Review Summary: Death in the air
In 1984, Metallica released their second studio album-Ride the Lightning. At the time, they were an underground favourite among headbanging thrash fans thanks to their debut album-Kill ‘em All. Kill ‘em All was a raw, energetic pinnacle of early thrash, with fast tempos, overall aggression, with the lyrics mainly focusing on the pleasures of “thrashing all around”. Most songs weren’t as complex, as on the later albums, however some showed elements, of what was later to come-The Four Horseman for example, with a melodic interlude (created probably to differ this song from the original written with Dave Mustaine) or No Remorse-tackling the topic of war. Kill ‘em All is a good album, greatly showcasing the best that early thrash had to offer, however what Ride the Lightning showcases to the listener in just 8 tracks is much more mature songwriting
Things open up with Fight Fire with Fire, beginning with a mellow acoustic melody, in which you can hear the touch of Cliff Burton and his fondness for classical music. Shortly, Metallica takes us aback with one of the most brutal, fierce and punching cannonades of riffs and intense drumming, as well as James Hetfield’s mesmerizing, shouted vocals. Plus an epic solo from Kirk Hammett and a chilling guitar harmony afterwards. It does really feel like the nuclear apocalypse described in the lyrics.
The title track is an essence of Metallica’s sound at the time, with both fast, melodic and aggressive riffs, overall heaviness and speed, a memorable, quite long solo and an interesting touch of sludgy bass. Only Hetfield’s vocals seem to be a little different (higher, Kill ‘em All like pitch in the beginning), nonetheless this track is still a memorable thrash classic. With lyrics about being executed on an electric chair, this song is another example of the theme of death appearing on this album. The third track, For Whom the Bell Tolls is much slower, beginning with the unforgettable bass riff from Cliff Burton. Filled with heavy guitar lines and thriving vocals, this description of one of the scenes in Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name is one of the very best tracks from the band’s catalogue and will leave you with a constant chill deep inside.
Fade to Black is one of the three (in my opinion) best Metallica songs ever written, along with Master of Puppets and One. Beginning with acoustic riffs and a beautiful solo from Hammett, this dark tale about suicide, with great clean vocals from Hetfield and later into the song-thrashy bridges, is the first thrash power ballad. While at the time it must have been shocking for most fan, it’s a flawless masterpiece, topped off with an amazing outro solo. What is worth noting, is that this track was written a year after Kill ‘em All was released, greatly showcasing the bands progress. Solely the length of this track (7 minutes) and the vast riff, tempo and structure changes showcase how the band’s songwriting progressed to a more complex and progressive. And Fade to Black isn’t the only example.
Track 5 and 6 are the weakest ones on the album, however they are still very good in their own manner. Trapped under Ice is merely 4 minutes long, however it still manages to have 3 solos, a few interesting riffs and chilling (no pun intended) vocals with Hetfield singing about a person, who’s dying while being trapped under ice. The only thing that I personally don’t like is the oversung and a little dull chorus, however the intense verses filled with the energy of Kill ‘em All make up for it. Escape, the next track is the only track on this album that doesn’t fit the theme of death (rather than that, it’s about not following the social standards). It’s a slightly slower and less fierce track, with a definite touch of the new wave of British heavy metal. While it’s the weakest point of Ride the Lightning, it’s still a very solid track with a very catchy song ending.
The seventh track, Creeping Death is another essence of thrash metal and a great live staple, especially thanks to the bridge, later on often sung by the band’s third, longtime bassist Jason Newsted. Changing tempos and riffs, a thrilling, exotic sounding solo, interesting drum patterns and lyrics about the Egyptian plagues. Another monumental piece of music. Ride the Lightinig’s closing track is the nearly 9 minute instrumental called The Call of Ktulu (based on the H.P Lovecraft story of the same name). The song begins with atmospheric melodic guitar lines, later to evolve into dramatic riffs played over a wah-wah bass solo replicating the calls of the Great Old One. Besides, there’s also one of the best solos in Metallica’s history, and while the end might seem a little overdone, the track, thanks to a classical music feeling to it is another masterpiece, which despite its length and lack of vocals doesn’t bore the listener. Marvelous way to finish an album.
The only problem with the album, that one might have, is that it’s slightly uneven, however the two weaker tracks are followed by another two amazing compositions. This albums has many nearly flawless tracks, and the songwriting here is very mature and organised. With great riffs, solos, undeniably some of the best bass lines in history, thrilling vocals, memorable lyrics (probably biggest improvement compared to Kill ‘em All) and very solid drumming, Hetfield, Ulrich, Burton and Hammett created one of the most important albums in the history of both thrash metal and metal in general. Also noteworthy, the production here is very good, with a crisp, chilling guitar sound and a good balance between drums and bass. While the next two albums were quite visibly better than Ride the Lighting, we’re talking about very high artistic standards here, and beside- it’s the first Metallica album you can call a masterpiece.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Fade to Black
The Call of Ktulu