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Once upon a time Metallica were just a bunch of zitty, angry adolescents in leather jacks with bad breaths cranking out heavy tunes they loved themselves. In that time they were hungry for success and would stop at nothing to achieve their goals. As much as anything the band was the life’s work of Danish émigré Lars Ulrich, a self-confessed New Wave Of British Heavy Metal fan, who was looking to put a heavy metal band together. It was with the arrival of one James Hetfield (rhythm guitar) that drummer Ulrich was truly able to bond, and this axis continues to define the band’s creative direction to this day, for better or worse (mostly worse). “Kill Em All” is an anomaly of sorts in the band’s classic metal era as it is a mish-mash of holdovers from the members’ previous engagements, a number of songs co-written by a member no longer in their ranks and what is there of original material gets by mostly on attitude than actual songwriting.

What sets “Kill ‘Em All” apart from the rest of Metallica’s early catalog is how obvious it is about its influences. It doesn’t take a whole of imagination to picture that everybody in the band at the time were fanatics of the likes of UK proto-metallers Venom and Motörhead. The latter becomes especially clear in how much Metallica directly lift from its infamous UK forbears: the riff construction, the simple but aggressive drumming, the raw punk energy, the lyrical subjects and the construction/rhyme schemes of said lyrics, etc – just to mention the most obvious characteristics. On all other fronts it sounds like a band trying it darndest to outdo its regional competition in terms of speed, heaviness and overall extremity. The album represents Metallica at its most youthful, it is the first out of four records of the band’s classic metal era, and it is a mandatory purchase for anybody that considers him/herself a serious fan of the genre. It is crude, it is juvenile but it also is the most brash, honest and straightforward album this band would ever write.

metallica-metallica-32495881-950-928There is a very “rehearsal” quality to this material as it mostly feels like an actual gig captured and cleaned up roughly in the studio. “Kill ‘Em All” for the most part is a band still in search of what works and what doesn’t. As a result a lot of the songs pile up on the riffs but also tend to sound anticlimactic and unfinished. This is a young, eager and enthusiastic heavy metal band banging out whatever song material met their initial criteria but the debut has little of value to offer otherwise. Already on the first record Castro Valley-born bassist Cliff Burton is the most musically gifted and technically accomplished member of the unit with lead guitarist Kirk Hammett not close behind. The young James Hetfield still reluctant in his position as vocalist, and drummer Lars Ulrich actually sounds as if he could surprise the listener had he kept honing his percussive skills along with the other musicians. The album is a dusty relic of a more innocent time in the underground metal scene. Forging together elements of hardcore, punk and NWOBHM along with a healthy dose of bravado Metallica delivered their first studio record with “Kill ‘Em All, one that helped birth a new subgenre of metal along the way. By many “Kill ‘Em All” is considered to be the first genuine thrash metal record.

Originally based in Los Angeles, Metallica relocated to San Francisco at behest of Cliff Burton who was still in the band Trauma. Taking a look at the tracklist at least a third of the album was culled from the members’ previous engagements. ‘Hit the Lights’ was a song Hetfield carried over from his previous band Leather Charm. Infamously, early lead guitarist Dave Mustaine was fired in April 1983 for his drug and alcohol problems, overly aggressive behavior and clashes with bandmates. He received co-writing credits on four of the songs on “Kill 'Em All”. The songs ‘The Four Horsemen’ (originally titled ‘The Mechanix’), ‘Jump in the Fire’, ‘Phantom Lord’ and ‘Metal Militia’ were primarily written by Mustaine, most of ‘The Four Horsemen’ was written by Dave Mustaine when he was in his previous band Panic. Two other Leather Charm songs 'Let's Go Rock n' Roll' and 'Handsome Ransom' would be disassembled only to become 'No Remorse'. ‘(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth’ is a bass solo by Burton, with some accompaniment on drums by Ulrich. A song he carried over from his prior band Trauma. Much of the lyrics revolve around metal fandom, the culture and band life. They aren’t exactly good, and only ‘The Four Horsemen’, ‘Jump In the Fire’ and ‘Phantom Lord’ deviate from the form.

