Metallica - Ride the Lightning (1984)Release ID: 37
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!
In my younger days, like many other young peeps, my knowledge of Metallica was practically limited to The Black Album and a couple of singles from the earlier days like “Master of Puppets” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” I wasn't fully in tune with thrash. Well as I got more in-tune with thrash I had Master of Puppets ranked as the number 1 metal album of all time. But I didn't put in in my top 20 despite how much I love metal because I always considered it a little bit bloated. Well after a lot of personal growth and re-evaluation of my life, I also re-evaluated how I rate some music, especially metal.
At first I was NOT willing to give Ride the Lightning a spot above Master of Puppets (I even had And Justice for All ranked above it). Why? Simple. Puppets' production is much cleaner, the rhythms are more developed and progressive, and Metallica's style fully matured. After re-assessing myself, I realized that the big question was not “What's the best Metallica album,” but “what's the best METAL album?” If my metalcore phase taught me anything, it's that any type of production is acceptable depending on the situation. Let's be honest. Ride the Lightning's production but not be as clear as that of Puppet's, but it really is way more metallic. They obviously came a long way in that short one-year time when the were one of the best up-and-coming metal acts playing typical early thrash, and became the very band that defined thrash.
Believe it or not, my first encounter with Metallica's “Fight Fire with Fire” was not a pleasant one. Before I was used to the idea of thrash metal (or even heard of it for that matter), I would originally type the name in to look for a Kansas song. I wouldn't hear the actual album until four years later when I first started exploring music forums and charts. It would take a few years more for me to grow fully accustomed to the harshest side of metal, and that included death metal and black metal. I have Symbolic by Death to thank for that. It was the first death metal album I had ever heard and I gave it a 100/100 right then and there. The whole point of making this the opener is to give you an idea of how much power your exposing yourself to. By the time you're done with the album, you'll already be glowing blue. Da ba dee. I mean, after that soothing guitar solo at the beginning, you're dealing with BOOM BOOM BOOM! They don't call it “Ride the Lightning” for nothing! The way that atmosphere in the production works just makes it more metallic! Sure, the intro to the opener isn't as good as the one from Puppets, but it's overall a better song than “Battery.”
I admit, I'm not so well emotionally connected to “For Whom the Bell Tolls” as many other Metallica fans are, but I'm not denying that it's one of the high points of an album loaded with high points. Taking a literally dramatic shift from the thrashing thunder of the gods, the early stages of the poetry that would be seen on Master of Puppets drives this song as much as the heavy metal melody. “Take a look to the sky just before you die, It is the last time you will. Blackened roar massive roar fills the crumbling sky, shattered goal fills his soul with a ruthless cry.” Edgar Allen Poe's getting owned here. Screw the talking raven (OK, that's my screamo band name). Much of Metallica's best "guitartistry" is boasted on “For whom the Bell Tolls,” each player doing their part to add their unique vibe to the aura and all work as well as any harmonized group while still being very creative.
Now we get to the crown jewel of Metallica's songs: “Fade to Black.” This was Metallica's first ballad, and it was recorded at a time when James Hetfield not only had some obsession with death, but had to deal with much of the band's equipment being STOLEN, including his favorite Marshall amp! Damn. As you can imagine, that helps set the mood for one of Metallica's most iconic songs. The poetry of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” continues as one of the most beautiful and emotional moods in all of power ballad history ends side B of this album. There's no need for crazy solos when you can feel the sadness touching you. How human can a song get? It does get heavier towards the end, but that's a Metallica staple right there. That doesn't stop Hetfield from delivering some of his most heartfelt vocals in his career.
Alright, the first half of side B is considered the weak point of Ride the Lightning, but what album doesn't have a weakness? I admit, I'm not in love with the intro to “Trapped Under Ice.” It slowly gets better until WEEDLY-WEEDLY-WEEDLY comes along, returning to the raw thunder of the first two songs! Even though it's more like one of the basic thrash songs like on Kill 'Em All, the Ride the Lightning energy is still there, never damaging the album's flow or consistency. I mean, come on. Is speed metal not the perfect subgenre to feature on a thrash album? Besides, for a song about literally being trapped under ice, the lyrics are really freakin' good. The song almost feels crossover-thrash-esque the way it rides on energy and quick reactions.
“Escape” is considered the worst song on the album, but I like the intro more than I like the intro of “Trapped Under Ice.” It's more rhythmic and true to the Metallica style. I think the problem here is that it's written more like a song from your average hard rock / heavy metal album instead of one of the first thrash albums. Maybe that actually works, considering that the roots of thrash come from acts like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Hell, I wouldn't mind a good Scorps cover. Besides, the song still rules overall. The solos are still great and the lyrics are still human and relatable.
“Creeping Death” is one that I find particularly interesting because of its lyrical content. As opposed to the satanism often showing in albums at that time, Metallica decided to write a song about the Angel of Death from the book of Exodus! Well, you gotta keep the concept strong somehow. Although the song is more formulaic to the thrash stereotype, the badassery is at its peak. “Creeping Death” is balanced out between Metallica's energy, sense of rhythm, and lyrical drive. Unlike every other song on the album, it doesn't rely on solos to make its mark because of its balance.
“The Call of Ktulu” is the closer, and the only instrumental on the album. This nearly nine-minute epic pretty much covers everything that was going on throughout the album but with a deeper sense of mystery than every other song. Starting out with that slightly creepy solo was the perfect way to go. Like other prog-infused epics of its time, it slowly gets heavier and relies on a clever collection of combined solos to make its mark on the album. I don't know about you, but I think that's a perfectly epic way to end such an incredible album.
It's so utterly weird when you finally catch on to why an album is so great, because a whole new world opens afterwards. Ride the Lightning opened up a whole new level of understanding in the world of thrash (and maybe metal) for me, and I plan on making the most of it. In my opinion, it's the single greatest example of metal in the world. It's atmosphere is flawless, the energy of the album is rivaled only by a select few like Pleasure to Kill by Kreator, and the theme and concept never suffer. In fact, Ride the Lightning is much better at delivering its concept (of death and humanity) than most albums are at delivering their own concepts. It goes without saying that Ride the Lightning is an indisputable essential for any metal collection, and I'm glad I love the album as much as I do now.
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.