With their debut album establishing Metallica as a band to watch in the thrash scene, they set out to improve upon it's foundations with their sophomore effort, Ride the Lightning
. It consists of eight tracks and stays heavy throughout, with the exception of the token ballad, Fade to Black. James' voice has improved slightly since the last time around, but it's still high-pitched and often times annoying. The production isn't much better, either. It's a good try, though, as the speedy riffs and blistering solos are featured throughout.
Fight Fire with Fire
starts things off with an acoustic intro, which would become standard for the first track with later albums. This goes strait into a quick riff and then a snare heavy beat from Lars comes soon after. The lyrics here deal with nuclear winter, as evidenced by the line "Blow the universe into nothingness/Nuclear warfare shall lay us to rest." The chorus further supports this with "Fight fire with fire/The ending is near." Another verse and chorus and then there's the solo with a chunky riff underneath. A bit of double bass from Lars follows as the solo get's higher and then goes back to riffing. The guitars die out for a second, leaving only drums but they soon return with the main riff. "Soot to fill our lungs/The hot winds of death/The gods are laughing so take your last breath" leads into another chorus, and afterward "Fight fire with fire" is repeated a few times. The riff changes a little with more double bass, and the song ends with the sound of a bomb dropping. A good track, this is a good one to open the album with.
Next is the title track, Ride the Lightning
. Opening with steady tom hits and some high-pitched guitar, it then leads into a rock beat and a more Metallica-like riff. "Death in the air/Strapped in the electric chair/This can't be happening to me" marks the song's theme, being that of a man strapped in the electric chair, sentenced to die. A chorus follows, and then another verse. "Flash before my eyes/Now it's time to die/Burning in my brain/I can feel the pain" of the chorus leads into a faster part, where the riffs get quicker and the drums follow. This goes into a break for a solo, slowing down a bit before. It's a good one, too, and lasts a while. After a while, the song speeds up again, with blistering riffs and a steady snare beat while another solo plays over top. This is what really redeems the song instead of it just being another riff fest with decent vocals. They go back to the opening bit now, and stay with it for a little, and then go back to the last verse. "Wakened by horrid scream/Freed from this frightening dream" leads into a final chorus. There's a little jamming at the end, and the track finishes with a slightly altered opening riff.
The classic For Whom the Bell Tolls
is next. A bell begins the track, and then it goes into some wonderful leads from bassist Cliff Burton while guitars buzz underneath. The fancy bassing goes back to normal and the riff changes along with the drums. There's some high-pitched guitar work over slow riffing. A return to deep guitar follows. This is one of my favorite instrumental sections from 'Tallica. After that lengthy jam, it goes into the verse. "For a hill, men would kill/Why? They do not know" is a standout line. "For whom the bell tolls/Time marches on" leads into a little lead work from Hammett. Back to the verse, with "Take a look to the sky just before you die/It's the last time you will" give a hint at what the lyrics are about, being war-related. One last chorus goes into the outro part of the song. With hints at the opening and some distorted guitar wailing around some tom work. This fades out into silence for the end.
Up next is the token ballad at track four, Fade to Black
, which is also the longest non-instrumental song. Opening with an acoustic guitar melody, and then joined by some electric guitar over it. After that, there's a change in the acoustic melody and then drums and bass come in. Lyrics here deal with suicide comtemplation, as evidenced by "I have lost the will to live/Simply nothing more to give/There is nothing more for me/Need the end to set me free." This leads into some distorted guitar doing some chunky riffing. Things mellow out again for the verse. "Growing darkness taking dawn/I was me but now he's gone" leads into more distorted riffs. Then there's a break, as riffs change and James' vocals get more frantic. "Death greets me warm/Now I will just say goodbye" segues into the jamming part of the song, with another chunky riff. What ensues is the best solo of the entire album, backed by double bass and some rhythm guitar. After being mellow a bit, it increases the pitch and wails away some more. The song fades away during the solo, which is a shame. This is one of the best tracks here, and also contains some of James' best vocal work of this album.
