By Mariska de Beer
In their second album, Metallica pounds metal that takes you back to the 80’s before hardcore rock was castrated by Goths in skinny jeans wearing eyeliner. They joined forces with Exodus producer Mark Whitaker and founder of Sweet Silence Studios Flemming Rasmussen in 1984 to engineer sound that would slam the band on world stage.
James Hetfield doubles up as a growling vocalist and wicked rhythm guitar player, Cliff Burton controls bass, Kirk Hammett rides lightning on lead guitar and Lars Ulrich thrashes drums to convey themes of death, destruction and suicidal despair.
Ride the Lightning fulfils the potential presented the band’s first album Kill em all by providing a versatile blend of melodies and electric riffs. The misleading first thirty seconds of delicate guitar plucking in the first track Fight Fire With Fire orgasms into a fury of electric riffing that sets the tone for the rest of the album.
However, the tender guitar caressing and soft, morose vocal tones of Fade To Black provide an effective break halfway through the album to the heavier songs like Trapped Under Ice, ensuring that the listener does not zone out or start bleeding from the eardrums. The Call of Ktulu provides a smooth ending to the album despite being purely instrumental. It is the longest track, but its repetitive and hypnotic rhythm creates a dark mood which lyrics would fail to describe.
The lyrics, although startlingly serious and intelligent, can get depressing enough to tempt you to slash your wrists with the CD as every song carries a persistent theme of self-destruction and death. In Creeping Death Hetfield’s dramatic vocals give a roaring account of the deadly plagues that engulfed Egypt during biblical times whilst the Hebrews were enslaved there.
The tensions arising from the then still ongoing Cold War are clear in lines like “nuclear warfare shall lay us to rest” in Fight Fire With Fire, which is complimented well by the sound effects of crackling fire. Ride The Lightning is easily the heaviest track with Hetfield screeching about an innocent convict about to face the electric chair. The best song although difficult to pick is For Whom the Bell Tolls, which opens with the sensational sound-effects of heavy bells tolling then spirals into energetic, cutthroat, finger-picking guitar and heart-wrenching lyrics about deep disillusionment with war.
The least accessible song is Escape as even though Hetfield’s vocals range from growling to screeching to singing through the album, he experiments too much in this track, which causes a slight dip in the energy sustained throughout the record.
Metallica carried the momentum from this album into the subsequent Master of Puppets yet sadly faltered after that with the highly commercial Black album and shallow Load, but bounced back with their latest release the almighty Death Magnetic. Despite being in their forties, the members of Metallica are not finished reminding the world and 21st century phase-bands how to make great metal and Ride the Lightning is the purest, most unadulterated form of this.
Its popularity is reflected in the dozens of covers that have followed it including some from Vader, Disturbed and Shotgun Remedy. It should be the centre of any metal collection, but is also a thorough introduction to anybody interested in the band or the metal genre in general.