Metallica - Ride the Lightning (Cover Artwork)


Ride the Lightning (1984)


It's unfortunate that Metallica's second album is often overshadowed by the acclaim and/or controversy of its other prime '80s brethren, because it is in many ways the most important release of the band's classic thrash period. It was here that the band first eschewed the heavy metal posturing of their debut, Kill 'Em All, in favor of a consistent lyrical theme. It was also here that the band first included their signature melodic intro and instrumental, and the album's overall basic formula is one they would follow for the rest of the decade. So, if you're looking to get into Metallica but break into fits of projectile vomiting every time you hear "Enter Sandman," this might be the best place to start.

The prevailing theme here is one of death and its ultimate inevitability. Whether it's the rant about the potential of a nuclear holocaust that is "Fight Fire with Fire," the thrash metal suicide note of "Fade to Black" or the grim tale from the electric chair that is the title track, frontman James Hetfield spends most of the album fearing the reaper. Appropriately enough for the vibe, the band downplays their Motörhead fascination on this release in favor of some Black Sabbath sludge in the album's slower moments, and the production on the record is both fuller and heavier than the debut.

Ride really only has two weaknesses: The Judas Priest tribute of "Escape" sounds dated (even if it is enjoyable), and ending the record with the instrumental "The Call of Ktulu" seems to somehow slow the album's momentum even though it's the last song.

Overall, Ride the Lightning may not be as epic or sprawling as its two descendants, Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All, but for as mind-blowing as both those records are, they're neither the colossal creative leap forward nor the easily digestible song cycle that this is. Loud guitars. Harmonized leads. Epic solos. A fucking relentless metal record. You can't go wrong.