As my Metallica series in the PP continues, we are looking at LA thrashers Metallica’s second offering, Ride The Lightning. Released on the 27th of July 1984 under Megaforce Records and produced by Flemming Rasmussen (who worked with the boys for 2 more albums), it had a much more polished sound to it. So if you loved the raw scrape of Kill ‘Em All, you were in for a surprise, as for the first time in the band’s then 3 year history, you heard an acoustic intro, a ballad and a radio-friendly song in the vein of Def Leppard, or (yikes!) Bon Jovi. Judging by that summary, you thought the bands heavy phase was gone. You are wrong. When you load the disc and press the play button (or just tap it on the screen if you’re techno-savvy) you are greeted with a medieval sounding acoustic intro (which sounds pretty much like nylon strings) which fades in to the fastest, heaviest song Metallica have ever done! (except from maybe Dyers Eve). Then when the fast intro has taken place, James comes in with a reverberated (slight echo), low pitched, almost death metal bark. “Do!, un!, to others!, as!, they’ve!, done to you!, but!, what!, the hell is!, this!, world!, coming to! (to) (to)”. Then it straight away goes into chorus of “Fight fire with fire!, ending is near!, fight fire with fire! Bursting with fear!”, then returns to that impossibly fast riff I mentioned earlier.
Now, don’t get me wrong, but on the first listen it sounds like just a repetitive ‘fight fire with fire!’ but when you’re used to his change in vocal style you would be glad you took out £13.99 or however much it costed before iTunes took over. Enough about James’ new style of singing, let’s move on to the guitars. James’ rhythm guitar, as I mentioned, is better, but Kirk’s leads are so much better. The Fight Fire With Fire solo is amazing, but his real talent comes later on. In Fight Fire the lyrics are about the apocalypse, with references to the subject matter in both the lyrics and the song itself has an apocalyptic vibe.
The next track, the title track (Ride The Lightning) begins with a wailing riff from Kirk punctuated by Cliff and Lars, then James plays a mid-tempo riff which accompanies his vocals, which are more tuneful than Fight Fire. The lyrics deal with a geezer who has committed a crime and is about to go in the electric chair, such as “wait for the sign, to flick the switch of death, it’s the beginning of the end” and the chorus “flash before my eyes, now it’s time to die, burning in my brain, I can feel the flame”.
The third number, For Whom The Bell Tolls, is a firmly established fan favourite (with Creeping Death, Ride The Lightning and Fade To Black). It starts with a church bell and then thumping F# power chords come in followed by a bass solo by Cliff, then a series of palm muted chords play then Kirk plays a solo that is really powerful when accompanied by Lars and James. Then the main riff comes in and James yells “make his fight, on the hill in the early day! Constant chill deep inside!”. The lyrics deal with the horrors of war and that appears to be a well-covered topic by Metallica. In the chorus the pre-verse riff kicks in and James sings “For whom the bell tolls! Time marches on!” and then there is a sort of post-chorusy, bridge solo from Kirk before James bellows “Take a look, to the sky just before you die, IT’S THE LAST TIME YOU WILL!” which references an airstrike and as it was written in the ‘80s it presumably means atomic bombs being dropped by the communist regimes of Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
Track 4, Fade To Black is a ballad about depression and suicide. It starts off with a flurry of acoustic guitars and Kirk does a nice, harmonised solo at a pretty slow speed. Then the main acoustic chord progression of Am, C, G, Em, G, Em, Am comes in and James, in a soft singing voice, really exercises the bands lyric writing with “Life it seems to fade away, drifting further everyday”. This is about a man’s contemplation, and eventual suicide. It starts out slow and then gets progressively heavier, with a distorted, wordless chorus similar to James’s guitar parts on the rest of the record. Then at the latter half of the song the guitars get heavy and do so for a few lines and the closing lyrics are “Death greets me warm, now I will just say goodbye”, then there’s the ending solo with both guitars and it sounds amazing.
The next song, Trapped Under Ice, is about someone who awakes from a cryonic state and because there was nowhere to go he awaits death. It was written to show off Lars’ drumming skills and he does that by using fast, furious rhythms and fills. It wasn’t played live at all from 1985-99. It is also based on a song Kirk wrote with Exodus before Metallica. Personally I think it is a very underlooked track from the boys and it is one of my favourites from RTL.
Let’s move on to Escape. Although it’s good to listen to, it lacks the thrash metal vibe Metallica express with this album. The reason why it’s on here is because Megaforce wanted them to do a mainstream sounding song to make the album 8 tracks long. I don’t know about you, but the chorus of “Out for my own, out to be free” sounds forced. It has only been played live once and that was at the Orion festival in 2012 when they played Ride The Lightning in full.
Interestingly, Metallica left Megaforce in September of 1984 for Elektra and rereleased this album and Kill ‘Em All. Although it doesn’t fit with the fast, heavy sound this album and band were known for, it’s far from their worst song and is actually good, just not what fans expected.
Although this perfect album hit a low point, the boys hit back with Creeping Death. The lyrics deal with Egyptology and Biblical themes. It is played live at every show and it begins with a fast intro and then a consistent riff and then the vocals come in. The first verse is “Slaves! Hebrews born to serve, to the Pharoah, Heed! To his every word, live in fear”. The chorus, is instantly recognisable among metal fans and it is a live favourite for the solo (which Kirk enjoys playing the most out of all their fan favourites) and the die, die section where there is a minor scale descending riff Kirk wrote when he was 16 followed by the crowd going “Die, Die, Die, Die” under James’ vocals. This is one of the real highlights of the record and a must hear. It was the only single from the album and their cover of Diamond Head’s, Am I Evil? on the B-side.
The final song, Call of Ktulu is an 8-minute long instrumental inspired by H.P Lovecraft’s novel, The Call of Cthulu. It was mostly written by Cliff because of the melodic-ness but it was the last writing credit Dave Mustaine received from the band and the progression of E, F, F#, G was used in other Megadeth songs, most famously Hangar 18.
I know this has been a very long article, but thank you for reading. The album overall is an absolute masterpiece that singlehandedly shaped the history of metal, along with other pioneering works from bands like Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax, it is a true essential for any metal fan, or even music fan’s collection.