If anything “Kill ‘Em All” is a powerhouse of raw energy and reckless abandon. Never again would the band sound as enthusiastic as they do here. All songs rip into the listener without much hesitation, and while the writing hadn’t yet stabilized there is a swagger and a “je m’en fou” mindset never again seen on the records that would follow. This was a young band, hellbent on making it big and not giving one iota about what anybody thought. On later records Metallica formulized their songwriting, working on a better pace and structuring its records in similar formats. On “Kill ‘Em All” they wrote songs like each one could be their last. Granted, the lyrics are juvenile and a lot of the times the songs go nowhere in particular, but the infectious delivery and breakneck rhythm sections redeem of what in essence a rehearsal put to tape. This record is the very anthesis of that the self-titled record they would release a mere eight years later. Like Slayer’s “Show No Mercy” (that was released five months after this) it is a lovenote to all of the band’s various inspirations. It’s crude, it’s silly but it also one of their best.

Metallica recruited Kirk Hammett, a self-professed Motörhead fan and a one-time student of Joe Satriani, who previously played for Exodus. Hammett, whose guitar solos on the album were partially based on Mustaine's original solos (the first four bars of most solos were written by Mustaine) really excels here, and only partially shows his finesse and emotion that would surface in later records. Truthfully, it are the three members other than Ulrich that steal the show on this brazen and often silly excursion into proto-thrash metal. The most obvious showstealer is bass guitarist Cliff Burton who pops and throbs away audibly both supporting and oozing around what the guitarists throw at him. Hetfield's highly technical rhythm guitar style stands out, along with his somewhat comical vocals. For a record highly inspired by hardcore and punk in both energy and riffing it are the leads and solos co-written by Mustaine and finetuned/performed by Kirk Hammett that deliver the true fireworks. They stand in stark contrast to the brazen, forward style of the riffing and show a keen musician that understands his craft. As suggested earlier the weakspot is, and always will be, drummer Lars Ulrich. His performance on “Kill ‘Em All” isn’t especially varied, but his style is laid bare are – and despite the band’s strong songwriting evolution on records to come his technique would never drastically improve. Everybody was getting better at their instruments, but for some reason Ulrich never quite catched on to the instrumental prowess of his partners. It is an ailment that would continue to haunt Metallica long after they abandoned metal for a more alternative rock style and mainstream stardom.

Recorded in less than three weeks in May 1983 at Music America Studios in Rochester, New York with producer Paul Curcio the debut is the result of years toiling away in the underground. In the next few years Metallica would have short writing - and studio sessions that surprisingly led to incredibly honest and poignant music. Unabashedly cheesy, criminally underdeveloped and hopelessly juvenile by today’s standards “Kill ‘Em All” sees Metallica at its most eager and hungry. It would merely form the template for the three more critically acclaimed records that followed it, yet it remains a curious anomaly in the early catalog of San Francisco’s most enduring heavy rock act. That the band continues to play songs live from this album to this day is testament to the everlasting legacy and importance of this underappreciated and often overlooked debut. “Kill ‘Em All” might not be a pretty record, or a sophisticated one – but what it misses in subtlety and nuance, it more than compensates in sheer raw energy and endearing honesty. For these reasons “Kill ‘Em All” is an important stepping stone in Metallica’s early history as one of San Francisco’s most lauded early thrash metal acts.

 

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Developed by Naughty Dog
Published by Sony
Written & directed by Amy Hennig
Music by Greg Edmonson
Starring Nolan North, Richard McGonagle, Emily Rose, Robin Atkin Downes, Simon Templeman, James Sie

Drake’s Fortune” is the first installment of Naughty Dog’s lauded Uncharted series, an action/cover shooter inspired by pulpy adventure novels, serials and literature. In a lot of ways it is the video game equivalent of the original three Indiana Jones movies.

