Sound — 9
Debuting in 1983 Metallica had already established large fan base nation wide and their debut album "Kill 'Em All" what most consider the very first thrash metal album and have crowned Metallica the "Godfathers of Thrash". In 1984 they proved that they weren't going to be victims of what many call the "Sophomore Slump" that many bands before them have suffered. Unlike "Kill 'Em All", "Ride The Lightning" have a lot better quality sounding more like a studio album than a demo. This jump in quality can be credited to the band hiring Rainbow producer Flemming Rasmussen. After the success of "Ride The Lightning" Rasmussen would produce the band's next two albums: "Master Of Puppets" (1986) and "...And Justice For All" (1988). Even though this album sounds more like a studio album the guys in Metallica kept some of the "Kill 'Em All" sound on this album which gives it that raw, pissed off feel Metallica fans know and love.
This album was also the first to feature singer/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield playing acoustic as the album's opening track "Fight Fire With Fire" opens with a clean, calm acoustic intro leading into a fierce, fast paced song with late bassist Cliff Burton and drummer Lars Ulrich filling in the rhythm sections with heavy under tones and fast double foot pedal drumming. This heavy sound continues into the next song the album's title track, but it's the 3rd song on the album that will leave people in amazement. "For Whom The Bell Tolls" starts with a bell ringing out twice leading into a full bass driven intro letting Burton's guitar-sounding like tone lock you in wanting more though the song really doesn't have a solo it's full of solo breaks from guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett and countless bass and drum fulls cover the verses. Things slow up so with the next song "Fade To Black" which starts and remains acoustic through the verses becoming heavier and faster by the bridge and picking up speed by the end as Kirk Hammett launches into an amazing end solo as the songs fades out.
The next two songs "Trapped Under Ice" and "Escape" are your normal early Metallica songs but it's the last two that help bring this album together. "Creeping Death" which these days is the opening song of Metallica's set and the 2nd to last song on the album is a heavy thrash song with dark backing vocals provided by Cliff Burton giving an evil feel to Hetfield's vocal during the chorus and bridge. The last song of the album shows the band's tribal influences showing the band experiment with ancient and medieval styles of playing. This song featured Cliff Burton doing some of his best studio work with his effects bringing out the darkness in the song it's also the 2nd instrumental done by the band and the last of the songs former lead guitarist and current Megadeth front man/guitarist Dave Mustaine helped write.
Lyrics — 10
Lyrics for this album aren't like your typical album where certain songs have the subject matter as others, but every subject of the album ties together one way or another. "Ride The Lightning" focuses on one main subject which is death the thing making this album different from anything else before it, is that they touched on parts of death most people would dare to touch on in 1984. As Slayer covered more of the afterlife focusing more on Hell, Satan, Demons, Black Magic, etc. Metallica covered subjects like religious exile, suicide, capitol punishment, and struggling death (burning, drowning, being froze, etc.).
Through the album singer James Hetfield sings with insane force getting his point across by becoming the person or people portrayed suffering in the lyrics written by him and drummer Lars Ulrich. One thing that stands out vocally to me in this album is Cliff Burton's backing vocal which I commented on in the section above. On the album's title track as bridge hits before and after the solo James Hetfield comes in singing: "Someone help me/ OH PLEASE GOD HELP ME/They're trying to take it all away/I don't want to die", as Hetfield sings die Burton comes in with a bone-chilling scream like that of someone being killed in a horror movie giving the line the meaning and thought behind it. "Fade To Black" touches on a darker personal matter as it was written from thoughts fueled by Hetfield's depression on the road.
"Creeping Death" is a song that thinking back on how things were in 1984 you wonder why a band would release a song like this. Lyrics from the song describe the exile of Moses and the Jewish people of Egypt as it is told in the Christian Bible. After Kirk Hammett's guitar solo as James Hetfield sings the next couple lines the backing vocals in Burton and the band chanted die over and over again. As the song draws to a close and the chorus is sang once more before a twin end solo Hetfield is backed up yet again by Burton but this time the backing is way more sinister and turns this song which is about God saving his people into a completely opposite and dark side of the storyline.
Overall Impression — 10
Many people say "Master Of Puppets" is Metallica's best album. Yes I will agree on that to the level of being one of their best. Overall "Ride The Lightning" is the best of the best. This album captures the moment and energy the guys had at their prime being as this album was right in the middle of the club days to the transition over the international rock stars. The only thing about this album that I hate is that its very underrated due to it being in between "Kill 'Em All" and "Master Of Puppets" this album gets no where near the credit it deserves. If you don't own this album you are messing out on a complete piece of history because this album will continue to stand the test of time in the hearts of metalheads worldwide.