Metallica - Ride the Lightning
Elektra Entertainment Group Inc.
NWOBHM Influenced Thrash
8 songs (47'31")
Release year: 1984
Metallica, Elektra
Reviewed by Adam
With all the success and notoriety they enjoy today, it is difficult to remember a time when Metallica were not at the center of the metal universe. Many, including myself, are not old enough to remember them as anything but the marketing powerhouse they have become. Obviously, this was not always the case. Let’s take a trip back in time, specifically to 1983. Metallica have just finished both recording and releasing their debut Kill ’Em All. This album was a moderate success, but hardly enough to earn the band a financial windfall. Like many other bands from this era, they went immediately into constructing the follow up, while touring separately with Anthrax and Venom. In support of the latter, they played a few shows in Europe, and recorded what would become Ride the Lightning in Denmark in early 1984. To this day, I still consider it the band’s crowning achievement, as it does the best job of combining both the speed and ferocity of their earlier years with the melodic aspects that would become more and more prevalent later on.

The album opens with the curiously regal acoustic intro to Fight Fire With Fire, before blasting out of the gate with one of the more aggressive riffs on the album. This song is a true thrasher, never letting up the breakneck pace given to its main riff. The production is handled by Fleming Rasmussen, who would go on to produce both Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All. I love the way this album sounds: not too raw, not too polished, perfect for the time period it was recorded in. James Hetfield's vocals are higher in pitch and very standard sounding, reflecting his youth, but it serves well in this case not too draw attention away from the magnificent songwriting. Metallica's much ballyhooed split with Dave Mustaine was only just in the bands rearview at this point, and he receives writing credits on two tracks. The first is the title track. How much of the writing is owed to Mustaine has been a subject of debate, but what is not is the solid guitar work in this song. Ride the Lightning is not a full speed thrasher, but the middle of the road pace suits these riffs better, and the solo played by Kirk Hammett is absolutely amazing, even if it is written by Dave. In fact, I would say it fits in with the flow of the song just as good, if not better, than any other Metallica track, past or present.

The next two songs, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Fade to Black are two of the most famous Metallica songs and both are those that even casual fans of the band are likely familiar with. The former sees the band trying out a more "groove" oriented riffing approach. It is a popular sentiment to point out that Lars is not much of a drummer, and James is not much of a singer. This notion is hard to argue with for the most part, but they both manage to sound pretty good for the bulk of this album. In keeping with this, the vocal and drum performances are both very simple, yet I consider them both some of the more memorable you will hear in a Metallica song. The latter is more of a ballad approach, with classical sounding leads over Hetfield's morbid suicidal lyrics. The songwriting is not flashy but very effective, managing to convey the suffocating feel the lyrics intend. It is easy to see why these two continue to receive radio airplay, as they have a decidedly more accessible sound. These two songs are the basis for the direction the band would take in the future, for better or worse.

After a detour into melodic territory, the aggressive approach is regained with Trapped Under Ice, another raw thrash affair that is only slightly less furious than Fight Fire With Fire. My gripe with this song is the vocals. They aren't necessarily awful, but they sound too off key and out of place for my liking, especially in the chorus. By this point, the vocals had become almost anthemic, and these just do not measure up. However, the riffing and soloing is still on point though, and should not be missed. As with Kill 'Em All, there is a definite NWOBHM influence that can be heard, perhaps most evident in Escape. This track has been much maligned by Metallica's fanbase for supposedly sounding deliberately more radio friendly and melodic. While I agree that it is more upbeat than the rest of the album, I still don't see how this was any more of a departure than Fade to Black. The vocals are pretty good, and the riffing is safe, but enjoyable.

Creeping Death is, in my opinion, the best song in the Metallica catalog. The feel is meant to be epic, to match the biblical history of God/Moses versus the Egyptian Pharoah being vocally retold, and it does not disappoint. The riffing is a microcosm of the album, thrashy with just enough melody and groove sprinkled in. Add to that another brilliant solo, anthemic chorus, and awesome bridge march "DIE, by my hand!" and you have a concise version of all the great aspects of Metallica can bring to the table with none of the bad. The album closes in top form, with the sprawling instrumental The Call of Ktulu, which is also the other song for which Mustaine receives writing credit. Inspired by the H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name (different spelling), it opens ominously with a mystical sounding guitar line and takes you through numerous twists and turns throughout its nine minutes. Describing it in words is difficult, but I will say that it is far and away the best instrumental you will find on any Metallica offering, and one of my all-time favorites. Of particular note is Hammett's (written by Mustaine) solo in the middle portion of the song. It is beyond hypnotic and manages to sound both anxious and unsettling, which is a feeling worthy of a Lovecraft title.

Though it is curious that the two songs Mustaine receives writing credit for are two of the best songs on Ride the Lightning, songs like Creeping Death showed that Metallica were perfectly capable of writing great material without him. There really isn't a mediocre track to be found in my opinion. The flow of this album makes it easy, and almost mandatory, to listen to it from start to finish in one sitting. While it may not be the album that propelled Metallica to superstardom, I still maintain it is the best overall display of forward-thinking songwriting and stellar riffs they have ever done, and essential listening for any fan of heavy metal.
Killing Songs :
Creeping Death, The Call of Ktulu, Ride the Lightning
Adam quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Metallica that we have reviewed:
Metallica - S&M2 reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Metallica - Reload reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 62 / 100
Metallica - The Videos 1989-2004 DVD reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Metallica - Some Kind Of Monster DVD reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
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