Uncharted-drakes-fortuneThe game starts off with Nathan Drake (Nolan North) and TV journalist Elena Fisher (Emily Rose) finding a 400 year old diary in the coffin of sir Francis Drake, who was buried at sea, somewhere on the coast of Panama. The duo is ambushed by pirates, before being rescued by Drake’s mentor and partner, Victor Sullivan (Richard McGonagle). From that point on, they are beset by enemies from various angles, and they need to haul ass and shoot their way out in order to survive and uncover what happened to Francis Drake. They need to uncover Drake’s fortune.

The first Uncharted is different in a number of ways from the sequels that would follow in the wake of its success. The most notable among these differences is that everything takes place on one location, the uncharted island in question on which Drake strands. Another difference is that this first episode is static for the most part, with only a handful of cinematic events that would later become the series’ calling card.

What this first chapter did offer was a cast of loveable, but underwritten characters for the protagonists as well as the trio of antagonists. This chapter has rogue adventurer Nathan Drake, intrepid reporter Elena Fisher and father figure/mentor Victor Sullivan – along with loan shark Gabriel Roman (Simon Templeman), mercenary Attoq Navarro (Robin Atkin Downes) and pirate chief Eddie Raja (James Sie) who has a personal vendetta against Drake.

Uncharted-drakes-fortune-screen-2One of the hallmarks of the series is the combination of platforming (traversal), hand-to-hand melee combat, light puzzling and cover-based shooting galleries. While all these elements are generally easy and not hard to figure out, its the intuitive combination of those that gives the title remarkable replayability and longevity. There isn’t a whole lot that can be told about the story, as it is fairly typical for the genre. Loyalties are tested, discoveries are made, bonds are forged and lots of stuff blows up. Naughty Dog made sure to emphasize the action part of their action/adventure. In case you are expecting adventure in the old Sierra tradition, you will sadly find it not here, despite the posturing and cinematic gravitas.

Not to say that Uncharted is narratively empty or horribly executed, far from it. In fact, this game is probably the hallmark to which most contemporary titles, for good or ill, tend to aspire. That is to say, the story facilitates a reasonable excuse for big setpieces and some ridiculous plot twists. The story itself is your run-of-the-mill pulpy adventure, taking cues from Indiana Jones, Allan Quatermain, the old Tomb Raider and Pitfall games and literature of the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Louis Stevenson to name a few obvious and hard to miss sources.

The level design is a lot more open compared to later installments, but it is never hard to tell exactly when all hell is about to break loose. Just walking around the various parts of the island will have the player discover different pieces of cover and places to hide behind. After the first firefight, you can easily predict when you’ll need to take up your firearms for another wave of enemies. The levels are linear in design, and exploration is fairly limited unless you are in a location where exploration is the main goal. At least there are no invisible walls, but the straightforwardness of the endeavour is both a plus and a negative. The game has a high level of replayability, but it doesn’t try very hard.

CtxUiDKpzAnother thing that I touched upon earlier is that “Drake’s Fortune” is a lot more static compared to later sequels, and a couple of vehicle sections only serve as padding to get the next location for a setpiece or shootout. This staticness also reveals itself in the second half of the game, as you’re running around in circles on the uncharted island. In this case even literally, as Drake will over the course of the game visit key locations from two or three different angles (the monastery is a particular gruelling example of this). You might not notice it on your first playthrough, but in repeated play sessions it becomes all the more obvious. Thankfully this was ironed out in later sequels.

Exclusive to this title are also about three or four vehicle sections, in which you control Drake and Fisher simultaneously by driving the waterscooter and shooting enemies on the shore. There are only a few of these sections, thankfully. They aren’t especially bad per se, but it is a good thing they were abandoned after this chapter. The sections are functional, but serve no real purpose other than getting the protagonists to the next set piece or location. There’s an on-rails shooting gallery in which Elena drives a jeep and Nathan is holding off approaching enemies on motorbikes and military vehicles. It isn’t half-assed to the slightest degree, it just doesn’t add a whole lot to the experience either. It somewhat telling that exactly these sections were cut out for the sequels. They weren’t mechanically bad, but the chance to play as Elena was at least a nice touch. Even though this is only limited to two or three small sections of the game.

