Review Summary: A massive improvement from their debut to make for one of the best thrash metal albums ever recorded
After the release of their debut album which laid the foundations for the thrash metal genre, Metallica sought to expand on their sound a little. It was on their second studio album that they would hit their pinnacle in the eyes of many, including my own. It was to be released in 1984 and would be the first album with no assistance from Dave Mustaine in the writing process, and would include a variety of new ideas that would arguably define Metallica in the few years to follow. The album was released in 1984 entitled Ride The Lightning.
On Ride The Lightning, Metallica used their own debut as a foundation but improved the song writing ten fold. The riffs here are a lot better and James' vocals (the worst thing about Kill Em All) feel massively improved. For the most part, his voice is a lot more in key and fits the music a lot better. He ranges from the mid-ranged shouts that he would abuse on the following album, high pitched shrieks and even a little proper singing on songs like Escape. James really did a good job on their sophomore album.
The guitar work on this album is what makes it as good as it is. Creeping Death opens up with an iconic riff that gives you little room to breathe before diving into the verse. Fight Fire With Fire picks up from an acoustic introductory setting with some brutal riffs, whilst the title track has some of the finest guitar lines Metallica ever put to record. This is an album laden with creative and well written guitar parts from both James and Kirk, capped off with some blisteringly fast solos. There is a lot more variety in the speed of them as well. Trapped Under Ice and the aforementioned Fight Fire With Fire represent the speedy side of the band, whereas tracks like the ballad Fade To Black display more of a mid-tempo. This shows off a more mature, improved sense of song writing that the band acquired in the year between the releases of this and their debut.
The other musicians here are much improved as well. Cliff Burton's only real highlight on their debut was his bass solo track Anasthesia whereas here he puts on a stellar performance throughout. The low-end rumbling on For Whom The Bell Tolls and the title track holds down a solid rhythm whilst the guitars are ever-changing and impressing listeners all the way through. The drumming is also well performed here, with Lars playing some great quicker beats on Trapped Under Ice whilst keeping a nice groove on the slower Escape.
This album contains the first real instrumental that Metallica would write. It was The Call Of Ktulu and contains some marvelous song writing skills. The way it progresses from start to finish with some awesome build-ups and dreamy sections makes this a strong contender for song of the album. Metallica would do two more instrumental tracks on the two albums that would follow but neither really touches this.
Production values are also a million miles ahead of what they were on the first album. Replacing the fuzzy and funny tones that the guitars had and the awful mixing job on Kill Em All are crisp, great-sounding guitars and well mixed instruments.
Metallica's second studio album is a fantastic release that anyone who hasn't heard it should invest in. It was on this album that they met their peak with some of the best riffs in all of thrash metal, a much improved vocal performance and even a solid production job.