Metallica - Ride the Lightning (1984)
As the godawful winter of 1984 was about to turn into 1985 my musical heroes were, quite frankly, starting to suck. Sabbath had released Born Again the year before, Brian Robertson had fucked Motörhead up, the stalwarts of the NWOBHM were fading fast, Priest had been in decline for ages and hair / glam metal seemed to be the only shitty game in town as far as metal was concerned.
Then, on a whim, I picked up a copy of a various artists metal comp called Hell Comes to Your House in the desperate hope of finding something on it that didn't blow. Most of it wasn't very good, but then I heard IT. IT being Metallica's Creeping Death and IT blew my fucking mind! That one hit of Bay Area genius was the heaviest thing I'd ever heard and was all I needed to turn me into a thrash junkie. Suddenly things were looking up!
Of course, I went out and bought the album that spawned this awesome song as soon as was humanly possible - infuriatingly I did have to wait until the next day when the shops opened and then, even more infuriatingly, another week or so because the crappy local record shop had to order it from the wholesalers (kids today, you've never had it so good with your fancy internet-thing!) So in the meantime I drove everyone nuts playing Creeping Death over and over again until I had the hallowed album itself in my now clammy, shaking hands.
Anyway, enough with the context and on to the music. Metallica's debut, Kill 'Em All was and is, a great, raw slab of break-necked thrashing mayhem. Ride the Lightning, however, showed a quantum leap in songwriting ability, providing more than just high speed riffs to bang your head to. Sure, if you wanted that, this had it - Fight Fire With Fire and Trapped Under Ice to name just two provided that in spades. However, with tracks like For Whom the Bell Tolls and Fade To Black, the band showed they weren't afraid to rein the rampaging tempo in and slow the tracks down to allow them room to breathe and exhibit how the foursome's songwriting was rapidly maturing.
The aforementioned Trapped Under Ice and Escape kick off side two and both are good songs, but in the context of the rest of the album, I feel they are a step down in class, but all that is completely blown away by the album's closing brace - Creeping Death and it's telling of a vengeful god's infanticide against the pharoah and his people, followed in short order by instrumental The Call of Cthulhu and it's reference to a very different god. These two tracks back to back still stand as the epitome of thrash metal to me.
Master of Puppets is a slightly more consistent album in terms of songwriting quality, but this record stands as a monument to the coming-of-age of thrash metal as a genre and, for me, a personal landmark on my road of metal discovery.
Where Metallica really took off, Ride the Lightning took metal to new heights!
Metallica's debut Kill ‘Em All was an angry thrashing beast that displayed an abundance of youthful aggression, while hinting at more subtle possibilities within its underbelly. It was far from flawless, but certainly displayed the promise that these ambitious and talented youngsters contained. Just over 12 months later and the band would enter Sweet Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark to record its follow-up. Released in August 1984, Ride the Lightning would send Metallica’s popularity skyrocketing and simultaneously progress the genre of thrash metal from entertaining attempts at breaking down the walls of extremity, to a form of music that simply demanded to be taken seriously. While still thrashing hard at times with grand metal flair, Ride the Lightning is a far more mature release than the debut, and is the real commencement of the hugely commercially successful Metallica institution. This is the Metallica that managed to be both critically praised for their musicianship and inspired song writing, while unearthing their lofty position within a whole generation of adoring fans. This was not just rebellious teenagers bashing their instruments and screaming irrationally like so many outsiders would try to suggest of the metal genre in general, but something to be truly proud of.
Ride the Lightning contains intelligently crafted music, with genuine themes (the death sentence, suicide and even the plagues that were visited upon the Egyptians in the biblical story of the Hebrews exodus from slavery) and creatively fashioned tracks with varying tempos and feel. The production is far superior to Kill ‘Em All, which certainly takes that dirty edge out of their music, but suits the evolution in compositions perfectly. While there was still a way to go to reach the progressive thrash hybrid the band performed on Master of Puppets and ...And Justice For All, Metallica had already started toying with lengthy, more complex efforts such as Ride the Lightning and The Call of Ktulu. Interestingly it’s these two tracks that Dave Mustaine is credited as a co-writer on the album sleeve, although considering his departure occurred over 12 months prior, one could assume the songs had transformed dramatically since his work on them. James’ vocals improved dramatically between albums as he gained confidence in a field he reluctantly took on in the first place. He may not have exceptional range, but tracks like Fade to Black show that he can hold his own with emotionally charged, cleanly sung vocals that are filled with conviction.
Ride the Lightning has lost none of its power today over twenty five years after its release. The title track, Fade to Black, Creeping Death and The Call of Ktulu are some of the finest tracks Metallica would ever create and all would play a part in the band's staple live set for years to come. Considering the album has sold well over five million copies in the U.S. alone, there’s no denying how important it is to both Metallica’s development and the genre of thrash metal. Yet despite all these facts and praise that I’ve just thrown at Ride the Lightning, the band would convincingly top it in just a couple of years, and the slightly less drool inducing Trapped Under Ice and Escape section of the album does temporarily stunt its momentum . It’s worth pointing out though that these two tracks are far better than anything the band has recorded in the last 15 years, so I am perhaps being a bit harsh in my judgement. Still, James, Kirk, Lars and Cliff made history with this album and no metal fan should be without it. It's one of those exceptionally rare moments where a few individuals can join so seamlessly, all playing a vital role in fulfilling a vision in unity. An undeniable metal classic!
A really good thrash album - in my opinion. It was really exciting when I heard it first back in ‘87. Creeping Death, For Whom The Bell Tolls and the title track are classics and Escape and Trapped Under Ice are above your average thrash songs. Fade To Black is a classic too actually. Still listen to the album frequently to this day.
It's hard to believe how much Metallica's music had matured within a year of their debut album ‘Kill 'Em All’. With plenty of clean guitars and intricate harmonies, this is a band that has grown tighter and stronger as time went by. James Hetfield seems to be more confident as a singer here, and the band all-round seem a lot more comfortable with where they are headed musically. The lyrics are better thought out and the songwriting as a whole is a lot more complex and established than what we heard on their previous record.
Though some of these songs are instant classics, such as 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', 'Fade to Black', ‘Creeping Death’ and ‘The Call of Ktulu’, there are still a couple of tracks lingering around to fill up space, in particular, 'Trapped Under Ice' and 'Escape'. A fact shown true by the band themselves, who never play these songs live. And let's be honest here, is there anyone who can actually claim that their favourite Metallica song is ‘Trapped Under Ice’? Didn't think so.
With that said, the odd filler or two do not take away any momentum from the album, which flows smoothly all the way to the end. One of the biggest heavy metal albums of all time, there’s enough diversity here that non-metal fans may even like what they hear.
Canonically among the greatest Metal albums of all time, Ride the Lightning took the Thrash from Kill Em All and, at the expense of some speed and energy, added superb songwriting, lyricism, and a wide range of emotions and moods. In fact, one of the things that makes Ride the Lightning so good is that anyone can enjoy it – you don’t have to be a Thrash fan or even a metalhead to appreciate the fantastic musicianship of the title track, or the emotional weight of “Fade to Black.” Still my favorite Metallica album, Ride the Lightning has stood the test of time for music fans of all kinds.