Ride the Lightning by Metallica
Release date : July 1984
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
Five months following the issue of 1983's Kill 'Em All, Metallica began to pen tracks in support of its follow up at a rehearsal room. November gigs witnessed the outfit perform at such Californian venues as San Francisco's The Stone and Reseda's Country Club, not to mention the Keystone clubs in Palo Alto and Berkeley, whilst subsequent dates occurred in Chicago, Cleveland, New Jersey and New York. An instrumental dubbed “When Hell Freezes Over”, and alternatively “The Call of Ktulu”, was the first to be performed live. The following year, Metallica settled upon the latter title. Other tracks performed live at such shows were “Fight Fire With Fire”, “Creeping Death”, and “Ride the Lightning”. “Creeping Death”'s lyrical content based itself upon the plagues which, according to the Book of Exodus, reportedly blighted the Egyptians, whilst “Ride the Lightning” was a first person narrative from the viewpoint of an individual condemned to electrocution in a chair. Instrumental “The Call of Ktulu” took its title from a brief story (actually named “The Call of Cthulhu”) penned by early twentieth century American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft - written during 1926's summer, it experienced initial publication in the February 1928 edition of Weird Tales. “Ride the Lightning” and “The Call of Ktulu” were the last Metallica tracks to feature songwriting credits for Dave Mustaine, the group's erstwhile axeman. Mustaine had received his marching orders on April 11th, 1983 reportedly due to personality issues, and went on to form Megadeth in the December of that year. Eventually, “Ride the Lightning” lent its name as the title of Metallica's sophomore album.
Following a concert at Boston, Massachusetts' Channel Club on January 14th, 1984, much of the group's stage equipment was stolen from a van. Luckily, touring partners Anthrax loaned Metallica amplification and other gear so that shows could still be honoured. According to unconfirmed reports, this inspired “Fade to Black”'s lyrical content. Commencing February 3rd, manager Jon Zazula had organised the act's inaugural European tour, namely the Seven Dates of Hell. To promote the tour, British label Music For Nations issued the single “Jump in the Fire” (lifted from Kill 'Em All), and paired the track against “Seek and Destroy” and “Phantom Lord”, both of which boasted crowd applause taken from a different act's performance. Supporting Venom, the inaugural gig occurred at Zürich, Switzerland's Volkshaus, and subsequent dates took place at such venues as Milan, Italy's Teatro Tenda, Nuremberg, Germany's Hemmerleinhalle, and Paris, France's Espace Ballard. Metallica additionally accrued a slot upon Ijsselhal, Holland's Aardschok Festival, the tour drawing to a conclusion on the 12th at Belgium's Poperinge Festival. Bidding Venom farewell, the group drove to Copenhagen, Denmark to rehearse fresh material at the practice rooms of Mercyful Fate.
Metallica's North American label, Zazula's Megaforce Records, lacked the finance necessary to fund recording in support of Metallica's sophomore full length. Owned by Martin Hooker, Music For Nations handled the bill. The outfit opted to record at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark, having been impressed with Flemming Rasmussen's work upon 1981 Rainbow album Difficult to Cure. Unable to afford hotel accomodation, Metallica slept in Sweet Silence's upstairs room, which hadn't been converted into a B studio at that time. Nightly sessions mostly occurred; recording would begin at seven in the evening, and conclude at roughly four or five in the early hours. Within two periods, Ride the Lightning was recorded; the first extended from February to March, and the second occurred during June. Martin Hooker arranged a British tour alongside Rods and Exciter that was to happen in March, but this was scrapped as the result of poor ticket sales. However, Metallica performed two sold out concerts at London's Marquee Club on the 14th and 27th. Following the conclusion of Ride the Lightning's recording sessions, the group immediately supported Twisted Sister upon a four gig trek which spanned Holland, and Germany. With Motörhead headlining, Metallica appeared at the Heavy Sound Festival on June 10th in Poperinge, Belgium. Liner notes accredit the album's production to Metallica, with assistance from Rasmussen and Mark Whitaker. Mastering, meanwhile, was overseen by Bob Ludwig at Masterdisk. Based upon a concept spawned by Metallica, Ad Artists designed the album's cover sleeve: an electric chair is aloft mid air, whilst lightning strikes it. Ride the Lightning was issued in late July 1984, and was originally distributed by the following; Music For Nations in the United Kingdom, Megaforce Records in the United States, and Roadrunner Records in Holland (whom Zazula had cut a deal with). Upon the Billboard Top 200, the album peaked at position one hundred.
Upon Ride the Lightning's release, Megaforce Records' financial problems continued. At Roseland, New York on August 3rd, a Megaforce Records showcase, with music industry personnel in attendance, paired the group against the likes of Anthrax and Raven. In attendance were Cliff Burnstein, co-founder of Q Prime alongside Peter Mensch, a management company which was known to handle Def Leppard's affairs, and Elektra Records A&R man Michael Alago. Not long afterwards, Metallica inked contracts with both Q Prime, and Elektra Records. In November of that year, Elektra reissued Ride the Lightning. To coincide with its re-release, “Creeping Death” was pressed in twelve-inch format. Two NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) cover interpretations accompanied the track, namely Diamond Head's “Am I Evil?” and Blitzkrieg's “Blitzkrieg”, covers Metallica dubbed Garage Days Revisited (in 1998, these two B-sides were collected upon the second disc of covers compilation Garage Inc.).
