Review Summary: In my opinion, this is Metallica's best album of all time, narrowly defeating Master of Puppets. A true great of the metal genre, Ride the Lightning is memorable from beginning to end.
Ride the Lightning by Metallica- Review
Ride the Lightning Personnel:
James Hetfield- Vocals & Rhythm Guitar
Kirk Hammett- Lead Guitar
Cliff Burton- Bass Guitar
Lars Ulrich- Drums
The year is 1984. In the previous year, Metallica, currently the largest of metal giants American or otherwise, had just released their freshmen studio effort, Kill 'Em All. Head-bangers across the country rejoiced at its thrashy, relentless sound. However, the band wanted to dive deeper for this year's follow-up. Though Kill 'Em All is considered a thrash metal album, and a classic one at that, it incorporated several punk elements. Metallica was looking to create a full-on, pure, profound metal album, and what they ended with was Ride the Lightning- my favorite Metallica album ever.
Recorded in drummer Lars Ulrich's home country of Denmark, Ride the Lightning was incredibly ambitious for a quartet of boys in their early twenties who had just released a punk-ish album a year ago. Come to think of it, this album was possibly the most ambitious, groundbreaking record the metal world had seen since Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny. Lyrically, Ride the Lightning deals with more serious topics such as war, death, and depression. Instrumentally, the album combines James Hetfield's ferociously heavy, distorted riffs with Kirk Hammett's moving solos. Hints of progressivism are even observable (See "The Call of Ktulu"). The rhythmic sections of the late, great Cliff Burton on bass and Lars Ulrich on drums back the songs up nicely. Vocally, singer James Hetfield's voice is probably at the best it's ever been, for he has more control over it than he did in Kill 'Em All, and he is still able to hit the high notes. It is also worth noting that even as a thrash record, Ride the Lightning still relies on elements from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, unlike its successor, Master of Puppets. The inclusion of ballads and instrumentals add variety to this album, making Ride the Lightning feel much more complete. The entire album is topped off with a much darker tone than that of Kill 'Em All, and the band's songwriting talents pay off their ambition with truly moving, masterful pieces. Looking at the big picture, the only issue that I can personally conceive with the album is its accessibility- which is hurt by its extreme music and dark, progressive feel. Then again, like I have said before, we are talking about a thrash metal band here, so why would you be looking for an accessible song collection anyway?
Tracks on the album range from solid to classic. "Fight Fire with Fire" proves to be a strong, ear-catching opener, with its extreme riffs and anti-war themes no doubt brought about by the Cold War. The title track provides social commentary on the death penalty with another heavy-yet-catchy riff. “Ride the Lightning” also contains one of Metallica’s greatest solos ever, which might attract controversy among Megadeth fans considering it was written by Dave Mustaine. “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, a song based on the Ernest Hemmingway novel, can be added to Metallica’s short list of classic war themes. “Fade to Black”, the centerpiece of the record, is a calm, somber piece displaying some top-notch songwriting skills. Featuring an acoustic guitar for part of the song and a wordless chorus, “Fade to Black” is a ballad about suicide that ended up as the fan favorite off of the album. The woefully underrated “Trapped Under Ice” contains excellent guitar work by Hetfield and Hammett and continues with the album's dark themes. “Creeping Death” takes listeners through the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, all the while providing one of Metallica’s finest riffs. Ride the Lightning ends in a big way with the nine-minute epic “The Call of Ktulu”. A fast-paced, enthralling instrumental, “The Call of Ktulu” is possibly my favorite track off of Ride the Lightning.
The only track on the LP often considered a weak one is the sixth track- “Escape”. This song’s upbeat feel and empowering lyrics make it inconsistent with the rest of the LP, as well as less desirable. Though it is my least favorite track on the album, I don’t mind occasionally listening to “Escape” at all. All in all, we really have an exceptional song collection on our hands with this one.
As aforementioned, Ride the Lightning is my favorite Metallica LP of all time, with Master of Puppets being a very, very close second. There is not much more one could ask for from any thrash metal album. Obviously, this is an essential for any metal head’s collection. Casual listeners might find that the raw, relentless guitar riffs and dark lyrics make the record inaccessible, but I ask you to be open-minded and give Ride the Lightning a fair chance. I bet you’ll be surprised by the depth and quality you will find.
- Metallica at their prime
- Varied, exceptional track list
- Huge upgrade in songwriting compared to Kill ‘Em All
- Not super accessible to non-metal fans
- “Escape” does not quite measure up to other tracks
“Ride the Lightning”, “Fade to Black”, “The Call of Ktulu”