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Classic Review: Metallica - Ride the Lightning
Ride the Lightning

Label: Elektra
Year released: 1984
Duration: 47:31
Tracks: 8
Genre: Thrash Metal

Rating: 5/5

Review online: December 27, 2008
Reviewed by: Caspian
Readers Rating
Ride the Lightning

Rated 4.39/5 (87.84%) (125 Votes)

One guaranteed way to get a reaction from a thrash fan is to mention the word "Metallica". Best take cover after mentioning that word, though, because it won't be long before you're covered in spittle from said fan furiously explaining that a) Metallica were only good when Mustaine was around (which is completely false, no one knows which riffs he wrote, and besides AJFA slayed) b) Metallica ripped riffs off other people, or the most perplexing option- c) that Metallica were never any good anyway.

Yep, the final group is pretty freakin' hard to understand. I have no problem with people disliking Metallica over Napster and St.Anger, and if Megadeth fans want to show their solidarity with Dave by making the "Mustaine was Metallica" claim then that's OK with me. But to deny the life affirming beauty that are the first four albums of this great/once great (circle whichever you think applies) band is frankly bizarre and quite masochistic, somewhat akin to those monks who eat only bread and water in an attempt at increased piety.

The simple question, really, is why eat bread and water when you can feast on the glory that is this album? I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that this is an amazing Thrash album, easily the best ever, and those who prefer Darkness Descends, Rust in Peace, Pleasure to Kill or even Reign in Blood are somewhat misguided. They dourly eat the gruel when there is a banquet to be had. They drink their vinegar when there is fine red wine.

Sure, Ride the Lightning isn't the fastest, or the heaviest, or the most aggressive. It doesn't have the most riffs, and it's not the most technical Thrash out there. It certainly doesn't have the best drumming. However, none of those factors matter that much; Ride The Lightning is more than the sum of its parts, and what it lacks in those perhaps more objective fields it makes up for in its sheer songwriting excellence and epic arrangements.

Yep, every song is gold. It's pretty hard to pick a single song and go "That is the best one on this album" because they're all fucking excellent; you've got the steamrolling Thrash that is "Fight Fire with Fire" (which possesses possibly the finest twin guitar lead ever written), the boner inducing, F# riding, insanely fun to play speedy excellence that's "Trapped Under Ice", and the super melodic, almost radio-friendly strains that is "Escape". Every song here has been written with the poise and skill of a surgeon - certainly Metallica let no filler pass them by at this time in their career, an attitude that I wish they had kept.

Still, while the songs mentioned above are pretty hard to beat, they're not the best songs on this album. Perhaps it was all the Jagermeister they were drinking, or god/Satan/scientific method came down and touched Hetfield's picking hand, but everything else in this album is just something else entirely. Ride the Lightning is a beast of a thrasher, and I guess I should credit where credit is due and point that Mustaine must've written some of it. It's a bit more opaque and perhaps a bit less catchy than most of the album, but it still kills and I think everyone wishes Hetfield could still do that scream in the bridge. Hammett shows his skills with the quite excellent ballad that's "Fade to Black", with Hammett's licks on this one probably the best thing Mr. Kirk ever recorded - head and shoulders above anything else he's done. It's a fantastic ballad that to this day still sends shivers down my spine. You've then got another thing that Metallica would not quite achieve again - the instrumental that's solid for the whole nine minutes. No boring melodic stuff like "Orion", no terrible doom riffing like "To Live is To Die", just ominous, powerful mid paced riffs that build brilliantly until its huge ending comes along and shits on your chest.

Then we get to the song (well, we're not going by track listing, but I digress...) that proves just how deserving this album is of the title I bestowed it. It's hard to discuss the sprawling, epic Thrash that's "Creeping Death" without resorting to page after page of superlatives and excited, breathless swearing, but the fact of the matter is that this one song - this one single song - is absolute musical perfection. There's the pounding, awe inspiring intro riff that makes parting the red sea seem fairly dull in comparison, the chorus can only be described as "fucking woo man, shit woooah", and that's all before an epic solo leads into something that could almost be described as a 'breakdown' comes in at the bridge, with some rather tasty chanting (I've noticed that this is the Metallica album with the most samples - name another Metallica album with an evil god laughing, a thunderclap, bells, synths and sirens) and just general crushing-ness. It will remove your limbs.

And I guess the good thing about said limb removal is that it's just so freaking memorable. When I came to write this review I hadn't really listened to RTL for maybe 3 years. However, the instant I put on "Fight Fire With Fire" every single riff came flooding back. Heck, even the drum lines are catchy - I'd be hard pressed to find another album that I could air drum in its entirety. There just really wasn't any other Thrash band that made things just so damn catchy without sacrificing any semblance of heaviness. This is still a heavy beast of an album - still brutal and unfriendly to many a mainstream listener today - but it's got more hooks than a hook making factory. I have spent weeks before repeating the "Creeping Death" chorus over and over in my head; I can't say I've ever done that to, say, Megadeth's "Polaris".

Now, I'm aware that saying an album is 'catchy' or 'memorable' doesn't necessarily mean that it's the best thing ever. Linkin Park are 'catchy'. Sean Paul is 'catchy' (typing this actually got his "Right Temperature" song stuck in my head again.) However, Metallica back up this catchiness with genuinely excellent, amazing material. I'm happy that this is a record full of varied, supremely excellent Thrash; if I also end up humming it when I'm in the shower that's a bonus as far as I'm concerned.

To conclude, then. There's not really anything I can say that's bad about this album. "Escape" is possibly the weak point but it's still an excellent song. Overall, this is a life changing beast of an album that everyone needs to hear more than once.

Is it the heaviest? No. Does it have the most riffs? No. Is it the best? YES.

Other related information on the site
Review: Hardwired... to Self-Destruct (Deluxe Edition) (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
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