Metallica’s second album, 1984’s “Ride the Lightning,” was the first real metal album I ever bought. When I bought it, I was looking for a really heavy album, so when the first track began with an acoustic intro, I was sorely disappointed. Luckily, however, I skipped to the next song, the title track, and its booming intro brought a big smile to my face. Ah, nostalgia.
With 1983’s “Kill `Em All,” Metallica helped create thrash metal; but they followed up their debut with their sophomore album, which was released only a year later. Most metalheads have given it the credit it deserves, but I feel “Ride the Lightning” is still somewhat underrated, since the album that followed this one was “Master of Puppets.”
“Ride the Lightning” is still fast. Most of it shoots by like…well, lightning; but it’s slower, darker, heavier and more mature than “Kill `Em All.” James’ voice is somewhat lower than it was, and his lyrics are improved. As the above Amazon editorial review mentions, James discusses several different ways to die: Armageddon, capitol punishment, suicide, being trapped under ice, etc.
“Fight Fire with Fire” has the aforementioned acoustic intro, but it’s just a tease-it doesn’t last. The power chords fade in and the song becomes a breakneck speed, with rip-roaring, almost Slayer-esque guitar work. Lyrically, this songs seems to be about the Apocalypse.
“Ride the Lightning” is the album’s most popular single. It’s another thrashy number, with booming rhythms, fiery chug and churn riffs (which go from fast to faster to slow to fast), and an awesome, lengthy Hammett solo. “Ride the Lightning” has good lyrics about being executed by the electric chair, and it also has a surprise ending, but most of this song is an instrumental.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” is slower paced, but still loud and heavy. The first two minutes of this song is an instrumental, beginning with a bell ringing, then the heavy, repetitive, churning guitars kick in. This song has another good, winding solo near the end.
“Fade to Black” is really morbid because it has depressing, introspective lyrics about suicide. It begins with a distant guitar solo, but the acoustic strums actually make the first part of this song rather pretty. (Pretty in a dark and depressing way, but pretty nonetheless.) The choruses still have heavy riffs, and the end is an ascending and cascading solo.
“Trapped Under Ice” is very fast paced with another short but sweet guitar solo near the middle.
“Escape” has vocals which make it radio ready (it has good vocal hooks). Most of the song has propulsive riffs with thunderous drumming, but the choruses are slower.
“Creeping Death” begins with machine gun guitars and drumming, before changing to another fast beat with guitars that burn straight ahead. And, of course, there’s another stellar solo near the end.
“The Call of KTULU” is the album’s instrumental. In my opinion, this song IS as great as “Orion” (from Metallica’s next album, “Master of Puppets,”) and it’s a very good way to end the album. It starts out slowly and ominously with wind wooshes, but then it suddenly becomes a lot faster. This song builds well and has superb guitar and drum work.
So, this disc is another wonderful landmark album and it’s still one of the best C.D.’s of the past two decades. All of the qualities of a classic metal or thrash metal album are here: long songs (about 6 minutes per song), rapid fire riffs, ripping solos, an instrumental track, and even some acoustic guitar licks. In conclusion, if you want a complete metal collection, or if you just like heavy metal, you need this album more than you need your next breath.