Review Summary: The best metal album ever made? Yeah, probably...
Back in the early 1980’s, Metallica were progressing in leaps and bound. The same band that in 1983 had put out the punky, clumsy Kill ‘Em All
presented their second opus only one year later, and the evolution was abyssal.
Ride The Lightning
is nothing more nothing less than Metallica’s magnum opus. More focused than Master of Puppets
, better played than Kill ‘Em All
and more honest than the Black Album, this is as perfect a collection of eight songs as we are likely to get nowadays. In fact, this album rivals Dookie
and Piece Of Mind
for lack of filler and songcrafting excellence. Simply put, every song here is either a classic or a criminally overlooked gem (apart from Fight Fire With Fire
, which is somewhat weaker, and Call Of Ktulu
, which isn’t really my thing, but is still a classic instrumental nonetheless).
On this album, musicianship has vastly improved. Sure, you can still hear the seams where Kirk Hammett’s solos are glued together, but his rhythms are much more consistent than on Kill ’Em All
. James Hetfield’s vocals have also matured and deepened, losing the high-ish adolescent pitch that characterized him on the previous album. And Lars Ulrich is still not the world’s greatest drummer, but he is capable of some good fills, notably at the beginning of Creeping Death
or during Fade To Black
. As for Cliff Burton…it’s a consensus that he helped revolutionize rock bass, and here his huge low end – so sorely missed on later albums with Jason Newsted – is present and audible throughout. Particular cases in point are the title track itself and – again – Creeping Death
, where his bass comes up in full force, even at times outmuscling the guitars. However, he is present in almost every song – listen closely and you can hear his buzz behind the guitars on Trapped Under Ice
or For Whom The Bell Tolls
. And of course, he, like everybody else, gets his solo spot on the nine-minute Call Of Ktulu
So musically, this is a great album. But compositively, as well, this shines. The simplistic writing of Kill ‘Em All
has turned into songs that are as complex as they are catchy. There are plenty of tempo variations on at least six of the songs here (Trapped Under Ice
and Fight Fire With Fire
are more straightforward thrash anthems), but they all remain as catchy as the next, and indeed their choruses, riffs and solos ring in our ears even a long time after listening to this album.
There are alsos touches of genius scattered throughout this record. The bass and guitar harmonies at the beginning of Ride The Lightning
; the humongous solo on Creeping Death
, excellently backed by some of the best rhythm guitar in Metallica’s career; the acrobatics on Ktulu
; and so on so forth. Nearly every song on here has at least one point of interest. Even Escape
, considered by many to be the weakest track on this album, has good riffing and a catchy chorus. This, along with Jump In The Fire
from Kill ‘Em All
, is one of the songs that the band label «too disco
and won’t play live. It’s a shame, because like every other track on here, it’s a good track. And that’s not counting Fade To Black
, certainly one of the top 5 power ballads ever written, that turns into a thrash cavalcade towards the end, just another proof of Metallica’s capability to keep us on our toes.
And then there’s the lyrics. All those who say that metal lyrics are dumb and stultifying should listen to this album. The semi-conceptual theme here revolves around the various possible manners of death, from the electric chair on Ride The Lightning
, to being snowed in on Trapped Under Ice
, and even touching upon historical themes, like the biblical plague of the pharaoh on Creeping Death
(not wanting to labor the point , this is one of the best tracks ever conceived in metal). This makes for extremely nice, cohesive writing which is only another one of the pluses.
So what are the minuses, then, you ask? Well, apart from the odd weaker track and a production that could be better, there really aren’t many to speak of. It may be biased – it is – but for my money this is the perfect metal album. In my mind, there’s only one possible rating it can get, and that’s what it’s getting. All you Metallica-bashers can sue me later.
Ride The Lightning
Fade To Black