photo & text by nacrowe
in my mind RIDE THE LIGHTNING (MEGAFORCE, 1984) by METALLICA is the best THRASH METAL record of all time (sorry SLAYER). it may even be the best METAL record as well. the jump in technical proficiency and song-craft from the KILL 'EM ALL album released just a year earlier is quite remarkable.
for me it is all about "FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE," "RIDE THE LIGHTNING" and "CREEPING DEATH" which are virtuosic exemplars of brutality, musicianship and song-craft without losing a sense of urgency and focus that happens when technically gifted musicians seek to show off their proficiency. it really hones in on the intention and drive of HARDCORE with the next level savage riffage and aggression of NWOBHM in a hybrid that has been copied but not matched (again, in my estimation) since. these three songs also tackle disparate subject matter regarding the likes of NUCLEAR WARFARE, CAPITAL PUNISHMENT and the BOOK OF EXODUS which showcases a progression in broader interests beyond that displayed on KILL 'EM ALL, which was a METAL record largely about, well, playing METAL.
RIDE THE LIGHTNING is also the first METALLICA record where the band consciously sought to throw a curveball at its audience by including, gasp, a ballad. albeit it is a ballad about suicide. "FADE TO BLACK" is a now a long-running staple of their live shows that foreshadowed similar fare like "WELCOME HOME (SANITARUIUM)" off of MASTER OF PUPPETS and "ONE" off ....AND JUST FOR ALL which similarly utilize a sophisticated sense of extreme song dynamics to carry a narrative. fairly or unfairly, i identity this fearlessness to buck listener expectation with CLIFF BURTON, whose musical lexicon and appreciation far exceeded the METAL genre. the dynamism of "FADE TO BLACK" and the instrumental "THE CALL OF KTULU" are a testament to such.
my middle school band in NIGERIA also covered the ERNEST HEMINGWAY-referencing "FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS" so that opening dual guitar-line will always have a special place in my heart. at the time the lyrics that dealt with complicated themes regarding organized violence and state motivations for war were beyond me, but those riffs were not. viscerally i cant still visualize playing this song publicly and getting a reaction from the crowd in the cramped gym. so yeah, im a bit biased.
one other thing i want to mention is the classical influence on RIDE THE LIGHTNING. when i first heard this record in the mid 1990s that sense of sophistication in the arrangements and even orchestration of parts sonically differentiated this record. when "FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE" kicks in it really punches because of how its unrepentant aggression contrasts with the opening orchestrated prelude. that trick will be repeated to similar effect with "BATTERY" and "DAMAGE INC" off of MASTER OF PUPPETS. that classical influence gave this record, as well as the aforementioned follow-up MASTER OF PUPPETS, a distinct feel and sophistication that resulted in the pronounced aggression and heightened lyrical themes hitting that much harder.
i cannot recommend this record highly enough. easily one of my favorite METAL records of all-time. if only they left off "ESCAPE."