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In comparison to a lot of video games that came around this period, it is instantly recognizable due to its wide color palette and vivid color scheme. The locations are lively and colorful, with animated fauna and flora. Where a lot of games were grey, brown-ish, this game has lush greens, blues, reds and yellows – all warm colors that exude an exotic and tropical feeling. Walking through out jungles, and past bodies of water, you can almost feel the sun as you walk out of the shadows into the blazing light. This is another facet of the game that would be expanded and explored in later sequels to a much more detailed degree. The vistas, interiors and exteriors are breathtakingly beautiful – and a lot of the time it is unfortunate this is an action game first, and an adventure game second. Just imagine what this game could have been had this been a traditional point-and-click adventure. The possibilties are just endless.

One of the classic problems that rears its ugly head early on is the one of ludo-narrative dissonance. Through out the cutscenes and dialogues it is made clear that Nathan Drake is generally a pacifist, only resorting to violence when cornered and he doesn’t like to incessantly and violently murder at random. This is, of course, at odds with the cover-shooter gameplay and the majority of what makes up the single campaign of this title. This is not a problem specifically related to the Uncharted series, but most of this type video games in general. That isn’t to say that the writing is poor. Let it be known that Uncharted as a whole is one of better written franchises in contemporary gaming. That doesn’t change the fact that writing (as a general rule of thumb) isn’t exactly exemplary or strong in most video games narratives to begin with, the standards aren’t very high.

One of the most outstanding scenes in regard to ludonarrative dissonance happens in the ‘Drowned City’ chapter, as Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher escape with the skin of their teeth from pirate chief Eddie Raja. After once again being ambushed and shot at from multiple angles, Drake imparts to Fisher that he wants to give up, considering they are outnumbered, outgunned and he doesn’t want to have her bullet-ridden corpse on his conscious. Never mind that you spent a good hour or so previous shooting numerous nameless mooks to kingdom come, yet here he is strangely comfortable shooting down hordes of armed pirates, para-military forces and mercenaries the next minute now that he feels the damsel of the piece is in danger. This ongoing inconsistency in tone is aggravating to say the least, and it gets even more annoying once you really stop to think about it and see how many times this thing occurs through the entire single player campaign. Let us not even dig into the nebulous and insidious implications this has as far as gender roles is concerned between our two loveable main protagonists. At least Naughty Dog tried.

In comparison to a lot of other franchises, and video games in general, Uncharted does well in its representation of the female gender. Not only is Elena Fisher an intelligent, level-headed, resourceful and competent character in her own right: quick with her wits, fists and capable with a gun, she also dresses in the proper attire for the situation. The opening level ‘Ambushed’ has her in an all-covering wetsuit, no needless showing of skin or cleavage. Later levels continue this sensible fashion decision with Fisher wearing a tanktop, knee-level shorts and sturdy walking shoes. Other than that it happens more than once that Fisher ends up saving the supposed hero of the story, Drake. The banter between Drake and Fisher is well-written, and both characters can be heard changing tone as they get deeper into the situation. There is a growing respect, and mutual admiration (or adoration, in case of Drake) between Drake and Fisher. Sullivan’s role as father figure (later explored more thoroughly in the third episode) works excellent with Drake’s youthful bravado, and Elena Fisher’s voice of reason.

In that regard Uncharted is better than 70%-80% of other games on the market as it trusts its audience in not being drooling baboons that need to obsess over virtual T&A and teasing. Instead it avoids lowest common denominator pandering altogether and the characters are much better for it. This still is a total sausagefest, as Elena Fisher is the only female character for this installment. As the saying goes, less is more – and in this case it rings true. Overall, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a highly responsive modern cover-shooter with a classic adventure paintjob. Anybody who has seen a number of genre movies or read some literature will find no surprises in the story at any point. Nevertheless is this a fun game that is a whole lot more mature and intelligent than a great majority of others currently clogging the shelves in retail stores.