Metallica "No Life 'Till Leather" - 2015 Record Store Day cassette

It looks like Record Store Day isn't just for vinyl records. Some people are evidently nostalgic for the days of pre-recorded audio cassettes, as well, and a few artists have released limited edition items in that format for Record Store Day. I can understand the appeal, especially for anyone who grew up using that medium the way I grew up using vinyl. But I doubt that cassettes will enjoy the same type of resurgence that vinyl has enjoyed in recent years. They certainly served purposes in their day, but in my view, pre-recorded cassettes were the least exciting and least technically convenient way to collect and listen to music.

What has me talking about this subject? This Saturday, on Record Store Day 2015, Metallica are releasing their 1982 demo No Life 'Till Leather as a limited edition cassette. Why cassette? Because the cassette and the artwork are designed as an exact duplication of the tape copy owned by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. Metallica says that expanded versions of No Life 'Till Leather will be released this summer on CD and vinyl.

No Life 'Till Leather has never before been released commercially. The 30-minute, 7-song demo was recorded on July 6th of 1982 at Chateau East Studio in Tustin, California. Ulrich distributed the tape himself, and it led to the band's first record deal with Megaforce Records. Of course, it has also been much-bootlegged in the years since.

This tape was recorded by an early Metallica lineup that predated their debut album. Ulrich and James Hetfield were joined by future Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine and original bassist Ron McGovney, shortly before the latter two were respectively replaced by Kirk Hammett and the late Cliff Burton.

All seven of the songs were later re-recorded for Metallica's 1983 debut album Kill 'Em All; “The Mechanix” was reworked into “The Four Horsemen”. The band's statement says they have "gone to the original source material and re-mastered it to maximize the sound potential for 2015 without altering the original mixes in any way."

As of this writing, I have yet to hear the remastered version of No Life ‘Till Leather. But if it improves on the sound of the version that has circulated in the past, then…great! No Life ‘Till Leather is even more raw than the band's proto-thrash-metal debut album, but it can hardly be described as primitive. The sound seemed derived from some of the British metal bands that had surfaced a few years earlier (i.e. Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Diamond Head), but Metallica already had that unique approach that was all their own. The dual assault of Hetfield’s rhythm guitar and Ulrich’s drumming is immediately recognizable, at once hard-hitting and tightly controlled. However, Hetfield’s lead vocals display less machismo here than they did on the band’s proper recordings; he sounds particularly high-pitched on “Metal Militia”, although he seems to be trying out his more familiar growl on the closing track “Phantom Lord”. The main difference in sound from the finished Kill 'Em All versions lies in Mustaine’s lead guitar work. His playing is impressive but tends to sound wild and undisciplined, particularly on his overdone solos during “Hit The Lights” and “Jump In The Fire”. It is interesting to contrast Mustaine’s playing here to that of Kirk Hammett on the Kill ‘Em All album; Hammett’s playing seemed to follow Mustaine’s example, but it was more controlled. McGovney’s bass playing is adequate – and that’s meant as a compliment, considering that he basically seemed able to keep up with the other three guys. Still, he’s not so impressive that he would compare favorably to Metallica’s later bass players.

No Life ‘Till Leather is a welcome addition to Metallica’s official catalogue, as it shows that the band was already a formidable metal entity in their heretofore obscure pre-1983 period.

Metallica - No Life 'til Leather

Metallica "No Life 'Till Leather" (cassette) (Blackened BLCKND024-5) 2015

Track Listing:

1. Hit The Lights
2. The Mechanix
3. Motorbreath
4. Seek & Destroy
5. Metal Militia
6. Jump In The Fire
7. Phantom Lord