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Metallica - Ride The Lightning CD (album) cover




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4.08 | 564 ratings

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5 stars You know, Metallica didn't really have to do this. In another universe, Metallica's second album, Metal 'til You Die!, would have been a typical sophomore slump, filled with tired rehashes of "Hit the Lights" and "Whiplash," and would have been loved by a very small number of fans but rightfully castigated by everybody else. The band would have broken up, Cliff would have gone to the Berkeley Conservatory, the other three would have formed a Megadeth tribute band, and there would have been a flop reunion with Dave in 1989. Instead of that, though, the band members took the raw materials of Kill 'Em All and used them as the starting point to practically create a new form of rock music that combined intensity, speed, group virtuosity, compositional skill and solid rock'n'roll power in concentrations that had never been this high all at once. No, the band hadn't become the absolute greatest in the world at any one of these facets, but in aggregate, Metallica briefly reached a place in rock music whose very existence probably hadn't even been considered by anybody else.

And dang it, the sound, not to mention the album, is still not perfect. James' singing is better than on the first album, but reverbed into oblivion, which makes it a bit hard to hear. The bass is mostly inaudible as a solitary instrument, though that doesn't really hurt things; it instead mostly latches itself onto the guitars to create what is close to the ultimate heavy guitar sound. And frankly, I still don't like "Trapped Under Ice" that much; there's a nice secondary riff that pops up in the middle, and some typically vicious soloing can be found, but it manages to sound kinda rote compared to everything else on the album. Oh, and "Escape," while not even remotely sucking, sounds a bit awkward when it suddenly transitions into a heavy "anthemic" pop song; it's still ok, though. So no, this album isn't going to break my top 100, it's not going to get the nod as Metallica's best, and it's not going to make me into a total metalhead all by its lonesome.

The other six tracks, though, are collectively amazing. I used to not like the title track much at all, and I'm still not blown away by it, but I've come to enjoy it a lot. The vocal melody could be better (though the lyrics are actually pretty good), I think, and the instrumental passages in the song seem a little too stretched out (on the whole) for my taste, but the riffs are definitely top-notch, and Hammett's solos really do a great job (especially in the second half) of creating a menacing, soul-crushing atmosphere. So yeah, it can stick around. And the other five tracks, well, I have no reservations on those whatsoever. The opening "Fight Fire with Fire" has an acoustic introduction (two guitars sounding like they might break into Scarborough Fair if we're not careful) that immediately demonstrates a light-years' advancement in maturity from Kill 'Em All, and it's not just the very presence of an acoustic sound (which was nowhere to be found on the debut) that makes me say that. Rather, it demonstrates the band's sudden mastery of contrast, the willingness to use lighter touches as necessary (even to almost comical degrees, as in the introduction to this album) to bring out the power of their heavier passages that much more, to increase the impact on the listener's psyche. Of course, the song could have fared just fine without the introduction, but it's just one more thing to mention. And holy mackerel, this song rules. The ultimate key is not in the speed and power that James, Kirk and Cliff get out of their various guitars, though that certainly helps; it's that they're playing BONE-CRUSHINGLY AWESOME RIFFS with this speed and power, and that the speedy Kirk soloing also throws in some beautiful (yes, I said beautiful) harmonics in the second half. I also love the lyrics; these lyrics take apocalyptic themes to their basest and most ludicrous extremes, and in conjunction with this has-to-be-mechanical-but-somehow-isn't instrumentation, they work amazingly for me.

After the title track, we come to a glorious track (which I sadly first heard elements of in Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest; I have way too many weird mental associations with that game) that's as sophisticated a pounding heavy metal assault as I can imagine. "For Whom the Bell Tolls" also, in addition to a series of AMAZING riffs and crunchy guitar sounds that Black Sabbath would have murdered for back in the day, contains some of the very best lyrics I've ever heard from a metal band ("For a hill, men would kill; why, they do not know" is my favorite). Also, the Kirk line that first pops up about a minute in gives me a chill every time I hear it, and he's typically magnificent through the whole piece. Following, then, is Metallica's first ever step towards selling out (not that I really care); I mean, "Fade to Black" could have fit on Metallica with only a minimum of editing and rearranging, don't you think? It's one of the very great anthems of wanting to die, with well-used dark acoustic guitars driving the song forward and heavy distorted ones popping up whenever necessary. And guess what, James sounds way, way better on this song than anywhere else on the album. The ending guitar solo passage is awesome, too.

After hitting a bit of a standstill on side two with "Trapped Under Ice" and "Escape," we come to my second favorite of the album. Simply put, whenever I read the passage in Exodus about God sending the destroying angel to slay the first-born Egyptian children for the final plague, I fill the compulsion to listen to "Creeping Death," a brilliant song that glimpses the story from the perspective of the angel himself. The "main" riffs are incredible, but it's the middle riff, the one that goes with the "DIE! BY MY HAND! I CREEP ACROSS THE LAND, KILLING FIRST BORN MAN!" lyrics, that takes the cake as possibly the greatest mid- song (not belonging to the rest of the track, I mean) riff I've ever heard. And the creepiness factor in the solos, oh gosh, stop me before I plotz myself.

Moving to the end, I would say that to merely refer to the closing "Call of Ktulu" as a great metal instrumental is almost to demean it; this just a great piece of music, period. Ok, maybe the main theme goes a little too long before switching gears, but I don't really notice at all when I'm listening to it. All I notice is gorgeous guitar harmonics playing a menacing, tension-laden buildup that almost works like a metal version of the midsection of Yes' "Awaken" or the lengthy passage in King Crimson's "Starless" (though "Starless" is out of this track's league, frankly, great as it may be), culminating in a fine instrumental climax worthy of anybody's attention. Anybody who doubts Metallica's collective intelligence, at least as of 1984, after hearing this track just doesn't see the world as I do.

In short, this isn't a perfect album, but many of the songs are just unbelievable, and the overall sound is truly something to behold. I'd go so far to say that anybody who doesn't rate this as one of the best (at least top 50, come on people) albums of the 1980's, even if they're not a metalhead in general, needs a serious cranial adjustment. And needless to say, this is an essential part of any decent hard rock and heavy metal collection.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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