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Metallica

Ride the Lightning

Review by Gary Hill

I know Metallica gets a lot of flack for a lot of things. I'll be the first to admit that their later output is largely inconsistent. At least I feel that way as a fan, but hopefully they are following their own muse in the way they want to do so. I'd like to take you back to 1984 when this album came out, though, and discuss just how ground-breaking it was to a lot of fans.

I still remember hearing this disc for the first time. I worked in a record store, and a customer came in and told us we had to hear this thing. So, we opened a copy for store play and put it on. I was a metal fan at the time and a prog head, but I was not prepared for this. It completely changed everything. These guys were incredibly heavy, and yet they were also fast and technical. I had never heard those things put together before. It was like everything I loved about heavy metal merged with much of what I loved about progressive rock and then turned up to 11. It's hard to grasp that now, but it was really mind-blowing for the time.

The thing is, this album still holds up incredibly well today. There are really no weak tracks. The weakest piece here "Escape" would be a monster success on a lot of albums. It only seems a little less than special because of everything else around it. Say what you will about Metallica, but for me they are legends for their two best albums (Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets). Everything else is just bonus material. Those two releases alone make them worthy of any praise you want to heap upon them. Having one album that stands that tall would be a dream for a lot of artists, and Metallica have at least those two from my point of view.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 3. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.

Track by Track Review
Fight Fire With Fire
Pretty and rather intricate acoustic guitar brings the song and album in, creating a great contrast for what is about to come. Around the half-minute mark that ends and fierce metal takes over. This is frantic, heavy and so strong. The vocals are delivered in short stab-like lines. The number continues to evolve with classic thrash concepts at its heart.
Ride the Lightning
The riffs driving this seem even heavier than those on the opener were. This song is meaner and meatier. It's a song about being executed in the electric chair. It's a screaming hot thrash song destined to become a classic.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Another fierce stomper, this is perhaps less thrash because it's slower. It's no less heavy, though. The vocals have a more tuneful, yet still nearly shouted, approach. This has some seriously great riffing built into it.
Fade to Black
Mellower, intricate textures bring this into being with an almost proggy vibe. An electric guitar dancing melodically over, but with a biting edge. The cut builds upward like a complex classical piece before shifting to more of a rock based movement. It continues to build up in a comparatively balladic approach. Melodic vocals come in over the top of that arrangement. The cut eventually turns more purely metallic, but it remains slower than any kind of thrash concept. This is very much a modernization of early metal music concepts. I love the galloping guitar work that comes in as the piece begins to intensify. This gets into some majestic and soaring zones as it continues driving forward after the vocals exit. The guitar really gets in some amazing soloing as it marches into the fade-out.
Trapped Under Ice
A tentative riff starts this cut. It eventually drives forward from there with a fierce thrashing intensity. There is a real ferocity to this cut. Some of the guitar fills are so incendiary, and the riffing in general really screams.
Escape
This song would be a highlight of a lot of albums. It's a real tribute to how strong this whole set is that it is probably the weakest number here. That said, the hooks on it are so cool, and this has some great riffing. This is a classic example of early thrash. The slower movement has some really mean vibes to it. The whole thing is so meaty.
Creeping Death
They waste no time here, bringing in fierce metal jamming to form the introduction. It fires out from there into a new screaming thrash jam. The number goes through a number of changes in an ever evolving form, turning it into a real thrash magnum-opus.
The Call of Ktulu
When I wrote about this song in The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H. P. Lovecraft, I said the following (and it still fits): The instrumental begins with a mysterious acoustic guitar melody. That is moved through various melodic changes for a while before the harder edged sounds take over, bringing up both the intensity and pace of the piece. At nearly nine minutes in length it is meaty, if a bit repetitive. It really feels little like the type of music that Cthulhu might inspire.
 
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