Ride The Lightning
The Band: James Hetfield- Lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Kirk Hammett- Lead Guitar
Cliff Burton- Bass, backing vocals
Lars Ulrich- Drums
Metallica’s second studio album Ride The Lightning
was a big step forward for the band. The improvement that it showed is astonishing. Don’t get me wrong Kill ‘Em All
is a great album, but compared to this it’s sort of a one trick pony. The whole album was fast playing, harsh vocals and shredding solos. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that this album offers much more. While being somewhat similar in style to its predecessor it has more complexity and further melodic flair. The tracks were longer, which displayed lyrical growth as well as musical growth. Prime examples of this would be Fade To Black
and The Call Of The Ktulu
. Both songs showcased a different, softer side of Metallica. It was this harmonious flamboyance that helped set Metallica apart from other thrash metal bands of the time period. Another thing that Fade To Black
helped to show is that James could sing (The Call Of The Ktulu has no words). In the heavier tracks James’s seemed as though he was trying just a bit too hard. I still enjoyed his voice in the heavier tracks, but at this point in time Hetfield was a rather young man and his voice had not yet fully developed. So, it wasn’t uncommon for his voice to briefly wander out of key, or seem somewhat shrill. However, in “Fade To Black” James is voice was much softer and he wasn’t overdoing it. He seemed more calm and relaxed. As a result his voice was much more clear and in key as well. The last thing I really noticed about this album was Kirk Hammett. He did very little on the first album as the songs were all written with Dave Mustaine, before Kirk joined the band. Being a former pupil of Joe Satriani, Kirk brought some new style to Metallica’s arsenal. All that being said Kirk didn’t contribute too
much to the album, as James has always been the primary song writer, but some riffs were obviously his. The most obvious example is Trapped Under Ice
, it’s undeniably reminiscent of Exodus’s Impaler
. (Kirk was formerly a member of Exodus)
As I mentioned earlier this album showed great lyrical growth. Metallica’s debut album had somewhat predictable lyrics. The main theme seemed to be pretty much “Kicking ass and taking names”. You know rebellion and all that. Ride The lightning
doesn’t have particularly original lyrics, but they seemed less cliché and more meaningful than those contained in its predecessor. In fact, the albums main theme seemed to be death. A lot of track had different themes, but pretty much all of them can be traced to death. The album’s opener Fight Fire With Fire
deals with nuclear holocaust. Take for an example the line Blow the universe into nothingness, nuclear warfare shall lay us all to rest
. The track seems to mainly talk about the results of nuclear holocaust more so than the holocaust itself. You know, the apocalypse, Armageddon, the end of the world etc. Metallica obviously weren’t the first to sing about this subject matter, but the passion in James’s voice seemed to give it a certain authenticity. Just a little fun fact, but this song was written during the cold war in which nuclear warfare was not uncommon. So, that could have been the inspiration for the song.
The album’s self titled track Ride The Lightning
dealt with a different form of death, execution. It tells you about a man being executed, from the perspective of the man being executed. The fellow openly admits to being guilty of whatever crime he is being charged with, but questions the judge’s right to tell him he has to die. At first the man’s attitude seems rather angst and rebellious, really more mad than anything. However, his outlook seems to change as the song progresses. Closer to the end he starts to feel fear as he prepares to be ultimately killed. Eventually the chap seems to lose all hope and just wants it to be done with. Take these lyrics as an example : How true is this? Just get it over with. If this is truth just let it be.
James Hetfield has stated that this song is not an indictment of the death penalty, in which he is a believer of, but more of an exploration of what it’s like to be in a terrible situation with no control. Lastly, the man being executed in the song is being executed via electric chair. So, it’s more than probable that, that is why an electric chair is featured on the album’s cover.
It can’t be exactly confirmed what Fade To Black
is about, but most seem to think it portrays an individual contemplating suicide. The lyrics are rather gloomy and depressing throughout, as is the rest of the song. It never directly states what has made the character so depressed, but it’s quite obvious they’ve given up all hope. I think the best illustration of this would be the following line: I have lost the will to live, simple nothing more to give
. You can clearly tell this is not an optimistic human being. While it can’t be directly confirmed that this song is about suicide, it is certain that James Hetfield was depressed when he wrote it. You see, a lot of the bands equipment had recently been stolen. This wasn’t that big a deal as they just borrowed some from Anthrax, as the bands were good friends. There was however, one piece of equipment that meant a lot to James. It was an amplifier given to him by his mother, who died of cancer when James was young. He put up flyers offering rewards for the safe return of the amp, but to no avail. I can’t be sure whether or not this played a role in the theme of the song, but it’s certainly possible.
