Music Features

Happy Anniversary... Ride The Lightning

Some albums show a band evolve leaps and bounds beyond what came before. It's on these types of records that a group can go from an underground act or from being part of the pack, to head and shoulders above all others in the genre. For Metallica, that ascension really kicked off with Ride The Lightning.
Released one year after Metallica's debut, Kill 'Em All, Ride The Lightning showed a level of complexity and experimentation that went far beyond what thrash metal had been up to that point. Besides all the added tricks in its belt, Metallica simply wrote classic song after classic song to fill this album. All eight tracks grab you and slam you against the wall with a punishing feel that is among the genre's best.
Fight Fire With Fire begins unusually light, with a clean guitar melody that sounds more at home on a harpsichord than as the opening salvo for a metal record. After the first forty seconds though, a furious riff rips out of the speakers, guiding James Hetfield along as he growls about the folly of an eye-for-an-eye world. At no point during its run does the song let up, promising the aggressiveness of Kill 'Em All once again.
For several songs, it definitely seems like that will be the case, though Metallica has certainly refined its sound. Ride The Lightning strikes with a sharp, cutting riff and Lars Ulrich's heavy-footed beat that reenacts the horrifying walk to the electric chair. Cliff Burton's bass leads the way on For Whom The Bells Tolls, giving the song a sinister groove. Combine that pattern with one of the catchiest choruses in the Metallica catalog and it's easy to see why the song is such a live favorite.
Creeping Death and Trapped Under Ice also belong among thrash metal's finest. The former, about the Death of the Firstborn from Exodus in The Bible, has one of the band's most recognizable riffs, as well as a great solo that drops into an attacking bridge with a rhythm that fans chant "Die!" along to in concerts. The latter is the fastest and most relentless song on the album, with solos and lyrics blowing by with neck-breaking speed.
Then there's Fade To Black, one of best and most complex songs Metallica ever worked on. It starts with an intricate acoustic arrangement, a practically unheard of move in heavy metal at the time. This isn't Metallica-lite though. The song gradually gets heavier as it goes on, breaking into a stuttering bridge riff that is an absolute classic. Kirk Hammett plays one of his best extended solos to end the song in a truly memorable fashion. 
Is Ride The Lightning Metallica's magnum opus? No, that honor belongs with Master of Puppets. However, it is one of the band's best, exemplifying thrash metal at its strongest, even while it breaks the rules on a couple of tracks. It was this record that set Metallica on the trajectory that would take them through the rest of the 1980s. Since that path includes Battery, Master of Puppets, Harvester of Sorrow and One, there is plenty to thank Ride The Lightning for on its 30th anniversary.