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Metallica - Ride The Lightning CD (album) cover




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4.08 | 605 ratings

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3 stars One of the bitterest ironies of the music business inevitably appears when a band or an individual artist fights and claws their way for years up through the sticky morass of mediocrity to finally get that all-important debut album released, only to realize that the really hard work has just begun. In other words, you're in the same boxing arena but now you're facing even tougher competition. That's why the curse of the sophomore record is not a myth at all. The act in question has wisely put their very best, most finely-honed material on that first disc and now must come up with a batch of equally impressive songs in a much shorter span of time. That's the situation that the men of Metallica found themselves in after they'd planted their tattered flag in the public's consciousness in '83 with 'Kill 'Em All,' their shockingly intense introduction to their highly combustible approach to knocking your block off with edgy rock & roll. There was an enormous but as yet untapped audience for their brand of aural rebellion and the crowds that gathered for their concerts grew with every appearance they made. It became apparent that Metallica was no flash in the pan and that metal wasn't just a here-today-gone-tomorrow fad but, as usual, the know-it-all execs that ran the major labels in that era were the last to figure that out. So the group soon realized that album #2 was going to be just as crucial as #1 was and that, my friends, is pressure.

Whether it was advantageous to go all the way to Copenhagen, Denmark to record said disc is something only the members themselves can address. The inside of a studio is usually the same whether you're in Lagos or Honolulu but being far away from home for months on end can sometimes be a detriment to an individual's psyche. Perhaps that goes some distance in explaining why the tracks on 'Ride the Lightning' aren't as remarkably tight and cohesive as they were on its predecessor and maybe not. The bottom line is that I don't sense the exhilarating energy and unbridled joy of creation that I detected on 'Kill 'Em All.' As I stated earlier, though, following up your first foray into the industry just may be the most difficult task any band will ever have to tackle and, with that in mind, Metallica was still more successful than most in that endeavor.

They start with 'Fight Fire With Fire' and, in their favor, they raise the curtain with a slightly misleading but strong acoustic guitar intro that is soon vanquished by a blisteringly hot riff. While I was happy to hear that their fiery ferocity was intact I wasn't pleased by the tune's lack of an identifiable melody to lock onto. However, they do earn points with the loud bomb blast ending that clears the room. 'Ride the Lightning' is next and it features a slower tempo while sacrificing none of the group's inherent power. I do hear a palpable Black Sabbath vibe running through this number and Kirk Hammett's doubled guitar solo is top notch in both execution and effect. 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' is a high mark. I'm totally on board with their all-out commitment to being heavy-handed here and for not holding anything back. The overall structure of the arrangement is better from beginning to end than the first two cuts, as well. But what really takes it over the top is the fact that James Hetfield is singing more than screaming, a fortunate turn of events, indeed. 'Fade to Black' follows. Variety is the spice of life and their downshift to a quieter motif at this juncture shows they were more than just a one-trick pony. I do think they feared alienating their balls-to-the-wall, head-banging fan base with such a move, though, because they inject massive power chords into the proceedings unnecessarily as if to prove their continuing virility to those so inclined. It all fits into the uncertainty that surrounds the manufacturing of an entity's second record, though, so I completely understand. Hammett's guitar ride is spectacular, nonetheless.

'Trapped Under Ice' is an expected, obligatory return to their torrid, subtle-as-a-sledgehammer, speed metal regimen and few do it as well as this quartet of ruffians does. When the smoke clears, however, it's a somewhat nondescript rocker offering little in the way of prog or finesse. Things take an upward turn on 'Escape.' If they'd brought in Jon Lord and his roaring Hammond B3 organ this could've easily been a Deep Purple scorcher. And that's a big compliment. It's a very entertaining track from top to bottom and the addition of the old-school prison siren was a stroke of genius. 'Creeping Death' didn't fare as well. To my ears it sounded like the result of a late-night rehearsal studio jam that James was able to devise a workable melody and some macabre lyrics for. If that's how this one came about then it's no disgrace but there's something vital missing. The good news is that Hammett apparently put quite a bit of thought into his guitar lead and the audience participation angle they covered via the forceful 'DIE' shouts no doubt would come in handy on stage in the years to come. They close on a positive note with the instrumental, 'The Call of Ktulu.' This number is the most intriguing on the disc mainly due to Kirk's blazing guitar work. Having said that, I still feel they could've been bolder and taken some more progressive-minded chances with the arrangement, building the piece to a more climactic WOW moment that would've sealed the deal with a fat exclamation point.

Metallica did the very best they could to top themselves every time they entered the studio and that's one of the traits that allowed them to rise above and beyond the limits of their own genre. 'Ride the Lightning' is no exception. Yet I get the feeling that they were stuck in between being tempted to safely duplicate what they'd done before and courageously challenging themselves to go where their rowdy muse was leading them. To call this album a failure would be ridiculous because it further solidified their standing as a force to be reckoned with, causing the major labels to take Metallica and the metal banner they so proudly brandished seriously. 'Ride the Lightning' may not be a masterpiece of prog by any stretch of the imagination but it ain't no conservative piece of fluff, neither. It rocks. 3 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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