Phantom Lord

Album: Kill 'Em All (1983)
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Songfacts®:

  • Metallica combine two heavy metal lyric tropes on "Phantom Lord": The pummeling force of the music, and a menacing fantasy creature.

    It's one of their earliest songs, written at a time when their lyricist, frontman James Hetfield, was still finding his way with words. He was very much influenced by British metal bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, which leaned heavily on fantasy. Hetfield's lyrics were often more down-to-Earth, but he couldn't resist a song imploring us to bow to the Phantom Lord.
  • "Phantom Lord" first appeared on a demo tape Metallica made on July 6, 1982 called No Life 'Til Leather. The studio time was paid for by Rocshire Records, based in Anaheim, California, which was interested in the band but passed on them when they heard the tape. Metallica made use of the demo by dubbing it to hundreds of cassettes and sending them to every tastemaker they could think of in the nascent metal scene.

    The band started in Los Angeles but relocated to San Francisco in March 1983. Their concerts there were manna to metalheads, but they couldn't rouse the interest of any West Coast labels. It was a mom-and-pop label based in New Jersey called Megaforce Records that signed them and moved them to the East Coast after hearing the tape. Megaforce funded their debut album Kill 'Em All, recorded in Rochester, New York, where studio time was cheaper. "Phantom Lord" was included on the album along with other tracks that made a big live impact, including "The Four Horsemen" and "Jump in the Fire."

    Kill 'Em All made a huge impact in the world of metal, but that was just a tiny slice of the pie. Over the next few years, metal health improved, and by 1986 when Metallica released their third album, Master Of Puppets, it was huge, and they were the leading lights in the genre. Kill 'Em All started selling as new fans dug into their catalog. It crossed the one million sales mark in 1991 (the year they released the Black Album) and by 1999 had sold 3 million.
  • When Metallica wrote this song and released it on their No Life 'Til Leather demo, the band was still in its original configuration, with Dave Mustaine on lead guitar and Ron McGovney on bass. Mustaine wrote the song along with lead singer James Hetfield.

    Before releasing Kill 'Em All, both Mustaine and McGovney were booted from the band, McGovney because they really wanted Cliff Burton on bass, Mustaine because Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich found him too volatile and pugnacious. All of Mustaine's parts that were put to tape for the album were replaced by their new guitarist, Kirk Hammett, but Mustaine was still entitled to his songwriting credits, which remained a source of friction decades later and kept the No Life 'Til Leather demo from ever being officially released. On Kill 'Em All, Ulrich was added to the writer credits, which peeved Mustaine to no end, especially since he felt Ulrich led the charge to fire him.

    Speaking with Songfacts in 2022, Mustaine said: "James and I wrote 'Metal Militia' and 'Phantom Lord' - every note. And somehow, on the record it says Lars gets 10%."

    He also said he had been in discussions with Hetfield to release the demo version officially, but talks broke down.

    "I thought to myself, you know what? When you guys did that to me before, it was not cool," he explained. "I said, 'Don't use my stuff,' and you did it, and then didn't give me my fair share. So why would I want to willingly enter into something like that? I wouldn't."

    He fired another shot at Ulrich as well:

    "I would love to work with James. I'd like to work with Lars again, too, but I think the real talent in Metallica has always been around the guitar - everybody makes fun of the drums."

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