Blog: Out with the New, In with the Old // Metallica – Ride the Lightning
Continuing this blog’s series of albums you must hear is a band you’ve undoubtedly heard of, even if you’ve never listened to them. Metallica, formed in 1981 and continuing to release albums to this day are indisputably one of the greatest and unquestionably most successful heavy metal bands of all time. 1984′s Ride the Lightning, which I will be looking at this week, may not be their greatest album – arguably 1986′s Master of Puppets – nor their most famous and commercially successful – 1991′s eponymous album, known by fans as “The Black Album” – yet it is still however a cornerstone of the heavy metal genre and, more importantly, one of the essential albums of the 80s thrash metal scene.
Ride the Lightning is an album that will always stick with me. For starters, there’s the awesome album cover; the electric chair in the centre of a storm, being struck by forks of lightning emanating from the famous Metallica logo. Honestly, it’s probably the reason I bought the album in the first place (hey, I was 13 okay?). Then there’s the fact that Ride the Lightning is 47 minutes and 8 tracks worth of exhilarating heavy metal, showcasing both the hair-raising, thrash-heavy influences of their debut, Kill ‘em All, and a newer, more profound maturity, found on album-highlight ‘Fade to Black’, which clearly displays the introspective sound and song writing ability that would later lead to some of Metallica’s most well-known tracks, such as ‘One’ and ‘Nothing Else Matters’.
For those unfamiliar with thrash metal, the thing that most characterised it as a sub-genre of heavy metal was its faster tempo and increased aggression. Simply put, it was about playing metal music faster than anyone else. Bands such as Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth were fast; Metallica were faster. Tracks such as ‘Hit the Lights’ and ‘Whiplash’ on their debut record perfectly encapsulated the sound; furiously-paced drums, breathless solos, 100-mile-an-hour riffs. So when opening track ‘Fight Fire with Fire’ opens with a gentle, classical-styled guitar riff, you’re absolutely entitled to be like, “what the hell?”. No need to fret though, it’s just the calm before the storm as after 40 seconds the soothing sound gives way to blistering guitars and ferocious drumming that have you banging your head until blood vessels begin to burst. It’s thrash at its finest and other tracks, most notably ‘Trapped Under Ice’, show no let-up in tempo and utter head-bashing ferocity.
Don’t be fooled into the impression that this album is little more than shredding guitars and indulgent solos though, as Ride the Lightning arguably contains some of the finest songs Metallica have written in the 30 years since they formed. Much of this owes to the subject matter of the songs, from the musings of a man strapped to an electric chair and waiting to die in ‘Ride the Lightning’ and the epic call-to-arms of the brooding ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, to the Metallica-meets-Old Testament ‘Creeping Death’, with lyrics inspired by the Plague of the Death of the Firstborn. The album’s greatest moments, however, invariably occur in the 6 minutes and 55 seconds of ‘Fade to Black’: fluctuating between sombre, haunting and beautiful verses and crushingly heavy choruses – with some of the album’s most powerful solos thrown in for good measure – this story of a man contemplating, and later committing, suicide, is one of the most moving of the Metallica repertoire, and makes this album, their second, not only one of the most essential thrash albums, but arguably one of the most essential metal albums of all time.
Words by Jacob Mignano