Beginning on November 16th in Rouen, France, the Bang the Head That Doesn't Bang European tour package (titled after the Rich Burch quotation on Kill Em' All's rear sleeve) paired the act alongside Tank, and ventured through Poperinge, Belgium, as well as French cities like Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Montpellier, and Nice. Other dates took place in Milan, Venice and Zürich, and German concerts in Mainz, Nuremberg, Mannheim, Sindelfigen and Cologne subsequently followed. Live gigs in Holland's Amsterdam, Germany's Osnabruck and Hamburg, and Denmark's Copenhagen occurred, not to mention shows in Sweden, Finland, and London, England. Starting January 10th, 1985 in Scotia, New York, a North American trek saw Metallica co-headline with WASP, and Armored Saint (promoting 1984 debut March of the Saint) provided support. Dates happened in; Hartford, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo, Elmhurst, Brooklyn, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Detroit, Madison, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Green Bay, Cedar Rapids, Burlington, St. Louis, Kansas City, Wichita, and Tulsa. Texan dates occurred in Austin, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Pasadena, Dallas, Houston and El Paso, whilst other concerts saw the group perform in Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Denver, Phoenix, San Diego, Hollywood, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. Portland was the tour's last date, where Metallica performed Fang's “The Money Will Roll Right In” with Armored Saint.
Amongst Metallica's catalogue, Ride the Lightning is one of the true gems. Despite being the outfit's sophomore full length, the record musically lies somewhere between the quicker pace utilized by Master of Puppets (1986), and the darker, heavier sound prevalent within the group's eponymous 1991 album. As a matter of fact, in questioning what spawned much of the “sellout” ingredients within both Load (1996) and ReLoad (1997), one merely has to appropriately take Ride the Lightning into account. Bold words, indeed. Merely critique Ride the Lightning's grooves against those which surface during Load and ReLoad's respective time frames, and all will become undoubtedly clear.
Ride the Lightning proves extremely similar to Metallica's debut full length, namely Kill 'Em All. Ride the Lightning, however, features much more creative songwriting, and Metallica is sonically tighter as a whole unit. Between Metallica's initial two albums, these comprise the central differences. Kill 'Em All's loose feel is stripped in favour of a more calculated approach, an approach prevalent within tracks such as “Creeping Death”, “Fade to Black”, and “Escape”. Sonically speaking, Ride the Lightning greater resembles a full length in short, as opposed to a spontaneous collection of tracks. Upon this 1984 sophomore record, Metallica still boast much groove, something the outfit would discard in penning 1986's Master of Puppets, and 1988's ...And Justice For All. To the chagrin of countless fanatics, Metallica would return towards groove during the nineties in a more pronounced fashion.
A gentle, misleading acoustic section introduces Ride the Lightning, and that section bursts into flames once “Fight Fire With Fire” wholly assaults. In retrospect, it isn't difficult to slightly mock its clichéd demeanour, but this section only happens to be clichéd due to the fact that innumerable groups simply copied this musical approach. “Fight Fire With Fire” inaugurates a string of tracks which rank amongst Metallica's greatest to date, forging an extremely impressive initial half. Arriving subsequently, the title cut features one of the Metal genre's most memorable lead guitar passages. Bells ring, and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”'s groove springs from the very earth, urging all metalheads to coalesce, and annihilate. “Fade to Black” concludes Ride the Lightning's initial half, a track which blatantly influenced “One”, and quite possibly both “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters” (both tracks would severely vex Metallica's early, rabid fanbase). Prolific as well as aggressively dynamic, “Fade to Black” frequently shifts gears, and demands the listeners' patience - to the then burgeoning Metal scene, having to use patience was something wholly fresh. “Escape” and “Creeping Death” (a well kept secret amongst longtime fanatics even today, not to mention a cult favourite) conclude Ride the Lightning's genuinely special tracks. Of the album's compositions, “Trapped Under Ice” and the instrumental “The Call of Ktulu” potentially prove its sole weak components. In the hearts of those who love creative instrumentals as well as distinct ideas, “The Call of Ktulu” is likely deemed a great number. This reviewer, however, feels that the track concludes Ride the Lightning upon a hapless note.
Of Metallica's albums, Ride the Lightning is generally one of the most wholly overlooked. Despite its financial success, and blatant influence upon the paths Metallica would opt to venture towards in authoring future outings, the fact that the full length is simply great remains. Ride the Lightning possesses no genuinely weak constituents, and almost every track will inspire you to scream along by the time that the record winds to a close, urging its audience to repeatedly listen. The album's chief element is its brief duration, perhaps; Ride the Lightning is both short, and sweet, and that's why fanatics still listen to the record decades later.