Review Summary: An Absolute Classic
The year was 1984, and the world of thrash metal was about to change. Anthrax were to release Fistful Of Metal, their debut, to a decent amount of praise. Slayer were to redefine what thrash meant with their incredible EP Haunting The Chapel, which founded the sound that not only they, but many other thrash bands would take and adapt from then on. And Metallica were to release Ride The Lightning, an album considered to be as close to perfect as it can get.
This album is where Metallica grew up. The band moved towards a more complex style of writing, with epic compositions, that are far longer and far better structured than those found on their debut. James Hetfields vocal style has changed rather a lot, with him abandoning, for many of the tracks, the majority of the juvenile shrieks he used on Kill Em All. Instead, here he sings in the low, gruff bark he would use to an even greater degree on the subsequent two albums. And here are the final song writing credits given to Dave Mustaine, found on the songs The Call of Ktulu and the title track.
Musically, this album is far better written. The music on display here are amongst the best the band ever wrote, with the immortal riffs to Creeping Death, the bone crunching thrash found on Fight Fire With Fire, and the beautifully written ballad Fade To Black. The riffs are more technical than those found on Kill Em All, and there are far more of them. It is clear that in the year between Kill Em All and Ride The Lightning, the band really did improve as musicians.
Kicking things off, we have one of the heaviest songs the band ever put out, Fight Fire With Fire. This was the first Metallica song I ever heard, and is still as refreshing and relevant as it was back when i first heard it. Opening with a soft acoustic album, this song soon shape shifts into a much heavier, faster song than those found on Kill Em All, with the insane barks from James Hetfield, the incredibly tight riff work, and an absolutely killer solo from Kirk Hammet. Back before he thought it was appropriate to abuse his wah-wah pedal, Kirk was an incredible lead player, and this song proves just why. This is an absolute Metallica classic.
An often overlooked song from this album is Escape, which has a much more commercial metal feel to it, but not to the degree of the songs found on the Black Album. It is much more melodic, and has a very singalong friendly chorus to it. This song is the "Leper Messiah" of Ride The Lightning-the great song that people love to hate. It is far different to what the rest of the album contains, and it really does stand out to me, and the lyrics have a very positive meaning to them. If there were ever a song that fits into the Underrated bracket, this would be the one.
While we are on the subject of songs that are very different to the rest of the album, there is one more song that needs mentioning. I am, of course, referring to Fade To Black, the first ballad ever put out by the band. At the time of the release, many people claimed this song was a sellout song, due to the inclusion of acoustic guitars and its softer opening, but regardless of whether this is a sellout song or not, this remains one of the bands all time classic songs. The music is absolutely breathtaking, shifting from the soft, acoustic, to the heavier, riff-based middle section, to the even heavier ending. The lyrics to this speak volumes, and absolutely drip with emotion, and there is not a vocalist in the world who could have given this song more meaning than James Hetfield. This is, in my opinion, the finest song on the album.
As mentioned before, Dave Mustaine wrote a couple of riffs for this album, for the songs Ride The Lightning and The Call Of Ktulu, and they may well be two of the finest songs ever to recieve a Dave Mustaine song writing credit. Ride The Lightning ranks up there with his Rust In Peace material, with its balls-out heavy style, and some of the best riffs on the album. The Call Of Ktulu is the instrumental song on this album, spanning almost 9 minutes, and containing the most incredible progression the band has ever used. This song builds up to an absolute explosion, carrying the listener on a musical journey that is breathtaking to undertake.
Creeping Death is a straight up thrash song, with no introduction required. The riffs are as tight as it comes, the vocals are chaotic, and the chorus is absolutely mesmerising. This is a Metallica classic for a reason, despite, in my opinion, being one of the weaker songs on the album. It is a great song, and serves as the perfect song after Escape. From Escape's mellowness, to fade into a balls to the wall song such as this really was a stroke of genius when it came to deciding the track listing.
The only song on this album that i really consider to be filler would be Trapped Under Ice. This is a straightforward thrash song, but not a very good one. In the context of the album, it works, but it pales in comparison to the better songs on here, such as Fight Fire With Fire and Fade To Black. It comes off feeling dull and only semi-formed, and is the one bad point of this album.
The guitar work on this album is the highlight, as with any thrash album. The riffs are tightly constructed, and flow into one another perfectly. For Whom The Bell Tolls, Fight Fire With Fire, Creeping Death and Ride The Lightning are all the highlights for the guitar work, containing some masterly constructed riffs. The soloing found on this album is completely unrestrained and, for that reason, works to perfection. Kirk Hammet is given the freedom to do as he please, and it works to perfection.
The drum work from Lars Ulrich is one of his tightest performances, really keeping a solid rhythm, without ever going too crazy. The bass work from Clifford Burton is nicely mixed on here, and is well played, with a solid thumping in the background, he really does add to these songs. Vocally, this album would rank up there as one of the best Metallica albums, being far from the rubbish excreted from James today. His tones on this album are fantastic, and make the songs even better.
Overall, i consider this to be Metallica's second finest album, behind And Justice For All. This contains some of the strongest guitar work the band has ever put out, and refrains from being too over drawn out like its successor would be. This build perfectly upon Kill Em All, adding many fresh ideas that keep this album as relevant today as it was in 1984. 4.5/5