Metallica was formed in Los Angeles in late 1981 when Danish-born drummer Lars Ulrich placed an advertisement in a Los Angeles newspaper, The Recycler, which read, “Drummer looking for other metal musicians to jam with Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head, and Iron Maiden.” Guitarists James Hetfield and Hugh Tanner of Leather Charm answered the advertisement. Although he had not formed a band, Ulrich asked Metal Blade Records founder Brian Slagel if he could record a song for the label’s upcoming compilation album, Metal Massacre. Slagel accepted, and Ulrich recruited Hetfield to sing and play rhythm guitar. The band was officially formed on October 28, 1981, five months after Ulrich and Hetfield first met.
Metallica founding members James Hetfield (top) and Lars Ulrich (bottom)
The band name came from Ulrich’s friend Ron Quintana, who was brainstorming names for a fanzine and was considering MetalMania or Metallica. After hearing the two names, Ulrich wanted Metallica for his band, so he suggested Quintana use MetalMania instead. Dave Mustaine replied to an advertisement for a lead guitarist; Ulrich and Hetfield recruited him after seeing his expensive guitar equipment. In early 1982, Metallica recorded its first original song, “Hit the Lights”, for the Metal Massacre I compilation. Hetfield played bass, rhythm guitar, and sang while Lloyd Grant was credited with a guitar solo and Lars Ulrich played drums. Metal Massacre I was released on June 14, 1982; early pressings listed the band incorrectly as “Metallica”, angering the band. The song generated word of mouth and the band played its first live performance on March 14, 1982, at Radio City in Anaheim, California, with newly recruited bassist Ron McGovney. Their first live success came early; they were chosen to open for British heavy metal band Saxon at one gig of their 1982 US tour. This was Metallica’s second gig. Metallica recorded its first demo, Power Metal, whose name was inspired by Quintana’s early business cards in early 1982.
The term “thrash metal” was coined in February 1984 by Kerrang! journalist Malcolm Dome in reference to Anthrax’s song “Metal Thrashing Mad”. Prior to this, Hetfield referred to Metallica’s sound as “power metal”. In late 1982, Ulrich and Hetfield attended a show at the West Hollywood nightclub Whisky a Go-Go, which featured bassist Cliff Burton in the band Trauma. The two were “blown away” by Burton’s use of a wah-wah pedal and asked him to join Metallica. Hetfield and Mustaine wanted McGovney to leave because they thought he “didn’t contribute anything, he just followed”. Although Burton initially declined the offer, by the end of the year, he had accepted on the condition the band moves to El Cerrito in the San Francisco Bay Area. Metallica’s first live performance with Burton was at the nightclub The Stone in March 1983, and the first recording to feature Burton was the Megaforce demo (1983).
Metallica was ready to record their debut album, but when Metal Blade was unable to cover the cost, they began looking for other options. Concert promoter Johny “Z” Zazula, who had heard the demo No Life ’til Leather (1982), offered to broker a record deal between Metallica and New York City-based record labels. After those record labels showed no interest, Zazula borrowed enough money to cover the recording budget and signed Metallica to his own label, Megaforce Records.