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Metallica - Ride The Lightning CD (album) cover

RIDE THE LIGHTNING

Metallica

 

Prog Related

4.00 | 388 ratings

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4 stars Heavy Metal Thunder

After the ultimate raw energy of Kill 'Em All, where could Metallica go in their quest for World Domination (as recorded by the Music press at the time - Metallica were never modest in their aspirations)?

With Fleming Rassmussen on board, they skipped from the Metal equivalent of Piper at the Gates of Dawn, to the equivalent of Dark Side of the Moon.

For this album revolutionised Heavy Metal. Just as Kill 'Em All did.

Instead of a swaggering street brawler equipped with near-mystical black belt skillz, this is a more polished affair - from Metal Militia to Metal Mafia, you might say.

We still see the long songs - but they're longer. The complex compositional structures are more complex, the variation in approach and style is stretched almost to breaking point, and the techniques are more advanced, to the point that this is, to my ears, not only the first Progressive Metal album per se, but also the first technical metal album that combines technique with strong, accessible melody writing. The first purely technical album in this style was Megadeth's Killing is my Business and Business is Good, but that's a much less accessible album because of its tech focus.

And the mayhem begins with the very first track. That mellow, sharp-edged, clean cut guitar orchestra fools no-one - the tension is tangible before the increasing volume trick used on Kill 'Em All builds to a riff that makes Metal Militia sound like something by Black Sabbath on mogadons. Fight Fire with Fire is a twisting, turning, building burning effigy of mayhemic efficiency.

It SOUNDS like a thrash song, and it is. It uses the innovation of Venom's Mantas in the main riff - pedal thrased note supporting shifting accented chords - but with Lars Ulrich once again showing his dramatic flair, in a drumming style that marked Metallica out from their peers in the early days. Sure, it's nothing now, but then it was a big deal, and it's evident throughout this album, which is unique for the time;

Each drum hit is calculated, yet maintains the rock feel. Aggressive thwacks punctuate during the introduction, and a flying back beat drives and pummells. The ball of spikes is back - and it's bigger and badder.

On to the riff development - here we see a fantastic expression of this, that lives up to the famous Keith Emerson quote about Prog being music that turns itself inside out, upside down and whatever else he said. The chorus, if it can be called that, is essentially the verse riff played backwards, and the instrumental backing is a series of chords accented at precisely the right time, shifting subtly off the beat, and the sections are joined together with motifs created from the riffs themselves. It's exactly like Metallica found an alchemical way of writing - this is so far beyond ordinary metal song writing (and indeed, most Progressive Metal songwriting) that it's just not funny - and yet feels so natural, that Fight Fire With Fire sounds as fresh today as it did back in 1984. How can it possibly be 24 years old?

Basically, because this compositional style has never successfully been emulated, let alone bettered, except by Metallica themselves on their next album. It's essentially similar to what Iron Maiden and Diamond Head had done before - but never fully realised the potential in this way.

Ride The Lightning, the title track, goes above and beyond, and is easily the best track on the album from a tech/Prog standpoint, with its multi-part instrumental and crazily shifting riffs. Lyrically, it maintains the overarching theme of the album - I tend not to get overexcited by lyrics generally, but it's plain to see that there is commonality between all the songs here.

Musically, we are thrown 3 excellent ideas before the song even starts by way of intro, tritonic, angular and muscular, with obvious roots, but no obvious peers. The structure for the vocal sections is a kind of verse/mid section/chorus - but the harmonic suggestions in the riffs, and lack of clear separation between verse and chorus drive it forwards into the instrumental, which is where all hell breaks loose - a downwards descending thrashed riff leads to a vocal bridge, based motivially on the same ideas, riffs come back with changed drum tempos and punctuation, then the first guitar solo segment starts - a slow melodic idea, which picks up pace in the second segment before a variant of the descending idea throws us at neckbreak speed into the third, flying solo segment, and we're soon thrown into the fourth segment, based on a new descending idea, which changes key dramatically before reverting to the intial descending riff and back to the vocal bridge in a kind of mirror-image construction. This is all broken down into pounding drums, decorated and varied before a return to the verse/midsection/chorus parts. The riffs are varied again for the ending.

You want complexity in structure?

It really doesn't get much more complex than that!

And there are 6 songs to go...

For Whom The Bell Tolls seems like a simple little number, opening with the Black Sabbath bell and the Da-Da/Da- Da/Daaaaah! accents. But it's subtle, and the ideas worm their way around - first the descending guitar idea, then the derived descending bass motif that becomes the BIG riff - in every way a Classic in the same way that Paranoid, Whole Lotta Love and Smoke on the Water have classic riffs.

