Rick Rubin’s Def American during the 1990s.) The finely-hewn Chicago quintet’s Christian streak was not a gimmick, neither was its ultra-heavy throwback Sabbathoid doom. Not only was Trouble the only Christian metal band worth bothering with, they remain a pillar of awesome American doom metal that deserves more credit in today’s sloth-obsessed metal world.

VOIVOD: METAL MASSACRE V (1984)

The slow, grinding heavy rock of “Condemned to the Gallows” is totally unique in the vast and ever-changing repertoire of Voivod. The highly original Quebec quartet began life as a noisy post-apocalyptic mutant version of Motörhead then quickly evolved through thrash and industrial sounds to pure progressive rock territory.

HELLHAMMER: METAL MASSACRE V (1984)

The weird Swiss act Hellhammer was already a global phenomenon by the time of Metal Massacre V, with demo tapes reviled by critics and embraced by metal maniacs hellbent on a course of faster and louder noise for their ears. As he revealed in his book Only Death Is Real, main man Tom Gabriel Fisher, aka “Satanic Slaughter,” was still refining the musical chops that would match his grandiose overall vision. The concept and execution soon meshed completely in his next band, Celtic Frost. With this release Metal Blade thus struck its iron into the kindling fire of black metal and death metal.

OVERKILL: METAL MASSACRE V (1984)

East Coast thrash metal warlords Overkill at the time they appeared here were still undergoing the transition from traditional horror-inflected theatrical metal to the fast-paced frenzy that has been their stock in trade since. As such, Overkill is a classic underground Metal Massacre band, but unlike Death Dealer, Sacred Blade, or Nightmare, they successfully changed with the times and thrived. Overkill also appeared on a different regional compilation around this time, theirs titled New York Metal ’84.

METAL CHURCH: METAL MASSACRE V (1984)

Initially formed in the SF Bay Area, Metal Church became a tough keystone of the booming Pacific Northwest metal circuit, also appearing on the Pacific Northwest compilation LP around this time. Though their style was traditional metal, their approach was intense, and the band shortly became an MTV and concert hall staple. Unlike most of the bands named here, they bypassed the metal indie route altogether (after Metal Blade rival Megaforce Records mistakenly prematurely announced their signing). After successfully self-releasing their debut record, the band signed to major Elektra, where they remained well into the 1990s.

FATES WARNING: METAL MASSACRE V (1984)

In the beginning, Fates Warning was a blatant but excellent clone of Bruce Dickinson-era Iron Maiden. Snapping them up for Metal Blade was a no-brainer; the rapid growth of the band into what author Jeff Wagner in Mean Deviation calls “The Big Three” of progressive metal alongside Queensryche and Dream Theater was a surprising bonus for Metal Blade.

POSSESSED: METAL MASSACRE VI (1985)

The early death metal stylings of Bay Area teenage terrors Possessed marked the end of the crucial Metal Massacre era. By this point, tape trading had expanded to the point that many more bands were appearing far too rapidly for one semi-annual compilation album to contain them all. And by the time the records could be pressed, the underground had moved on anyway. But Possessed, along with ultra-speed crossover act Hirax, and to a lesser extent Dark Angel, were a terrific note to end the most solid and prolific water-testing A&R experiment in metal history.

Ian Christe is the author of Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, and the publisher of Bazillion Points Books, home to Murder in the Front Row: Shots From the Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter, Swedish Death Metal, Hellbent for Cooking, and We Got Power!: Hardcore Punk Scenes from Southern California. His metal history show Bloody Roots appears weekly on Sirius XM.

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