Trapped Under Ice
is next, and the first of two not-so-great songs. Started with a lone guitar and then kicked into overdrive with double bass and a quick riff, it's then joined by some lead work over it. "I don't know how to live through this Hell/Woken up, I'm still locked in this cell/Frozen soul, frozen down to the core/Break the ice I can't take anymore" signals the cheese detector. This one's about.. well, being trapped under ice. It also marks a low point for the vocals, as they're high-pitched and annoying. The instrumentation, while not the best here, isn't too bad. The vocals and bad lyrics are too much though, and even the quick solo towards the end doesn't save this from being easily skipable. Escape
is the second of the mediocre duo. It begins with two snare hits and then gets to the guitar. There's some decent riffs here, and the vocals could pass a listenable, but once again, there's nothing special here. Skip it. Well, listen to the solo once, then skip it.
A beast of a metal song, Creeping Death
follows two "meh" numbers. The intro is famous among Metallica fans as one of the greats. Some good riffing comes after, and then they jam a bit. Lyrics here deal with the plague, nick-named "Creeping Death. After the second chorus, a strong string-raping solo chimes in. It goes on for a while, and then gets high-er pitched. This goes into the break where "Die by my hand/I creep across the land/Killing first born man" is spoken. Another verse follows, as James sings "I shall soon be there, deadly mass/I creep the steps and flood final darkness." The riff changes towards the end and there's some lead work over it. There's an outro similar to the intro, but varied slightly. Some crashes and guitar twiddling end the song.
Lastly, is the instrumental Call of Ktulu
. This is second greatest in the list of Metallica instrumentals, behind the fantastic Orion. It starts with the eerie sound of wind blowing, and then some creepy sounding guitar notes are plucked. The melody changes, and stays sounding good. A little over a minute in, there's a tom crescendo and then the distorted guitars come in and form the main riffs for the song. This part goes on for a while, with good work from Lars and some good riffing. After risking sounding repetitive, there's some changes in guitar and drums, with Lars banging on his ride. Another guitar comes in over the first one and is higher-pitched. There's a wailing guitar solo next, which helps rejuvinate the song. Afterward, there's a return to the begining riff, and then another change with some steady snare notes. The guitar goes up a bit and then there's a break. The guitar that comes next is similar to the acoustic bit that opened the song. Now you know you're nearing the end, as the guys wind it out, playing a repeating guitar piece with tom accents and crashes in the middle. A return to the opening melody occurs here, and then there's a tom crescendo. Some final distorted notes and crashes, and finally, everyone twiddles a bit and ends the song and album with a crash on top of guitars.
Overall, this isn't Metallia's best work. In fact, it's probably the worst effort of their thrash era. Fans will want to check it out anyway as it's part of the band's history and essential to the collection. But as an album, it's decent. There's a really good song or two and a few mediocre ones. But, if you want more fast riffs and good solos, you'll want to give it a listen.
(+)Some good riffs and speedy solos
(+)Lyrics and vocals are slightly improved from their previous album
(+)Call of Ktulu
(-)Despite being slightly improved, vocals are still annoying
(-)Some songs are a bit repetitive
(-)Trapped Under Ice
aren't that great
(?)How can you ride lightning? It's far too hot. You can barely survive being struck by it, much less riding it like a bull.
1. Fight Fire with Fire -4:46 (Burton; Hetfield; Ulrich)
2. Ride the Lightning -6:38 (Burton; Hetfield; Mustaine; Ulrich)
3. For Whom the Bell Tolls -5:11 (Burton; Hetfield; Ulrich)
4. Fade to Black -6:59 (Burton; Hammett; Hetfield; Ulrich)
5. Trapped Under Ice -4:04 (Hammett; Hetfield; Ulrich)
6. Escape -4:25 (Hammett; Hetfield; Ulrich)
7. Creeping Death -6:38 (Burton; Hammett; Hetfield; Ulrich)
8. The Call of Ktulu -8:53 (Burton; Hetfield; Mustaine; Ulrich)