Now, let’s talk more about this album’s main focus, the instrumentals. Overall, I’d say this album has Metallica’s second best guitar work, first being credited to Master Of Puppets
. The rhythm guitar was extremely solid throughout. The majority of it was somewhat complex for the time period. Some of it was a little on the simple side, though. A good example would be the chorus to For Whom The Bell Tolls
. It’s ridiculously rudimentary when you look at it closely. This is where the guitars tone comes in. While the progression is simple the heavy distortion gives it a powerful sound that ultimately overshadows it’s uncomplicated structure. A good example of some of the album’s better rhythm guitar work would have to be Creeping Death
. The rhythm work was more fast paced and contained less obvious combinations of power chords. It also had the plus of powerful distortion (like the FWTBT chorus), which elevated its sound further. Moving right along, let’s talk about the album’s riffs. They were astounding throughout and quite varying too. It had some light riffs, for example the intro from The Call Of The Ktulu
. That riff is extremely well written and has a truly brilliant melodious feel to it. Personally, I would consider it one of the albums highest points. The album was also riddled with some more typical thrash metal riffs. For an example of this let’s once again look at For Whom The Bell Tolls
. During the song’s introduction there’s a splendid little distorted, high pitch riff. It helped to keep the song flowing and kept it from getting boring. This album is has riffs like this splashed about everywhere, that’s just one example. Last, but definitely not least this album had some phenomenal solos. As I mentioned earlier I consider Master of Puppets to be a better album than this, but I’m confident in saying Ride The Lightning
has better solos. One really noticeable aspect of the solos was the length. This album contains some of Metallica’s longest, like Ride The Lightning
and Fade To Black
. Both those solos are around a minute and a half (if not more) in length. Length aside the solos were still awesome. Kirk used more wah that he does in other albums, which I personally enjoyed. Most of the solos also contained just the right amount of scales (for that thrash-y feel) and just the right amount of bends (to suite the emotional feel this album seems to be brimming with). In short, the guitar work was damn near perfect.
Cliff Burton’s bass work is often made out to be that of a god’s. I’m going to come right out and say it: It’s not. This album does have some above average bass work, but nothing to bow down to. The only part of the album where the bass really had a chance to shine was the intro to For Whom The Bell Tolls
. Otherwise it remained under wraps, securely fastened under the guitar. Cliff did play root notes for some of the album, but also made his own riffs at times. I really wish he would’ve been more involved with the album because while the bass work isn’t godly or anything, I do find Cliff to be a spectacular bassist. I’ve seen some live shows of him soloing and he did have a rather innovative style. It’s just too bad Metallica never really utilized it while he was among the living. Another thing I’ve always liked about Cliff is he never used a pick. He strictly used his fingers and I’ve always preferred that sound, rather than to the sound of a bassist using a pick.
Metallica haven’t always been the rich, titans of thrash that we know them to be today. In the early days the band was quite poor and it showed in this albums production. It was average at best. I realize that the fact that the band was poor can’t be blamed on themselves, but that doesn’t make the production any better. Luckily for the band they’re members of the genre of thrash. The music is supposed to sound rough and jagged. So, as I’ve said before this is actually a good thing, in my opinion at least. If this album was ridiculously overproduced like some pop album it just wouldn’t be the same. In conclusion, poverty can be a good thing.
I bet I can guess what you’re thinking right now, “Well, this album is on the fast track to a five star rating”. Well, don’t get ahead of yourselves people, there’s still on issue left to tackle. Filler. Now, filler usually isn’t too big of an issue for me, unless there’s a whole lot of it. But, when you’ve got an eight track album it’s completely unacceptable for there to be any manner of filler at all. I’m talking mainly about two tracks here. Trapped Under Ice
. Don’t get me wrong, I like both songs, but it’s clear that they are not up to par with the rest of the album. I guess it really depends what you personally think filler is. I’ve always thought that it had nothing to do with the quality of the song itself, but the quality of the song as compared to the others. Simple put, those two just don’t measure up. If they were of higher quality this album would be about a 4.75, but that little factor is enough to knock it down to 4.5.
Vocals have improved from first album
Guitar work is fantastic
Bass work is of moderate quality
Production suites style of music
Bass could’ve been more involved
Two tracks didn’t measure up