Take a look to the sky just before you die
I know, deep down in my head thingy, that Metallica have made technically better LPs than Ride The Lightning and it is not my fave LP of theirs* but I just love it deep down in my underpants**, there is just something fantastically endearing about it. The band was still at that stage where they are discovering just how great they are/can be and you can hear the tension between their ambition butting up hard against their talent and their ability to get it down on wax. The tension and joy that creates just illuminates Ride The Lightning like a bolt of, umm … exciting weather phenomenon.
As you might expect from an almost teenage band playing as fast and hard as they can whilst fuelled on Mexican food and Carlsberg, this is a gloriously teenage LP. Kicking off, literally, with ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ Ride The Lightning never looks back once the acoustic intro was shunted out-of-the-way by the band’s heaviest song to date. This is every single teenage tantrum you’ve ever had, or even heard of, fired through the patented 1537 Aggrotronic Enhancement Ray-o-phone and rumour has it, it can frighten parents at a distance of up to 3 miles. My usual grandiloquence deserts me here, this is just fucking raging!
Soon to fill our lungs, the hot winds of death
The gods are laughing, so take your last breath
I have mixed feelings about the title track, the bass guitar intro is quite brilliant and the rhythm that the band lock into is just perfect but it overstays its’ welcome for me, they don’t quite have enough good ideas to fill the middle section^. There’s just something about Hetfield’s vocal that doesn’t quite hit the mark and reminds me that they were actively trying to recruit John Bush as a singer at this point.
But fear not! My favourite ever Metallica track is up next, ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, which it would be even if it wasn’t based on one of my very favourite novelists’ novels. It’s a track that just goes to prove, if it were ever in doubt, that there has never been a rock song that wasn’t enhanced at least 239.765% by the sound of a bell. For the first time in their recorded history the band slowed down in order to deliver a harder, more concentrated blow and boy does it work. I can just remember how great it sounded live the first time I saw them too, a total stand out.
Having shown us a new trick, they hit us with another one on ‘Fade To Black’ another track that is my favourite Metallica track ever^^, the band (gulp) use acoustics again and sing tunefully – have they no shame? the big sell outs! The song is about contemplating suicide of course and the lyrics are sensitive and perceptive, rather than exploitative and the song builds sonically into an absolute tour de force.
Side 2 of Ride The Lightning starts weakly for me, ‘Trapped Under Ice’ is all treble and flash at a million miles an hour – in boxing terms it just doesn’t land a glove on me, ‘Escape’ is again lacking some bass heft and appears to have had a chorus grafted on from an entirely different track; let’s put it down as a youthful experiment. So, half way through Side 2 and it’s looking dodgier than a game of dodge ball in Dodge City in a dodgem rink, what could possibly save us? Quick, whip out your Bibles guys!
The moshnificent ‘Creeping Death’ is definitely my all-time favourite Metallica song, the title is so great that it would possibly be my favourite even if the band hadn’t bothered recording anything to go with it. It is also my favourite ever metal track dealing with the 10th plague on Egypt, the death of the first-born – I confess I was late to this realisation, thinking for a couple of years it was just about a big scary creeping monster that slew people arbitrarily – who knew Christianity could be so gnarly? This is almost my favourite thrash song ever and the band’s playing here is just frighteningly tight and committed, the slowed down ‘Die by my hand’ section is just genre-defining stuff.
As no metal LP is complete without an instrumental homage to H.P Lovecraft, Ride the Lightning finishes with The Shadow Over Innsmouth^* inspired ‘The Call of Ktulu’. Pretty darned good it is too, melodic and well-structured, it progresses just as an almost 9-minute instrumental needs to.
Ride the Lightning is a flawed bowl of cherries: some amazing moments here and a whole bunch of new tricks that show, even at this early stage, that Metallica were too powerful, clever and talented to be one trick thrash ponies and conversely*^ a few bits where the song-writing and production just wasn’t up to snuff yet. Cliff Burton’s influence is particularly strong on this LP, pushing the band away from being too straight-forward.
This LP is pure essence of teenager, wound too tight, obsessed with death and horror, too loud, too fast, endearingly earnest at times and just plain over-excited, I love it for each and every one of those qualities. Well that and Lars’ hilariously unconvincing tash, especially on his ‘scary man’ face on the back cover picture, bless.
PS. You know I’ve set up my blog so I don’t have to write about the same bands too often. My last Metallica review? November 2012, my first ever LP review on 1537. Maybe I’ll just cover ‘Tallica once every 800 records, or so.
PPS: The best live version I could find – you’ll need to whack the volume up a bit though:
*Kill ‘Em All still wins by a country mile.
**pretty sure that’s where my heart is located. Note to Self: Check medical textbook before publishing post.
^unlike me, whose middle section is amply filled.
^^alternate months, Tuesday through Thursdays.
^*my second favourite Lovecraft, after At The Mountains of Madness.
*^’conversely’ defined by the Oxford Online Dictionary as, ‘just like wearing Converse’. True story.