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Review: Metallica "Ride the Lightning" and How the Album Further Shows the Talent of the Band

Updated on December 29, 2017

Photo of the back of the album cover for Ride The Lightning

How is Ride the Lightning different From Metallica's debut album?

American heavy metal band Metallica got their career off to a strong and solid start with 1983’s Kill Em All with its raw sound and staccato like riffs which helped thrash metal become part of the mainstream in the US. In 1984, they got back to work right away and released their 2nd studio album called Ride the Lightning. It is an album that is melodic yet at the same time, it is a more complex and technical kind of album offering listeners a little more variety in the music. The album has eight songs for over 47 minutes of enjoyment from the US’s finest thrash metal band (note: Metallica played in the style of thrash for the entire decade of the 1980’s).

Ride the Lightning is a very influential album in American Popular Culture

As the album begins, the song Fight Fire With Fire is a song about the dangers of nuclear warfare and how it can destroy the entire world. James Hetfield sings in a lower voice than we are used to hearing and while it may sound like a death metal growl, it is not. James sings: “But what the hell is this world coming to?” The band does not focus on politics but this opening song was a big part of American popular culture in a sense because there was a mix of entertainment and trying to make the world aware of the dangers involved if countries use nuclear weapons. In 1984, the US was involved in a very tense relationship with the then USSR and the threat of nuclear war was very real. Communism was seen as one of the biggest threats the world had ever seen. Ride the Lightning the title track is about a person that has been falsely accused of a crime that he did not commit. However, he is guilty and they have sentenced him to die by way of the electric chair. There is some tapping lead guitar by Kirk Hammett before we see the beauty and technicality of the lead guitar. The person that is about to be executed begs for forgiveness. And James Hetfield sings: Someone help me, please GOD help me, and they’re trying to take it all away. I don’t want to die.” It is always a tragedy when someone is executed for a crime that they did not commit. One of the other lyrical themes on the album is war. And this is true of the slower song called For Whom the Bell Tolls. The song is based off of the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name.

Fade to Black is a very influential song for more than one reason

Fade to Black is the first time that we see Metallica enter new territory as this is their first power ballad song. The song starts out melodic and slow before speeding up with a fantastic finish. The song is about someone that is contemplating ending their life because they have lost the will to live. They feel that there is nothing more for them to live for. Life has all kinds of twists and turns in it and some people just lose the motivation to keep going. The song would be an inspiration for the band called Mind A Stray from Finland. Mind A Stray’s song Valley of Misery has been confused for being a Metallica song because the vocalist sounds very much like James Hetfield.

The Song Called Creeping Death

Ride The Lightning: songs 5-8

The second half of the album starts with the very fast Trapped Under Ice. It is about someone that had been in a cryonic (ice-filled) state for a long time but he has been freed from it and there is no one there to help him get back to a normal life. This album also marks the first time in Metallica’s career that they have an instrumental song and it is the almost nine minute song “The Call of Ktulu.” It starts out with very melodic acoustic guitar before it gets heavy. The song also has Cliff Burton showing his bass guitar talent. He plays it in such a way, tweaking the strings as if he is playing with a toy. He makes it look so effortless though. The riffing in the song becomes repetitive in parts but it is pretty awesome! Creeping Death is a song that features certain passages from the Bible about what the Pharaoh did to Israel. However, Hetfield himself is a Christian science believer. The song itself is pretty good as well.

The Power Ballad Fade to Black

Final thoughts about Metallica's 2nd studio album

And Lars Ulrich may not be recognized as a great drummer but on this album it does not matter. Metallica would only get better as their career progressed. They would return to their thrash metal roots with 2008’s Death Magnetic. They have been a very positive symbol for the United States with their large fan base, attention to some of the most important issues of our time, and their overall talent. This album gets 90 points out of 100 easily!

Metallica's The Call of Ktulu


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