Flashback Track by Track Review: Metallica - Ride the Lightning
On July 27, 1984, Metallica released their second studio album “Ride Lightning”. The album was recorded in three weeks in Lars Ulrich’s home in Copenhagen, Denmark. The album took its title from a passage from author Stephen King’s book “The Stand”.
Fight Fire With Fire
The acoustic opening of the album, with its layered guitars and intricate harmonies, lets us know right away this isn’t the same Metallica that released their debut album a year earlier. Bassist Cliff Burton introduced the band to musical theory and his fingerprints are all over this record. Once the acoustics fade out we are given one of the most ferocious songs in the Metallica catalogue. “Fire” sounds exactly what I would anticipate armageddon to sound like if it were in audio form. The highlight of this one for me is when Hetfield screams out “We all shall die”, a bold proclamation or badass lyric? I’ll let you decide.
Ride the Lightning
The album’s title track was one of the final remnants of Dave Mustaine’s tenure with the band. Metallica reworked it a bit and centred the lyrics on an individual that is sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit. The result is a blistering track that starts off slow but picks up plenty of speed near the solo, which just happens to be one of Kirk Hammet’s finest moments. Prepare yourself, this song is quite the “Ride”.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Bells was the third single released from the record in August of ’85 and remains a fixture in the band’s live set to this day. The lyrics were based on Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 book which has the same name. I tried to read the book once, but it is an absolute monster (approx 500 pages) and doesn’t have a lot of pictures. Burton steals the show with the opening bass riff and over the years Jason Newstead, along with Rob Trujillo have given their best interpretations of it, but nothing replicates the original power Burton conjured up. It’s a powerful song both in terms of lyrics and music, I just prefer the energy of the live performance more.
Fade to Black
“Fade” was the first single released from the album in September of ’84 and marked the first of many times the band would be labelled as “sellouts’. The power ballad alienated some of Metallica’s fanbase and empowered others with its lyrical content focused on feeling powerless. The song also foreshadowed a formula the band would use on future songs. It is hard for me to isolate a single part of the track when the power is in the collective of the work. Just sit back, turn the volume up and enjoy.
Trapped Under Ice
This song focuses on a person that awakes from being frozen only to realize, they are literally “Trapped Under Ice”. Hammett brought the verse riff with him from an Exodus track that was demoed in the early ’80s named “Impaler”. Exodus featured the cut on their 2004 release “Tempo of the Damned”, you can hear their version of the riff starting at the 1:54 mark. This song cuts right to the point and the stand-out part of the track for me is the pre-solo breakdown. Metallica has performed the song 27 times since the album’s release, with five of those occurring on the most recent leg of their tour. In my opinion, it needs to be played more.
I may draw some criticism here but that is my favourite track on the album. It is essentially a throwaway song that the band was forced to include at the request of the label. It has a certain charm to it that I just love. It’s clear the band doesn’t share the same admiration for “escape” (Demoed as “The Hammer”) that I do, because they have only played the song one time (June 23, 2012). The ending of the song with a siren wailing and Hetfield singing “Life’s for my own, to live my own way”, gives me goosebumps.
“Death” was the second single released from the album in November ’84 and made its live debut on October 31, 1983, making it one of the first songs written for the record. The legendary bridge section was written by Hammett and was originally intended for an Exodus cut called “Die, by his hand”, it always serves as a great moment in a live show. There is nothing better than screaming ‘Die” with 30,000 other people. The band settled on the title after watching the “Ten Commandments” at Cliff Burton’s house and is lyrically focused on the 10 plagues that were sent upon people of ancient Egypt. The highlight of this track is Hetfield’s rhythm work under the solo, it’s spectacular.
The Call of Khutlu
Metallica’s second instrumental closes out the album and would receive a grammy award for best rock instrumental performance in 2001, seventeen years after its initial release. The band along with composer Michael Kamen were given the honour after the track was performed and included on the first S&M album. The track was originally titled “When Hell Freezes Over” and drew inspiration from H.P Lovecraft. Dave Mustaine contributed several parts of the song and you can hear a similar chord progression on the Megadeth classic “Hangar 18”. The opening of this track is easily the highlight for me, it creates such an eerie atmosphere.
Until next time, play it loud friends!