One of the more significant shifts and evolutions in a musical genre is the introduction and expansion of speed metal, or thrash metal, within the framework of heavy metal. Many acts were chasing this movement at this time, but no act carried more weight, then or now, than Metallica. Following their first album, “Kill ‘Em All”, which moved at one speed only, which was fast and intense, the band advanced their sound with a more diverse pace on their second album, “Ride the Lightning”. The title of the album was borrowed from Stephen King’s take on the electric chair, and it is this common theme of darkness that permeates across the album. Rated as the #8 metal album of all time by loudwire.com, the band moves further from their original lineup that included Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, who had been kicked out of the band by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich for excessive drinking, drugs and confrontational behavior.
As I listen to the fastest and most intense content on this record, I realize that thrash metal and hardcore punk are like two cousins who look exactly alike, but live one mile from each other and never meet. The attitude, pace and feel is very similar, and as I have noted before, the most notable difference is the greater depth of bass that adds the “heavy” to “heavy metal”, along with usually more complex song structures and greater vocal range. James Hetfield is a stark contrast the high tenor intensity of Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford, but there is a power and growl to his delivery that backs up the reputation of this band as the baddest of the bad.
The album opens with “Fight Fire with Fire”, which ends in catastrophic explosion and fire, which fits the track well. Next comes the title track, which is a good, but not great song, but I do appreciate the way it gets faster and more intense as the song builds.
The record really elevates with the next two songs, the centerpiece songs of the album. Using a similar ominous bell ringing to “Hells Bell” by AC/DC, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” borrows its title from a dark Hemingway book of the same name, and I love both. The opening bass from Cliff Burton is phenomenal, and when the riff fully kicks in at the 1:50 mark, not only you get the full power of this band at their very best, you also hear that slower can be better, which was a new model for Metallica.
Another phenomenal track follows, “Fade to Black”, that again features Hetfield on acoustic guitar (imagine !!) and powerful vocals. These two songs are certainly for me, the highlights of the record, although the rest of the album delivers as well.
Side two is just as dark, and perhaps closer to the original core of the Metallica legacy. You begin to truly appreciate Kirk Hammett’s role in the band on “Trapped Under Ice”. I have always been intrigued by Hammett’s clearly secondary role in the band as a lead guitarist, and in some ways it reminds me of the dynamic of George Harrison taking a visible backseat to John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the Beatles.
My favorite song on side two is “Creeping Death”. It has a bit more of a hook to me than the others, and it is my favorite new discovery of this record. Metallica ultimately became a big part of my musical world later in the decade, whether I wanted them to be or not, and for many people in my life today, the band remains an all-time favorite.