Then a new guitar idea is presented, and the power chords shift underneath, driving the harmony towards a new and even bigger riff before the verse starts, a full 2 minutes 6 seconds into the song! Ulrich punctuates and drives with an unerring instinct for pathos, even if his timing is a tad on the sloppy side - it doesn't matter, because this is a groundbreaking approach to writing a metal song. For the 3rd time on this album. The outro is full of screaming, wailing guitars over the accented riffs, punctuating drums and Hells Bell. Marvellous stuff.

Side 1 closes with the 4th major innovation in metal on this album. Fade To Black is Metallica's first attempt at a ballad, and, unlike just about everything they did in this vein in later years, it's fantastic.

The opening reminds me of Goodbye Blue Sky from Pink Floyd's The Wall, but Kirk's solo puts a new perspective on it, and the harmony shifts around, breaking the two-chord mould - something I'd really like to hear modern Prog Metal bands doing - shaping the melody, then using a dramatic fill to link to the second section of the intro, which presents the harmonic movement of the verse, but not the melody - a crafty technique.

Just as the verse starts to feel a bit lightweight and repetitive, Metallica throw us a heavy, chunking riff, based on the rhythmic and harmonic patterns of the acoustic sounding section - but this is all about expressing the song, which raises goosebumps every time that heavy riff is brought back.

Around 3:56, when your average metal ballad would have finished or gone into the burnout, Metallica throw a new riff at us and a two-part vocal/instrumental bridge, which is built up towards a new shifting harmony and twin leads for the burn-out - and what a burn-out! Kirk's guitar ideas tend to hang around the Lynyrd Skynrd, for better or worse - with maybe a dash or two of David Gilmour, before picking up the speed, as the whole edifice takes off and the fade happens all too soon - drat Mr Rassmussen!

We flip the vinyl for more Progressive Metallic Mayhem - Trapped Under Ice is my second favourite piece from a progressive standpoint - the harmonic shift from the first riff to the second, the craftily snatched accents, the shifting backbeats (and I'm sure that's intentional, and not Lars' bad timing!) at that breaknect speed is just impossible - and again, unmatched today. The riffs feed from each other, twisting, turning, developing, changing before your eyes with a slieght of hand matched only by David Blaine - never going off tangentially, just creating, creating and then more creating. There is not a note or accent out of place in the flow of this piece - it's the nearest to perfect that Metallica ever achieved for this unique style that they created. Interestingly, listen to how similar the main riff is to Ride The Sky by Helloween. It's just possible that the whole Power Metal genre was kicked off by this one track.

Escape is another amazing track on an album lousy with amazing tracks, an anthemic singalong nestling within the dark, twisting riffs with drum accenting born from nothing but the desire to create new music. The instrumental is another vocal bridge/developing riff/melodic solo fest - listen as those riffs shift the harmonic base, strip away the foundation, then pummel it back into place, and the melodic ideas shift crazily over the top.

Next up is the Epic, Creeping Death, which, like Seek and Destroy, I played to Death (sic) in my youth, and can hardly bear to listen to it now. It's fantastic, but a bit over-repetitive in the face of the other more substantial fayre on this album. Nevertheless, a Classic on an album crawling with classics.

To round up, The Call of Cthulu is every Progger's favourite. Mine too. A quite wonderful instrumental, with Pink Floyd inspired mellowness and Metallica inspired heaviness, dramatic pathos, snarly wah-wah bass and crafty invention all round - I really don't want to pin this one down with words - it would be like finding the most unique, amazing looking butterfly ever, then gassing it to pin it into your collection.

Call of Cthulu is perfectly crafted, like haut cuisine - and demands that every single mouthful is savoured to the max - and there are a lot of mouthfuls here - much too much to absorb on first listen. Every second is accounted for and a necessary part to the overall development of the music - nothing is wasted. This is not music of the street - although it is music born of the street. It is a well-oiled machine that crushes everything in its path, takes no prisoners, and has no match in the world of metal in the early 1980s - nothing that could possibly hold a candle to this behemoth.

It's slow to develop - but that's a large part of its charm - in a world of instant gratification, where it is known that chewing food too fast is bad for the health, the same can be said for music. Music that gratifies instantly is bad for the soul and leaves nothing but an empty craving, while music that is artistically dense and requires patient listening can leave the listener satiated and ready to live some more.

Which is exactly what this album does - you leave in the knowledge that you've just heard something truly special and unique, even if you don't follow all my musical analysis.

It is that fulfulling an album.

Yes.

I like this album.

A Lot.

So much that I'm desperate to award it the full 5 stars - in fact, I can think of absolutely no good reason not too.

Except that, somehow, I just don't FEEL it as a Masterpiece of Prog - unlike its successor...

4.99999999 stars - and I'm being really cruel not rounding it up.

I'm like that :o)

Certif1ed | 4/5 |

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