The history of thrash metal got another ring on the world-tree in 1984 with the release of Ride the Lightning (Megaforce/Elektra Records), the second album by Metallica. With better songwriting, tight production, and more originality than their debut Kill Em All (Megaforce), Ride moved the needle forward for the entire genre and cemented Metallica as the premiere band in the genre.
Much has been written on the web pages of Ghost Cult about the band and this album in the past, so we’ll keep it tight. While Metallica had many years of plotting and planning what would become Kill Em All, the band would write, record, and released the follow up all within a year. Just two months after releasing Ride, came the signing to Electra Records by A&R legend Michael Alago, having a major label behind them meant not just greater exposure, but a shot in the arm for the hungry band with plenty to prove to the world.
The revolution of NWOBHM-inspired Thrash heard on KEM would only be somewhat recognizable by the time the introduction of lead track ‘Fight Fire With Fire’. The thrash elements stayed, but with better writing from James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Cliff Burton, and Kirk Hammett’s wildly original solos, the album is a classic. The heart of the album tracks such as ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls, ‘Fade to Black’, and ‘Creeping Death’ have almost never left the set all these years later. ‘Fade To Black’ was derided in the community at the time as a ballad and sellout move, but it’s unarguably one of their best songs ever and the guitar solo is often considered one of best ever in rock or metal. James’ stronger singing and lyrics (despite his own doubts), Lars big improvement behind the kit, Burton’s killer bass gave Ride a maturity that all their peers lacked at the time. Deep cuts like ‘Escape’, ‘Trapped Under Ice’ still hold up very well. While other metal bands were singing about demons and murderers and typical fare, Metallica had an Iron Maiden or Judas Priest style seriousness to them that made fans take notice. Not to mention little things like the “Die By My Hand” chant part of ‘Creeping Death’ by Hammett foretold of the bands’ future arena god-level status reserved for Led Zeppelin and Queen that really sealed the deal. Dave Mustaine’s holdover contribution on ‘The Call of Ktulu’ (misspelling and all) ends the album in such an epic and unique progressive metal masterpiece.
You can make a case that the best was yet to come from the band, but Ride The Lightning is a monumental album than deserves all the love it has received from fans and critics alike.